Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me (Them)

Colin Campbell, Editor of Next Generation, is all in a froth about used games. An absolute froth. Take a minute to read his editorial, if you like.

Campbell rants for five full pages about how used console game sales are screwing the games industry. Why, it's a catastrophe.

Funny, though--in the entire length of his angry screed, he never mentions that we're not able to return bad games for a refund. He never mentions that when a publisher releases an alpha, and we pay $60, that's our tough luck.

Every time I see one of these articles, I keep expecting to see someone mention the responsibilty of the gaming industry to release completed, playable games.

I'm still waiting.

You know what else I never see in these kinds of articles? An admission that the gaming industry itself fueled the used games market by ending the ability of consumers to return bad games inside a 30-day window from purchase.

Think about it. How many used games did Gamestop and EB sell back in the day when we could return anything that we felt was inferior?

In case you're wondering, I believe that answer is "none."

Then publishers stopped accepting returns for reasons of poor quality. They would only accept physically defective media.

Wait a minute--that would mean that suddenly, a ton of people would be stuck with really crappy games that they couldn't return for a refund. And I bet they'd be willing to accept anything if they could trade them in--because anything is better than nothing right?

Hey, maybe a used games market would be profitable.

I'm reminded of this:
Batman: I'm going to kill you!
The Joker: You IDIOT! You MADE me.

Yes, I know the Joker actually killed Batman's parents before Batman dropped him into the chemical vat. Hands off keyboards.

You know what else stopped happening when customers couldn't return games for refunds? Publishers stopped getting nearly real-time feedback on when they screwed up. Could you afford not to finish a game when if you didn't, someone would just bring it back to the store? Sure, people shipped plenty of alphas, back in the day, but a fair number of those games would get returned.

Marketing might get you to buy a game, but it wouldn't force you to keep a game. Once you saw that it was a steaming pile, you could get your money back.

Today? Marketing rules. If they can just get us to buy it, we have no options to get our money back. Oh, except we can resell it for a fraction of what it cost to buy.

Which is, again, better than nothing.

Don't think I'm saying that Gamestop isn't a parasite. Clearly, they are. The mainstream gaming industry, though, is even more screwed up than Gamestop. Their draconian policies are what enables Gamestop to sell used games in the first place. Here's an excerpt from Campbell's screed:
...games often turn up second-hand days after on sale date, and can be marked down by as little as $5 off the original asking price. They’re being sold alongside the new product. Given that the retailer is giving Johnny Consumer a store-credit of no more than $15 to $20 for his game, you can see who is making out big on this.

That's right, they do show up days after the release date--because we can't return them for refunds anymore. The gaming industry so desperately wanted to eliminate refunds, which both discouraged the release of crap games and short ones as well, that they almost singlehandedly created the conditions necessary for a thriving used games market.

Instead of accepting responsibility for their own greed, though, they're blaming the resellers.

Now if you're going to say that people will return a great game within two or three days of purchase because they've finished it, you're right--sometimes, that happens. But if people could return that game for a refund, that would be an excellent reason not to make games that last five hours. I think selling a game for $60 and having it last one or two days is a problem in itself.

Here's the most curious thing about all this, though. I know that it seems like used game sales would be crippling the gaming industry, right? I mean, it's a huge amount of revenue that doesn't go back to the gaming companies. There's only one problem: I've never seen a study that convincingly demonstrates that used markets hurt new markets. In most cases, they demonstrate that a used market actually leads to growth in the new market.

Have there ever been more new console games on the market? Has the amount of money spent on new console hardware ever been higher? This is even at a time when 360 and PS3 games, for the most part, have a price point that's 20% higher (at least) than the previous generation.

Here's a suggestion, Mr. Campbell. Next time you want to rant about how the gaming industry is getting screwed, you might want to remember the people who are the reason a gaming industry exists in the first place.

You know...us. The ones who are really getting screwed.

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