The developers’ view on preowned: why game players must support their hobby


Lee Perry is a former lead designer at Epic Games and co-founder of Bitmonster Games. Here, he argues that games players should support games development by shunning preowned games. 

You should have the choice to buy a used game, but you should also choose not to.

I’ve been tweeting my thoughts on used games, but as anyone can tell you who has tried to say anything meaningful on Twitter, it’s a recipe for misconstrued points and a format devoid of subtlety. People get immediately heated about the topic of used games, and motive fallacies and heated accusations flare. It’s only slightly less touchy than telling someone the FBI is coming to seize their guns.

Regardless, I’m a developer asking you (not telling you) to hear me out and make an informed decision on the issue. First, as is my habit, a couple of disclaimers to frame my points and focus the discussion.

– This isn’t about Xbox One, or Sony, or anyone specifically – these are points about used games in general, formed long before the new console wars began.

– I’m an outright enemy of ‘always on’. Blizzard botched the launch of Diablo III, and EA catastrophically fumbled the SimCity launch – surely it’s understandable that people would be nervous (at best) at the idea of an entire console being hamstrung with the same limitations.

– I believe triple-A games are too expensive. I don’t care about history adjusted for inflation arguments… the bottom line is $60 is not an impulse buy for anyone, solid income or not. So, I completely get why people want to buy a used copy of a game for a couple bucks cheaper.

– There are few right answers and no good guys and bad guys with this issue. It’s all part of one very large and complicated equation. Used games, piracy, DRM, DLC and microtransactions are not 100 per cent responsible for anything, they’re all just factors in play.

Microsoft decided not to implement controversial restrictions on preowned Xbox One games this week.

Here’s a pretty unavoidable truth for consumers: when someone buys a used game, that transaction does not support the artists, designers, programmers, musicians, or anyone who created that game. 100 per cent of the money paid for a used game goes to the people they just handed their money to.

When someone purchases a new game the funds are divided equitably between the studio that made the game, the publishers that created and marketed the product, the distributors who put it into your hands, the creator of the console gets a portion, and of course with the store for selling you the new game. The gamer just voted with their dollars to support what a group of people created.

Used game purchasers need to be aware that they’re completely cutting out the developers who created that game, and consider if that’s what they really intended. One comment I encountered during this debate suggested that developers get paid to do the work anyway – to clarify, generally triple-A developers get paid salaries while they are creating a game in the form of a loan from a publisher. It’s an advance on future sales. When those sales numbers aren’t recouped, when income from a game’s sales aren’t reaching the studio that employs people, those studios fail. There’s nothing victimless about it in terms of the individual artist and developer. It matters to them. They’re not free and clear while ‘evil businessmen’ absorb the sales hit – it’s usually the opposite.

Often in these discussions you get the sense that gamers distrust developers. Never is that more apparent than the argument: ‘make better games and we wouldn’t trade them in’. That’s simply not true, and it’s actually shaping the games available to you in a very distinguishable way. Most games have ‘an ending’ – The Last of Us, for example, is a stunning game, but it has an ending, and millions of happy users will sell it back. Constantly, we see articles about wanting games with great characters and stories and interesting narratives, but in nearly any case that means a game that you experience once and ‘complete’.

If the ‘we only trade them because they’re too short’ argument was true, there wouldn’t be a single used copy of Skyrim out there. ‘Make games that don’t end,” is another one; I have sat in many meetings at several companies and witnessed first-hand the destructive power rentals and used games have on triple-A creative decisions. If you don’t gamble a large portion of your budget on multiplayer, your game won’t be considered by nearly any publisher out there.

It’s also a Catch 22 that will sink most projects – you’re spreading your team out to add features that don’t actually fit the project theme, and at the end you’re left with a game that people are comparing unfavourably to projects like Battlefield or Halo, with 100 plus developers working on multiplayer alone. Another method of making games without an end is equally disliked by many consumers: DLC.

Halo 4 is one example of a game which successfully keeps ‘disc in tray’.

For many years I’ve heard the term keeping ‘disk in tray’ – one that predates mobile and freemium games – and it’s a response to used games. Keeping disk in tray is a method of drying up the used game supply and making games that people won’t sell when they’re done. But honestly, everything that comes out of those discussions are the features currently lamented by gamers.

Here’s what developers are up against: every game design, every concept, and every execution can’t fit under the ‘games that don’t end’ umbrella. It’s disappointing as a developer to be forced into that predicament, and it’s a factor in why gamers get a lot of same experiences over and over.

When a person goes into a store and carries a new game up to the counter and a salesperson intercepts to say ‘that’s $5 cheaper if you buy used’, they’re interfering with the process. The expensive and risky ballet that led up to that purchase decision goes unrewarded and becomes rerouted to the guy at the final step of the chain. It’s destructive and parasitic by nearly any measure, and it baffles me to this day when I hear developers are perceived as being selfish in this equation.

Consumers, ask yourself if you’re buying the disc or the game and decide consciously to support the people who created what you’re buying. If you consider yourself a fan of game developers, and if you want to support the people who create what you’re playing, splurge the extra $4 to support the people creating your hobby.

If you honestly don’t care if the developers are rewarded for their work, well, you’re still not the bad guy here. I would say though, you have no ground to stand on when interacting with those developers, complaining about something in their game, or lamenting that they offer DLC. You’re not really their customer and fan – you’re just a fan of the used game store.

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