Braben: Pre-owned “killing singleplayer games”

Frontier Developments boss David Braben has hit out at pre-owned games, saying that retailers' focus on second-hand games is "killing singleplayer games."

Speaking to Gamasutra, the Elite creator said the dominance of pre-owned at retail meant publishers were loath to greenlight games without multiplayer components because they would be traded in quickly, and argued that second-hand sales were to blame for the high price of new games.

"When you think about it brutally, if you look at just core gamer games, pre-owned has really killed [them]," he said. "In some cases, it's killed them dead. I know publishers who have stopped games in development because most shops won't re-order stock after initial release, because they rely on churn from the re-sales.

"It's killing singleplayer games in particular, because they will get pre-owned, and it means your day-one sales are it, making them super high-risk. I mean, the idea of a game selling out used to be a good thing, but nowadays, those people who buy it on day one may well finish it and return it."

Braben goes on to dismiss the argument that gamers can do what they want with their own games, arguing that pre-owned is keeping the price of new games up, because publishers know sales will tail off sharply once a game hits the pre-owned racks.

He calls on retailers to share the proceeds of pre-owned sales – something several indies recently expressed willingness to do, but only in exchange for lower trade prices. Retailers contest that pre-owned is a necessary evil because the margins on new games are so small; Braben is having none of it.

"Prices would have come down a long time ago if the industry was getting a share [of pre-owned]," he said. "Developers and publishers need that revenue to be able to keep doing high production value games, and we keep seeing fewer and fewer of them."

It's an issue that's particularly close to Braben's heart given that The Outsider, a resolutely singleplayer experience, is currently in limbo. Last year it was reported that the game had been cancelled; Braben denied that, but admitted 17 staff had been laid off. 

"The fundamental nature of it is of a story-based game," he said, "and from a design point of view, the story itself doesn't lend itself very well to being a multiplayer game other than as a tacked-on affair, which we've seen with quite a few games and it's not generally worked.

"It just becomes a higher and higher risk… But justifying that is much harder at the moment."

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