Gamestop: pre-owned benefits publishers
We are told that pre-owned game sales are bad for the industry: they deprive publishers of revenue, with the proceeds of the sale lining only the retailers' pockets. According to one retailer, however, pre-owned benefits publishers as well.
The claim comes from Mike Mauler, executive vice-president of Gamestop International. "I can understand the feelings," he tells us, "[but] we've sat down with developers and publishers and really gone through the data. I personally think there's a lot of benefit to the publisher.
"A great example is sequels, where there's a large percentage of people who are just not going to spend $60 every single year without being able to do something. They'll look at their shelf and see ten FIFAs, Pro Evos or Maddens.
"Being able to take the older one and do something with it in order to buy the next version is really important to consumers. That drives new sales quite a bit."
One increasingly popular way for publishers to ensure they don't miss out entirely when a game is bought second-hand are the online passes, requiring buyers to cough up an additional fee to access certain features – typically online modes. Yet according to Mauler, they don't necessarily have the desired effect.
"Our data says that used customers play a lot less online than new customers," he explains. "The number's very low – like 15, 20 per cent." That claim makes sense: online components are at their most welcoming in the days after release, but as the weeks and months roll by the casual players drift away, leaving only a core of regular, high-level players who know the game. Instead, Mauler says, used buyers are more likely to buy DLC.
While he understands developer and publisher angst, Mauler believes that, to an extent, the industry only has itself to blame for the popularity of pre-owned games. "We the industry have done it to ourselves," he explains. "We take all the great releases and put them all in a two-month period.
"If you're an FPS fan, you look at all the games that are coming out this fall, and you'd have to be pretty wealthy to buy all of them. There are going to be people who buy Battlefield 3, and they're not going to have €60 for at least another month or two…they're all coming out so close together."
It seems a fair point, and one often overlooked by publishers who fail to acknowledge – at least publicly – the link between a cluttered release schedule and the increasing importance to retailers and customers of trade-ins and pre-owned sales.
Just last week Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg said: "I believe that as many great games as this industry can make, that's how many people will buy." He may have a point, but while publishers continue to cram the bulk of their major releases into the final few months of the year, some of those great games will, inevitably, fail to sell to expectations. Do you rely on trade-ins to fund purchases of new games? Do you think publisher discontent is justified, or misplaced? Let us know in the comments below.