When you are spending around £40 on a computer game, you don’t always want it languishing unused and unloved on a shelf once you’ve finished with it.
For years, gamers have been hotfooting it to high-street shops and supermarkets to trade-in their games for cash or something different to play. Very often, a gamer will even be asked by a shop assistant if they would prefer to buy second-hand to save a few quid.
It has long annoyed games publishers who say the used game industry – which goes by the euphemism “pre-owned” to sweeten the deal – is taking cash out their pockets. But gamers love it, so when Microsoft unveiled its Xbox One and talk began of the console charging gamers an extra fee to play used games, it caused uproar. Sony’s plans for the PlayStation 4 are unclear.
The used-game market is worth in excess of £100m-a-year and Microsoft has since clarified its position, saying it will allow its own games to be traded in at “participating retailers”. They can also be passed to friends once but only if they have been on a gamers friend’s list for more than 30 days.
What Microsoft won’t speak for, though, are other publishers who will develop Xbox One games. Whether or not those companies will want to ban the reselling of their games or charge what are, in effect, transfer fees, will be entirely up to them.
Given that so many publishers hate pre-owned games, you can bet a fair few will be looking closely at the options. “For consumers buying a game for £40 or £50, there is a feeling they have a physical product that, ethically and legally, they should be able to sell,” says Philip Oliver, CEO of Blitz Games Studios. “The problem for the industry is that the sale of a brand new game generates royalties for the publisher and the platform and, as it stands, when a game is sold second hand, they lose out.” He says there have been “horrendous stories” of single copies being sold multiple times, causing publishers and developers to miss out on potential revenue. But games analyst Michael Pachter says consumers will see little change.
“No publisher has the guts to opt out,” he says, adding that used games cannibalise new sales “by one to three per cent at most”.
Yet former creative director of Microsoft Games Studios Europe Peter Molyneux, who created the games Populous and Fable, begs to differ. “It masks the true picture of what retailers are making versus what publishers are making,” he says. “Some publishers may take a stand against the whole concept of pre-owned and what to opt out of.” There will, it seems, be some fun and games ahead.