Your Used Game Purchase is Piracy. Fact.

BLARGH! Missed a post. And on top of that it’s a re-cut of a rant I did elsewhere. I think it’s forgivable.

In the past, the notion suggested in the title has occurred to me, and I’m actual a fervent believer in it. It’s a pretty simple notion and it doesn’t bear a lot of in-depth examination, but I was reminded of it yesterday while sitting in front of Chipotle and looking at a place called “The Exchange,” which, by its very name, it sort of dives headfirst into this sort of an atmosphere. It struck me profoundly again as we were packing a little bit this evening, getting DVDs, games, and even CDs (the old dinosaurs) packed away – there are people who resell this shit as used at a ridiculous premium. So here’s the basic idea, and so near as I can tell, it’s all but unassailable:

Purchasing a used game is effectively identical to piracy from the industry perspective. Examine both scenarios:

Used games: an individual or entity other than the publishers or developers benefits from the dissemination of copyrighted media otherwise available for sale to benefit the developer and/or publisher

Pirated games: an individual or entity other than the publishers or developers benefits from the dissemination of copyrighted media otherwise available for sale to benefit the developer and/or publisher

It’s literally the same net result for them. I have no problem with this. When GameStop, Gamefly, and now Wal-Mart and BestBuy stops wiping their asses with the millions made yearly off of content sweat and bled for by other folks (some of my friends, even), I will raise an eyebrow toward considering Used Game purchases anything other than piracy. Yeah, I’m on-board. End the brick-n-mortar retail era. (sorry to those of you employed that way)

As it stands, just to feel o-k with doing GameFly, I only rent games that I’m going to buy DLC on. In fact, I’ve never had a GameFly’d rental I didn’t, now that I think of it. A little scary, that. And maybe a little sad. Even then, rental is different because of the massive numbers of copies they buy up front, and I’d be willing to bet my left eyeball and most of the right side of my ballsack that rental magnates pay a recurring fee to the publishers with whom they have deals.

On top of that, the precedent for selling something used is the assumption of depreciation. Cars are sold used because, after use, their value depreciates incredibly and measurably – after only a year or two, a 350hp engine is only producing 335hp. You’re getting, effectively, less car, not to mention the longevity used in the mileage. The mark-up there is as extensive and absurd as video games, but at least there’s a measurable change in quality. The product you’re purchasing used is different than the product you would obtain new.

Does the campaign mode for ME2 get worse because someone else’s digital butt has occupied that space? Even in that absurd metaphor, it’s not true, unless you bought a used game and the hard drive or memory card of the individual who previously owned it and completed it on that same storage space. So, basically, this product is identical in very nearly every way to the original (priced adjacent to it at 100%) yet it receives a 10-15-25% price cut? So what I would see, as a publisher, is basically used retail stores performing sexual acts in and around my anus. And I would be annoyed. And I would encourage my development partners to be annoyed and encourage the development of a fair and consumer-friendly methodology to eliminate that sort of waste. In a multiplayer space, it’s super simple – original copies all have distinct MP keys. To be extra fair, make the MP key available for download on a marketplace for $15 or 1200 superpoints or whatever it is. That was the Battlefield Bad Company 2 solution, and all though it pissed me off that my friend couldn’t loan me the game to play (because I would need the MP key that was on his harddrive) it still didn’t seem like an unfair solution. In fact, if that multiplayer key could simply be tied to a user name in “the cloud,” it would be fine as well because then I could just sign in with his account and call it even.

That said, the options for restricting Single Player-focused content narrows considerably. These games are the most likely to be subject to both piracy and used game dissemination, so the way to combat that is to offer either exclusive content to original purchases (or key-purchased copies) or find a restriction like Capcom has done. The reason the exclusive content thing is a bear is because it means more content development, which costs money and time and man-hours that could all be better spent doing other things, particularly when you can’t make the content too incredible. When you offer DLC tied to a key like that, it can’t be so amazing that your offline players are fucked. They have little recourse in this modern world beyond single player games, and getting a castrated, stripped down, or simply less-diverse version of the same experience their online-enabled cohorts are getting tastes like bad pizza and is going to turn them off (and probably encourage a return to the retail outlet to trade their game in what’s arguably the worst exchange rate in the world).

So what’s a dev to do? I’m a dev. I want paid. I put a lot of work into even the crappiest of crap games and get no recognition. We don’t have an Oscars. We don’t have NYT reviews that praise individual 3D modelers or even art direction in video games at all. We don’t have methodology for recognition beyond the sweet, sweet cash of our fan base. And I wants it. I wants it bad.

Ever ask why so many developers have their own online stores for shirts and swag and crap? Supplement their income. Huge fat sacks of money once every 2 to 3 years is fine, but the intervening months are just filled with red ink for this exact reason. Their game starts getting traded about the used cartel like a Jersey Shore chick in a nightclub and they see none of the benefits.

So stop it.