Gamers, retailers fear developers will kill used-game market

Oct 9 2013 - 3:39pm

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Patrons of the Game Vault in Ogden gather for a LAN party on Friday. (Brian Wolfer/Special to the Standard-Examiner)
Patrons of the Game Vault in Ogden gather for a LAN party on Friday. The owners of the store and many game enthusiasts fear that when Microsoft and Sony release their latest game consoles, they will charge fees before allowing gamers to play used games on the Xbox One or PlayStation 4. (Brian Wolfer/Special to the Standard-Examiner)
Tanya Clont presses controls while she plays the game “Borderlands 2” at the Game Vault LAN party in Ogden on May 24, 2013 (Brian Wolfer/Special to the Standard-Examiner)
Patrons of the Game Vault in Ogden gather for a LAN party on Friday. (Brian Wolfer/Special to the Standard-Examiner)
Patrons of the Game Vault in Ogden gather for a LAN party on Friday. The owners of the store and many game enthusiasts fear that when Microsoft and Sony release their latest game consoles, they will charge fees before allowing gamers to play used games on the Xbox One or PlayStation 4. (Brian Wolfer/Special to the Standard-Examiner)
Tanya Clont presses controls while she plays the game “Borderlands 2” at the Game Vault LAN party in Ogden on May 24, 2013 (Brian Wolfer/Special to the Standard-Examiner)

OGDEN -- A group of gamers sat clustered around four big-screen TVs, playing Borderlands 2' together via a wired connection between their consoles. Video-game posters, haphazardly overlapping each other, hung above them on the walls, and a green, life-sized Halo statue peered over them from the corner.

The rows of thousands of used video games -- dating all the way back to the original game consoles -- might tempt a person to call Game Vault, at 2671 Washington Blvd., a gamer's paradise.

But the store and retailers like it are facing a murky future.

Both Microsoft and Sony have introduced their next-generation game consoles, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, respectively. But questions remain, fueled by game developers who are concerned the used game market is taking a chunk out of their bottom line. They want to know if either console will permit used games.

Layton game enthusiast Cameron Gifford said blocking used games is not the solution for developers to pad their pocket books.

"The industry as a whole seems to be striving toward a market where used games don't exist," Gifford said. "Used games are what has allowed the industry as a whole to flourish. Used games have become a scapegoat for financial woes developers are having ... but the problem is actually the industry as a whole needs to do a better job of coming up with games people want to buy."

Standing behind the store's counter, overlooking thousands of used titles, Game Vault co-owner Andrew Patten agreed that used games aren't the problem developers make them out to be. Utah law, he said, dictates that used-game retailers can't sell a game a customer trades in for two weeks. This means for at least that long after a game is released, retailers must sell only new copies.

"And that's worst-case scenario for game companies," Patten said. "Most times, people will hang on to new titles for at least a week, so that's at least three weeks we're selling only new copies."

Since announcing the PlayStation 4 in February, Sony hasn't said much about its intentions regarding used games. However, rumors surrounding the Xbox One after Microsoft unveiled it Tuesday hint that the company may charge a fee, potentially as large as the cost of a new game, for gamers to play a used title on the console. If Microsoft goes that route, it's possible Sony could follow.

"If (the fee) is only $10, it's really not going to be that big of a factor," Patten said. "But I highly doubt that's going to be the case. I think they're going to make you pay for the game. That's frustrating, not only for my business but as a consumer."

Of course, nothing certain is known, and it's still possible both consoles will allow used games to work as they do now, giving gamers unfettered access to used titles with no fee. That's the scenario Gifford would prefer. He said used games sparked his interest in video games and allow the people who don't immediately purchase new consoles to play any titles they missed while waiting.

"When I got an Xbox 360, the majority of the games I got were used," Gifford said. "By the time I had got my 360, it had been out for a couple years. So I was able to get all the big games used. Used games brought me into the gaming industry, and I discovered this whole world that I'd never experienced before. It's all because of used games."

If used games are blocked, or if a large fee is required to play them, the effect it would have on retailers that make most of their profit on used games is unclear. Patten said it would be disappointing, but Game Vault has enough of a customer base with the current consoles to stay afloat.

"Obviously, it makes us not want to carry anything from the new systems," he said. "Used games are where we make all our margins. But we carry everything, all the way back to the originals. As long as there's a used market for things, we'll carry it. We'll carry Xbox 360 games until the day we close. As it stands now, I'm not interested in stocking (games from the new consoles)."

A main concern gamers have about the possibility of used games being ushered out the door is cost. Many among the main demographic for video games -- young adults, teens and children -- don't have money to spend on new games, which typically cost around $60.

"Going out and buying a new game isn't always possible," Gifford said. "I mean, I'm a college student. I don't have unlimited funds to go buy games."

Additionally, one way gamers who aren't sitting on stacks of cash are able to afford new titles is by trading in their used games. If gamers don't have that ability, the overall market for video games will suffer, said Joseph Graber, Game Vault's other co-owner.

"Trading in their older games is the only way some people can buy new games," he said. "It's one more copy we're buying -- Microsoft got their money. We sell it differently, because we accept used-game trade-ins, but they still get their money."

Some gamers, though, are undaunted at the prospect of a future without used games.

Matt Wadman, one of the gamers playing Borderlands 2 at Game Vault, said it's all just part of the future of gaming.

"It's nice to sometimes play the older games, but things happen. Systems evolve," Wadman said. "It would suck, because it hurts (Game Vault's) business, but they'll still have the other consoles and all that stuff."

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