What Are GAME Playing At?

Holy shit – games development in the UK has had a hell of a few months lately with little sign of things calming anytime soon. First we saw the fall of Realtime Worlds nearly six months ago, while more recently Activision massively scaled back its operations, leading to the demise of Bizarre Creations in February and, at the time of writing, leaving the fate of DJ Hero devs Freestyle Games hanging in the balance.

Meanwhile redundancies are an alarming regularity in the industry, affecting the likes of Ubisoft Reflections last November, Rare last month and just within the last week a number of Sony development staff (and, I’m sorry to say, some friends of mine also lost their jobs between those periods)1. While less publicised than the closing of studios, these jobs cuts are just as devastating. Watching people lose their jobs, with everyone involved powerless to do anything about it, is shit.

In short, it is currently an incredibly uncertain time to be in games development in the UK, irrespective of a studio’s talent and track record.

Which is why GAME’s recently announced latest ‘initiative’, where the retailing giant offers consumers the opportunity to pre-order pre-owned games, leaves something of a bad taste in my mouth. For those willing to wait seven days after a game’s release date, they will be able to reserve a copy of the game they desire, saving themselves a few pounds. It’s hard to put my finger on why exactly, but this really pisses me off.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the pre-owned games market is solely responsible for the troubles experienced by many developers – it is not. Equally, if you buy a game, of course you have the right to sell it, just as you would a book, a DVD, a car or indeed any item you’ve bought.

Likewise, I understand all the different sides of the pre-owned argument; I buy games, I play games, I make games. As a consumer, I understand that we should always have options available to us to allow us to buy the games we desire for what we deem the best price; games aren’t cheap! For some gamers, pre-owned is the only way they can afford to play the games they want at the earliest opportunity, typically trading in a game they’ve finished with to help cover their costs. For others, buying brand new or using a rental or subscription service suits them fine.

But as someone who makes games for a living, it’s the gusto with which retailers push second hand games that just doesn’t quite sit right with me. A single copy of a game could be sold a dozen times, potentially going through the same retailer on each occasion, while only its first sale actually gives something back to the people who have spent months and years of their life in making the game. That’s multiple occasions where someone is willing to pay for a game, but only once that the talented team behind the game receive any monetary recognition. For me, that just doesn’t seem right.

It means that the Online Pass scheme taken up by EA and THQ are fair enough, frankly. It is, in my view, a sensible first move to try to ensure the games industry’s own survival. I fully support it, with some conditions: developers/publishers of such games tread a very fine line; they have to be incredibly careful about what features they choose to hold back from the pre-owned purchasers. Imagine if, upon playing a pre-owned game, you were denied the game’s final level unless you coughed up a fiver2. Retailers too should be involved in supporting the Online Pass system or similar moves; if a player has to pay £5 or £10 extra for features someone got when their game was first bought, then retailers should sell the pre-owned game with an equivalent points card included in the price.

Put simply, I think that allowing gamers to pre-order pre-owned is rocking the boat of what is becoming an increasingly fragile industry; it will likely encourage more people, especially core gamers, to buy pre-owned games over brand new. This further emphasis on second hand could be damaging for the industry that we love; if more and more pre-owned games are sold and resold, less and less money is going to the people who make your games. It really is that simple.

No, no… it isn't the *only* difference.

So, solutions? The general public is willing to pay for games, that much is clear. If games were cheaper overall would that mean more people buying games brand new, or just that there would be a greater number of traded-in titles on the shelves? Is ‘staying power’ the problem, that people see no reason to keep a game once they deem it finished, that games developers have to find ways to keep adding to games post-release? Would this make people want to hold on to their games and so not trade them in? Regardless of how long a developer supports a game, we gamers, a fickle bunch, constantly seek new experiences on offer from new releases; I don’t think making games more ‘sticky’ is necessarily going to solve the problem.

I’m not going to go so far as to call the retailers parasites or thieves, unlike some members of the development community. Just as games developers are in a battle for survival, so too are games retailers. They push pre-owned because such sales have a significantly higher (and repeatable) profit margin. Business is business, and we all do what we can to survive in our respective industries. People will do whatever they have to do to make sure their bills get paid and that they get to eat. As a result, though I don’t necessarily agree with it, I can’t fault GAME’s focus on pre-owned sales, nor publishers who charge pre-owned users for game content. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, publishers and retailers will find a solution that doesn’t cannibalise our joint common interest.

When I worked as a waiter, if I did my job well, I earned a tip. I don’t see why we should think differently of other industries; if you had a great time playing a particular game, there are ways to show your appreciation, to reward the people responsible. The way I like to think of it is, if you were in a bar and happened to meet someone who worked on your favourite game, would you offer to buy them a beer? If the answer is yes and you ended up keeping that game you enjoyed, whether you bought it brand new or second-hand, consider buying DLC for it. Perhaps even consider buying the studio’s next game. In short, support the people who make your favourite games (and, if they offer you a great service, the people who sell them to you as well) so they can continue to do so.

Regardless of my ill feelings towards pre-ordering pre-owned, GAME do deserve high praise for another of their recent trials, one which I feel is the true future of games retailers and something I (and at least one of my fellow Ready Uppers) think is brilliant: selling download codes.

The future of games retail, where everyone's a winner

Think about it. Put simply, everyone who should profit from game sales does in this situation and I think is one thing that GAME have really got right. The myriad of people who make, publish and sell the game get a cut of the action, gamers get superb affordable games or DLC and retailers can (I’d imagine) easily maintain and order stock. Publishers could still offer discounts and promotions through services like XBLA, PSN and Steam, and if they priced full games more competitively (eye-watering launches of both Mass Effect 2 on PSN for £47.99 and Halo Reach on the Xbox 360’s Games On Demand service for £49.99 spring to mind – ludicrous when compared to their retail equivalents) then gamers win too, with healthy competition for their pounds and pennies. And yes, the game cannot then be sold on, unless people begin trading in their hard drives. Hell, it’ll probably happen.

While there will always be a range of purchasing options when it comes to games, whether you buy online, in person at a specialist retailer or supermarket or if you download directly, you will always have options open to you at all times, allowing you to buy at a price that suits your wallet and at a time that suits your desire to play a particular game. You will never, however, be able to play a new game from Bizarre Creations or Realtime Worlds. And that’s a crying shame.

1__Obviously it isn’t just the UK that is being hit with studio closures and redundancies. One thing I was shocked to find in researching this blog was http://www.gamesbrief.com/resources/joblosstracker/ which does exactly what it says on the tin.
2__Depending on your view on some DLC, you could argue that this is already happening.

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11 responses to “What Are GAME Playing At?”

  1. paul avatar
    paul

    Game’s preowned strategy really irks me. It’s just the fact they base their entire model on them. In many stores I’ve had to squeeze past bay upon bay or preowned games to reach the threadbare New games at the back.
    This DRAMATICALLY reduces the time a new game has on the shelf which promotes the week 1 or bust mentality. It also affect one of the strongest tools in marketing, word of mouth. By the time someone has heard game X is enjoyable, Game’s initiative has filled the preowned bins with them. In the long run this will discourage certain types of games, and encourage the massive AAA shooters that I’m sick of by now. This is similar to what Cliffy B was saying last week.

    The sooner we move to DD, the better

  2. Branstar avatar
    Branstar

    Likewise – digital distribution is the future and it’s not that far off.

  3. Mark P avatar

    Best part about those cards s that you can see the price of your game in REAL MONEY and not intergalactic confederate ninja chicken dollars, which are only there to hide the real price of these things from you anyway, aren’t they?

  4. TeldurUK avatar

    Without sounding like I’m defending GAME ’till the end, it’s a well known fact that they are struggling finacially.

    Competition over pricing has never been so competive. Supermarkets are driving the price of new games too low for chains such as GAME and indie shops to keep up with. Margins are shrinking, and in some occasions none existent. Preowned is required to keep the buisness turning over. People enjoy trading games in so that they can enjoy new games for as little £s as possible.

    I’m torn over the EA/THQ Online Codes. I understand that these publishers want to earn as much money out of their product as possible, and to tap into the money high street stores gain from selling preowned. However, it’s disappointing to the consumer that they have to pay to play a game online regardless of how much they paid for the title in the first place. You could even call it punishing?

    A solution that shouts out to me is an agreement between retailers and publishers about cutting a % of preowned profits and giving it back to its publisher. If this were the case, perhaps companies that entered the arrangement would get better trade prices when they purchase further stock from said publisher.

    Perhaps once a game has been on the shelves for ‘X’ amount of time the retailer then gets the full 100% profit from each title.

    Fully agreed that ‘Preordering Preowned’ is a terrible idea..talk about giving devolpers/publishers the finger, of whom without GAME wouldnt even exist. Also agreed selling DLC is a top idea!

    Phew…that’s my two cents anyway!

  5. Barry avatar
    Barry

    I have no problems with any retailer selling pre-owned games and I see no problem with the proposal of pre-ordering pre-owned games either.

    Too many people talk in a disgruntled fashion about greedy retailers selling other peoples work for slightly less but fail to see the great risk this causes the retailer. They buy the games off of YOU, they stump up the store credit/cash first and then they fill their shelves.

    When you walk into Game/Gamestation, there are many pre-owned games filling the shelves, but how many actually get sold? There are untold titles are they giving you cash money for and unable to shift off the shop floor.

    I’d love to see a solution that will allow devs to see more money, unfortunately the only viable way they are going to do this is with-hold some content and bundle it into fresh copies and DLC for those who buy the game second hand.

  6. NoNeed avatar
    NoNeed

    I agree that pre-owned games only hurt the gaming industry. Renting does some amount of damage, but not nearly as much as Pre-owned. I don’t understand why they don’t just give the developer a piece of the profit. For new games, keep selling them the same way, but for Pre-owned and rentals, just give them (developer/publisher) a much smaller percent of the profits. Like maybe around 10-30 percent as opposed to the 70+ percent I’m sure it’s currently at. They’ll just be swapping profits.

    If everyone wasn’t so damn greedy, then this wouldn’t be a problem. But as the article states, I can see a future of Downloadable-Only titles on a card. If these retailers don’t want to work with the Publishers or Developers, then they have all the power in the world to shift everything to digital in the long run. Too many people thinking about now, rather than how certain things will hurt everything in the future.

  7. Barry avatar
    Barry

    @NoNeed- The devs will be getting something for nothing and that’s an unfair situation. As I said, retailers buy the games off of the public first, the games they buy are not a gauranteed sale, they are constantly putting themselves at great risk.

    Retailers take in plenty of unsellable games all the time, FIFA/ProEvo series for instance, have you known anyone to buy preowned copies of FIFA 9?

    For devs to receive revenue from preowned sales fairly, they would have to contribute a small amount when Game/Gamestation buying back off of the public, they would be more than entitled to taking a small percentage of the profit. But I can’t see that happening.

  8. s1x avatar
    s1x

    the games industry has brought this on themselves,
    1. short dev times, many bugs, loads of patches to fix the bugs which in turn create more bugs.
    2.single player has very little content, then they want to sell more content the day the game is released as dlc.

    gone are the days when you could get lost in a game and have to backtrack through levels admiring the great artwork.
    modern games seem to consist of great graffix and very little else.

    quality games dont get traded and the games industry need to stop churning out under developed shoddy games.

  9. Simes avatar

    I am constantly amazed at how many people are apparently happy to toss their consumer rights in exchange for giving free money to the games industry.

  10. asamink avatar
    asamink

    Just as well you aren’t a novelist, you would hate libraries.

  11. Simon avatar
    Simon

    I think the solution from the games companies’ perspective is to reduce the prices of new games. The £40 price point is fine for games that people are unlikely to trade in for at least 12 months (e.g. FIFA, Call of Duty, Rock Band), mainly because consumers see persistent value in them.

    However, games that don’t have that persistent value and are released at £25 + and stay at that level for months and months will inherently struggle in a marketplace that can offer the same game pre-owned for half the price.

    Take Alan Wake for example. I bought it pre-owned for £13 last week. I was never going to pay £40 for a game that, by most accounts, was short with little replay value. In fact, I didn’t even want to fork out £25 for it new a few weeks ago. If it had been released new for £20-25, then I would have been much more likely to buy it at the time, nudged along by the wave of marketing and awareness at launch.

    They’ve got to be sensitive to the market as it is now. The fact is, at current price points, the pre-owned version of your game will sit there in competition next to the new version, and will beat it for price. That isn’t going to change unless your price goes down.

    If the market becomes more competitive, and trying to artificially increase the value of your product with things like Online Passes is not appropriate, then the logical response is to lower the price . After all, it’s surely better to sell a game to three people for £25, rather than to one for £40. Especially if the other two will just wait to buy the £40 game for £20 pre-owned in three months and you’ll never see the money.

    We have started to see this approach I think. Vanquish went down to £25 new almost immediately after release, and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit has been less than £28 since around 2-3 weeks after it was released.

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