Trade Ins: A Virtual Battlefield

Years ago, when I bought my Mega Drive second hand after months of saving, it was from a seedy, second-hand shop on the wrong side of town owned by a fat bloke who looked as though he hadn’t left the counter in years; a place where teetering piles of games shared the space with a wide and random range of junk from washing machines to exercise equipment. In the years since, the second hand games industry has been legitimised and, though still not quite respectable, has now long been a prop for the floundering margins of high street stores, allowing products to be resold for pure profit, much to the annoyance of producers and distributors alike.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that trade ins have become a vital part of the specialist game shop’s business model, not only turning profits but encouraging a loyal customer base and increased footfall. It’s a winning strategy that has even been adopted by mainstream shops like the perpetually struggling HMV.

Game publishers responded to the burgeoning second hand market by introducing techniques to discourage the trade in of their games

Game publishers responded to the burgeoning second hand market by introducing techniques to discourage the trade in of their games, using DLC, multiplayer modes, and reduced rate season passes to keep people playing longer and offering unique content to those who bought their game new (I just played through most of Diablo 3 with an Infernal Helm that offered 25% bonus XP, the kind of boost you don’t normally find until much further into the game).

Other games chose less popular means, like locking off multiplayer behind a pay gate to players not in possession of the 16 digit code included within new copies, with EA famously pioneering the idea of the online pass (a controversial strategy that they recently abandoned). With a new generation of super connected consoles around the corner, and with digital downloads ever more ubiquitous thanks to services like Steam, such restrictions can be included at a hardware level. With more people willing to make the digital transition, the future for second hand games is looking ever more tenuous.

A helpful infographic from outlining how capitalism works.

A decade ago stores like GAME traditionally had publishers over the barrel as they controlled the means of dissemination, and now it seems the tables have turned as publishers have more freedom to sell through other channels, with some even starting their own digital distribution services (such as EA’s Origin). The quiet war that has been raging for years between publishers and stores, two entities who have traditionally always fed off one another, seems to be shifting in favour of the publishers.

When Xbox One announced strict always online requirements to manage digital rights, with the side effect of quashing second hand games, the American high street behemoth GameStop saw its stocks plummet. Following the public uproar around this controversial announcement, Sony promised not to introduce any restrictions on used games (although this promise only included first party titles) and Microsoft have since back peddled.

Whilst many gamers see this as curtailing their retail rights, developers have been equally vocal about how damaging the second hand industry has been to them. Second hand games continues to be a highly contentious issue, with people entrenched behind the barricades on both sides. Here are two such opinions from here at Ready Up:

“With money being continuingly scarce in my life if it weren’t for the possibility of buying pre-owned games I wouldn’t have played a fraction of what I have, or at the very least would have waited months for the price to drop. It’s a shame to have to rely on an industry that doesn’t give the developer their due, but I think that people should have the right to sell on a game after they’ve derived all the enjoyment they want to from it. Developers need to be able to adapt and find new ways to make money from their products or give people an incentive to buy a game new.” – Dean Bowman  

“I have always felt a little unsettled by the preowned market, be it through the markup of the store or the notion that I’m not truly supporting the developers who made the game. I always felt like I was being robbed, and for the most part we are. A game that is merely a few days old will be bought back in the price range of the high twenties and sold on for £35-40 in a place like GAME depending on the RRP. It just never sat right with me. Here I was spending £45/50 on a game and speeding through it to ensure I got half of what I paid back. So I stopped buying preowned games. If the developers can’t have the money neither can the retailers. My name is Ryan Esler and I am five years sober.” – Ryan Esler


The exact nature of how second hand games will work on the new consoles is still uncertain, but with Steam penetrating the living room and experimenting with account sharing and with Xbox One toying with the idea of digital trade ins, the somewhat weird idea of the second hand digital game has emerged. Up to now a game’s value can be said to drop based on wear and tear, but a virtual copy suffers no such loss of quality, so the pricing can be based purely on the popularity and age of the game, and the perceived value a community places onto a product.

It’s telling that the current crop of digital download games on console are considered overpriced by many, and at the other extreme it could be said that ultra cheap sales on Steam are devaluing games as a whole. With a new console generation making games even more expensive to make, the issue of digital pricing is a minefield, but if consoles can find the right balance we might be looking at the end of the high street game store and by extension the physical second hand game industry.

In spite of this uncertainty surrounding the second hand games market a new website has recently been launched to compile the myriad of prices being offered for games in familiar online and high street stores., launched by two ex-Game execs, seems to be attempting to set itself up as the Compare the Market of the videogame industry, complete with low brow tone and annoying mascots. The site has an easy to use search and, although an account is required to unlock all the prices, it’s surprising at a glance just how much the prices can differ. The search was a bit slow and there were a couple of games that strangely did not appear, such as the PS3 version of Tomb Raider, so the system isn’t completely foolproof but if you’re determined to trade in your games it sure beats trailing around from one shop to another. There’s even a league table of which stores are the best value overall.

We thought it would be interesting to compare the trade in prices of a few games from the last few months offered by GAME, Amazon, and CEX (the prices were all checked on 19 October 2013. We’ve also added in the price the preowned version sells for (not included on Trade in Detectives) so you can see the mark up. For the most part the best price offered according to Trade in Detective varied from game to game, and mark ups vary from 50% to 200% the trade in value with GAME generally making the most profit. The general trend is that PS3 games buy and sell a couple of pounds lower than Xbox versions, indicating a higher demand for Xbox.

Lost Planet 3 (Aug 27)
Best Price: £25 (Green Man Gaming on PS3)
Amazon: £18.50 (Xbox) £19.60 (PS3) Sells for: £28.30 (xbox) £28.51 (PS3)
Game: £19.60 (Xbox) £16.50 (PS3) Sells for: No price on website
CEX: £18 (Xbox) £16 (PS3) Sells for: £28 (xbox) £25 (PS3)

Tomb Raider (March 5)
Best price: £10.50 (Amazon on xbox)
Amazon: £9.50 (Xbox) £10.50 (PS3) Sells for: No price given
Game: £5 (Xbox & PS3) Sells for £17.99 (xbox) £15 (PS3)
CEX: £9 (Xbox) £10 (PS3) Sells for: £14 (xbox) £15 (PS3)

Bioshock Infinite (March 26)
Best Price: £14 (Gamexchange Xbox & PS3)
Amazon: £5.85 (Xbox) £8.50 (PS3) Sells for: no price given
Game: £6 (Xbox) £7 (PS3) Sells for: 17.99 (Xbox & PS3)
CEX:£10 (Xbox) £8 (PS3) Sells for: £15 (xbox) £12 (PS3)

Diablo 3 (3 Sep)
Best Price £30 (Gamexchange xbox & PS3)
Amazon: £25 (Xbox &PS3) Sells for: £36.68 (xbox) £32.92 (PS3)
Game: £20 (Xbox & PS3) Sells for: £34.99 (Xbox & PS3)
CEX: £24 (Xbox) £22 (PS3) Sells for: £35 (xbox) £32 (PS3)

FIFA14 (27 Sep)
Best Price: £30 (Grainger Games PS3)
Amazon: £15 (Xbox & PS3) Sells for: No price given
Game: £22 (Xbox) £16.50 (PS3) Sells for: No price given on website
CEX: £29 (Xbox & PS3) Sells for £42 (xbox & PS3)






Leave a Reply