Consoleation: The War on Used Games—Choose wisely

When I was growing up, my family didn't have a lot of money.

We didn't own a family console until my mom bought a Colecovision from a tag sale in 1987. Before that, my maternal grandmother's Atari VCS was sometimes available in 1979 onward when we visited or even lived there due to money troubles. I did get a VIC-20 for my birthday in 1984 and then a Commodore 64 for my middle school graduation in 1986 from my paternal grandmother, but those weren't so much game consoles as they were hybrid devices. I did own a few games for both systems, but not a significant amount. Most of my exposure to video games in the 1980s came from hanging out in arcades, where the barrier to entry was a few quarters and as much time as I wanted to spend watching others play. Being one of society's "have nots" didn't matter too much; even if I couldn't play as many games as I wanted to, I could still be part of the arcade scene. I do admit that I did my fair share of begging back then, complimenting players and smiling, hoping for quarters, tokens, or credits when money was tight… but I never complained if fortune didn't look my way on a given day.

Once I got out of high school and started working, things changed a bit. I started buying my own video games and spending my own money at arcades. I bought a Super Nintendo at launch out of pocket with a few games. I then spent money on a Genesis in 1992, then a SEGA CD (which died), TurboGrafx-16 (with CD), 3DO, PlayStation, Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, Wii, PlayStation 3, and an Xbox 360 over the course of the next 17 years. Working for a living provided me with money with which to buy games and hardware when I wanted to, although I wasn't always smart about it. I chose Street Fighter II for the Super NES over paying my rent on time in August of 1992. I cut out lunches for 10 weeks in the summer of 1995 to help save for a PlayStation. My enthusiasm for video games usually won out financially if there was an option.

But my jobs and financial situations didn't always afford me the resources with which to buy what I wanted. I engaged actively in trading in games and consoles, as well as buying second-hand merchandise. My TurboGrafx system was used. So was my 3DO, which I got a good deal on by way of trade-ins. I traded in a lot of items to pare down the cost of the PlayStation at launch. I did the same for the Dreamcast, which I then used to trade in towards a PlayStation 2 when SEGA bailed out in 2001. The used games economy made the expensive nature of my favorite form of entertainment much more affordable and allowed me to stay current—or to begin building my Retro Library as it is now. Second-hand games are even more important now, in terms of my Retro Library. I've been very fortunate in that others have been kind and given to me items that they're no longer playing, plus the existence of those games at independent gaming stores allows me to steadily build my library when money comes my way or when special occasions happen.

I bring this up because, as someone who's been playing and buying video games for nearly four decades, it's disappointing to see this War on Used Games ramping up over the course of the last few years. I try to understand the industry's side in all of this, but I look at the bigger picture and how my experience pertains to the situation. When I haven't had the money to afford new games and consoles, the ability to trade things in that I wasn't playing anymore or could sacrifice to get the latest and greatest things bridged a gap… and now that bridge is in danger of being taken down or made into a toll bridge. Especially now, in between jobs and with money being tight, the used games economy allows me to buy new games that I couldn't buy otherwise. I traded in enough merchandise to afford the Premium Edition of BioShock Infinite, the Limited Edition Strategy Guide, and the Season Pass… that was more than $100 of new merchandise funded by trade-ins. I also did traded games in for Midway Arcade Origins. I did it for Borderlands 2, as well. All new games, all new revenue.

I understand that anecdotal evidence isn't necessarily proof of anything, but I do hope that Sony and Microsoft look closely at the possibilities that lie before them when it comes to their next move in this War on Used Games. I posit that my situation, while more active than most, is not an unusual one. If the ability to trade in games is hampered, or if used games are limited or even killed off, I believe that a steeper point of entry becomes a problem for other consumers who are already struggling with the expense of new games and the high cost of hardware. I get that video games are an expensive hobby, but I also believe that lowering the cost of entry empowers more consumers to want to get involved and spend money. This includes paring down the cost of new games with a few trade-ins and also includes giving retailers the ability to resell these trade-ins with as few restrictions as possible.

This industry needs to focus on keeping its constituents and adding new ones to maintain or increase potential revenue. Damaging the used games economy may have short-term advantages for publishers and console makers, but it ultimately may wind up having a more pronounced effect of contraction at a time when the console video game industry can ill afford to see that happen.

Choose wisely. Please. There's a lot hanging in the balance.

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9 years ago

1. You mention that you have traded in a lot of old games in order to buy new ones. It’s worth noting that Microsoft has promised there will be a trade-in system in the XBox One… where you can sell back the “license” to use the game. So that won’t actually change. 2. The barrier for entry now is actually lower than it’s ever been. I don’t know anyone over 16 who doesn’t own a mobile ‘phone. More than half of my colleagues have played Candy Crush on Facebook – including some people who don’t even own a computer! This… Read more »

9 years ago

I live outside the US and much like the author of the article I have been a gamer for just a long. While it is easy to think only of the US market for gaming since it is so large, there is also a robust gaming community in Barbados where I live. The Barbados currency is approximately 2 – 1 to the US dollar. With import duties, a game that costs $60 US becomes $209 Bds dollars for a new game. You can do the math. So you see, your situation with used games is dire, but our situation is… Read more »