A Few Extra Virtual Maps Isn't A Real Reason To Buy A Video Game

from the it's-about-the-scarcity dept

There’s definitely been an ongoing battle in the video game world from some executives complaining about used game sales for console games (there’s been a bit of confusion in the past tying this to video game DRM — which is more focused on PC games). We noted that EA was among those concerned, but was hoping to give people more reasons to buy new, rather than second hand. However, some folks in the comments complained about the methods EA was using, and that’s worth a further discussion, especially as other examples are being shown. Reader DEF points out that another video game company, Epic, is trying to encourage original purchases by giving buyers a free voucher for certain in-game items, such as special maps. Such vouchers would only work for the initial buyer, thus, in theory increasing the value of the initial purchase.

There are a couple of problems with this approach. While I do think it’s better to come up with “reasons to buy” rather than trying to sue people or pass laws requiring a cut of the secondhand market, this approach may get it backwards. Effectively, they’re selling “infinite goods” rather than scarce goods, and that seems likely to backfire, for a few reasons. First, it actually diminishes the value of the game. One aspect that buyers take into account is the resale market. An active second hand market increases how much people are willing to pay for the original product, because they recognize that they can sell it later.

Second, when the focus is on charging for infinite goods (or only promising them to those who buy first hand copies), the incentives get risky. Suddenly, gaming companies are put in a position of choosing what “virtual” items are allowed in the game for first hand buyers vs. second hand buyers, and that leads them to make bad decisions in locking up important aspects of a game, frustrating potential buyers.

Plenty of games have shown that money can be made in charging for the service (a scarce good) of connecting and accessing an online world or community. If video game makers focused on that, then the entire issue of the second hand market wouldn’t be such an issue. In that case, they’d want to get the actual games distributed as widely as possible, with as many features enabled as possible, to make the idea of playing in the online environment even more appealing.

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Companies: ea, epic

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Comments on “A Few Extra Virtual Maps Isn't A Real Reason To Buy A Video Game”

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Shohat says:

Gamers are about to hate you ...

Gamers are about to hate you for so many reasons.

Here’s a tip. The last thing gamers want is to pay for game "as a service". This means that you can’t play the game whenever you want, and you are charged for whenever you do.

It hurts casual gamers, and encourages WoW-like addictions. It makes the product "phones home", it adds the often unneeded "social" aspect, and forces updates down the users’ throat due to client-server compatibility requirements. And of course, makes the product break once the servers are down.

Moreover secondhand market value is irrelevant for 90%+ of the gamers, since just like books, people tend to keep the games they buy.

I see perfect sense in offering additional, unique "virtual goods" to people that went out and bought the game.

tackle says:

I usually agree with techdirts ...

I usually agree with techdirts articles, but this is rather dumb. Gamers wont pay to play console games. Period. We pay for xbox live because its a great service. Its worth it compared to the free services offered by nintendo and sony.

Online levels or whatever for being the original owner is by far the best way to make money off the used market. This content is known to be nontransferable. That content is always available for purchase separate from the game at some point in the future. No one buys a game for $60 with the intent of selling it for $15.

That said most gamers dont sell their games and buy used games usually only for the purpose of collecting. The used game market if for kids, semi-gamers and the game rental industry. None of which are going to pay a service fee to play a used game.

some old guy (user link) says:

Blizzard (and all of its fans) ...

Blizzard (and all of its fans) called. They beg to differ.

Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo all had a healthy second hand market AND saw a constant stream of first hand sales for many many years after their releases. Why? You had to be an original owner to create the online account. The online play was not necessary, and many people didn’t even care to try it.

Altho slightly off topic, It’s also important to point out that the three franchises mentioned above were also heavily influenced by piracy. Even tho I am only one person, I know that I purchased the "battle chest" version of every game in that list AFTER having pirated the game.

Mike is right. Offering SCARCE goods adds value without pissing anyone off. Removing value from the second hand market just pisses off the paying customers. It does nothing to stop piracy and the game publishers DO NOT have an inherent right to income from the second hand market. This is spelled out quite plainly in copyright law.

The publishers need to get their damn hands out of the second hand markets cookie jar.

jkidd01 says:

I think that offering some ...

I think that offering some "virtual goods" to gamers who buy the game new is a good thing, as long as the items being offered don’t hurt the game balance.

If a game developer were to offer goods that did hurt game balance in some way, then I would have a problem with the "virtual goods" system. However as far as I know all that has been offered so far is maps and in the case of Gears of War 2, they offered gold guns.

If anything "virtual goods" is helping the market. While scarce goods helps sales and revenues in the market for most items, think about how scarcity would harm the gaming community. By getting rid of used games, or by only releasing a limited amount of a game would hurt the overall revenue of a game company. If a gamer picks up a game used for much cheaper than the new version, and likes it… they’re much more likely to pick up a new version of the sequel.

some old guy (user link) says:

As a retort to your reverse ad...

As a retort to your reverse ad hominen attack (effectively, you said "I’m better than you, so your opinion doesn’t count"), I invoke Masnick’s Law.

If a game is good, then it will move product well. It will move through the first hand market, it will move through the second hand market and it will move through the pirate market.

If you want to move more units through the first hand market, then the best way to do that without alienating your PAYING customers is to do so by giving them scarce goods, not by inserting a virtual poison pill into their scarce goods.

Saying "that only applies to Blizzard cause they are good" is a violation of the Masnick’s law. If it works for one, then it is proof of a viable business model.

Anonymous Coward says:

bottom line if the game is ...

bottom line if the game is good ppl will buy it as long as:

– you don’t expect the impossible to make your $$$ (in Blizzards case it was: prove to me you have a valid copy of my game i let you play on my server if not go find your self a LAN and play with your friends).
– and as long as you build good games.

the reason why Blizzard keeps being mentioned as "god" or what ever is because it had a prefect track of good games it used to set the standard in gaming (perhaps they still do idk).

some old guy (user link) says:

Does it have to be taken to ...

Does it have to be taken to that extreme tho?

Can’t it just be that "the more good a game is, the better a positive business model is for the publisher".

’cause I whole heartedly agree, that the model would NOT work for any game that isn’t any good. I believe deceitful marketing and treacherous business models are the only way to sell product that sucks.

Also, I don’t think you are seeing The Dark Side ™ of the business model associated with "free virtual goods for original purchasers". The publishers say that it is additional content. But it isn’t. It’s content that would have been free to any game owner before. The content is being removed from the game, and is being given back to only the selected players that the publisher approves of.

Right now, the publishers are testing the waters. "A few maps" is nothing. But if the market approves of this new approach, then things will shift over time. It will quickly turn into "you get one map in the game, the other 99 maps are available only to first time buyers".

The whole point of their strategy is to poison the games resale value. That’s not very consumer friendly.

Another old guy says:

;) I am also an old guy. You ...

😉 I am also an old guy. You are not the only one that have downloaded pirated games just to test them. What I do is after reading in their reviews that they ARE great games, I try it and then I buy the "Best" edition because they are actually great. A lot of people do that. 95% of the times I just buy the game because I know it is good.

If the reviews don’t impress me, I don’t even bother to download a game. I don’t have time to loose, time I can use to frag someone in CoD4. When the game is good I buy the normal title. When the game is great, like Oblivion, CoD4 or Crysis, I buy the best edition, without even bothering to download a copy.

As for the topic: Normally, hard core PC gamers keep their games in mint condition (as opposed to kids with consoles, like my kids, that leave their CD’s/DVD’s everywhere and they get all scratched). I have never sold a game. Not even one. My first game was Falcon 3.0 back in 1992. I had that game until last year. I threw it away because a colony of ants made a nest inside the box where I had my old floppies. They managed to damage Doom, Doom2, Falcon3, ROTT, Heretic, Hexen, Duke3D, DOS 6.2, and so many that I can’t remember. Too bad since virtual machines let you play those old games.

What I mean is that second hand market doesn’t affect me. But I agree that goodies should not be things that affect the balance of the game.

DS78 says:

I think the best way to sell ...

I think the best way to sell games, is to *gasp* make a great game. Then support the community by keeping servers updated and hacker free.

If developers do this then they can guarantee success. Look at UT (glances at Epic). You can still get online and find a butt load of servers going. It’s saying something that UT still vies for my game time when I own other gems like CS Source, TF2, and COD4, etc.

As far paying for games as a service, well, I’m not sold on that. Why can’t I buy a game disc and play it whenever I want? They already have my $60, what else do they want?

some old guy (user link) says:

What I mean is that second ...

What I mean is that second hand market doesn’t affect me. But I agree that goodies should not be things that affect the balance of the game.

Have you ever "revisited" an older game that you rightly purchased? Every game I own (which is considerably more than a couple) I have installed AT LEAST 6 times.

It would piss me off royally to not be able to install my "free for first time buyers" goodies the second time around. Or the third time. Or the fourth time. Or the fifth time. You get my point.

"First time buyer" exclusive is the equivalent to "first time install" exclusive. In that sense, they are not just hurting the resale value of their games, but also the inherent replay value of a game.

jonnyq says:

there's been a bit of ...

there’s been a bit of confusion in the past tying this to video game DRM — which is more focused on PC games

All the latest consoles have downloadable games you can buy. On the Wii, for example, you can store these games on an SD card, but they’re still tied to your particular system, so they’re non-transferable. This may also apply to some disc-based games, especially games with micropayments for added content. So, it directly applies to consoles.

Plenty of games have shown that money can be made in charging for the service (a scarce good) of connecting and accessing an online world or community. If video game makers focused on that, then the entire issue of the second hand market wouldn’t be such an issue

That’s wonderful for some games. World of Warcraft is easily the most successful game ever and makes more money than some countries. However, how many subscriptions are you willing to maintain? For lots of games, subscriptions are just silly. There would never be a Mario Galaxy or Metroid Prime with a subscription model. Even of the games with online play, there are plenty I wouldn’t pay a subscription for.

What’s your suggestion for games where the service subscription model just doesn’t make sense?

The other old guy says:

Gotcha. You are ...

Gotcha. You are right…

Maybe goodies should be a download from a web browser and not with the game update. That way we can backup the goodies. I make backups from the updates I download from the web because some can be VERY big, like the CoD4’s and Far Cry. I never update from within the game. ie: like CoD4. I don’t like the 1.6 patch because I loose the old servers which are better than the new ones with the "new" maps.

If we can download the goodies, the gamers that do sell their games, can include the updates with the goodies too, unless they sell them to retail stores instead of Ebay or Amazon.

Anyway, I don’t sell them. I keep them for my ants. 😉

Bob says:

Jonnyq - The BEST and most ...

Jonnyq – The BEST and most successful game ever, according to revenue and numbers of actual users is Lineage by NCSoft Korea.

Just because it’s from Korea doesn’t mean it’s disqualified.

I don’t mind all the Fanboi action here, but everyone seems to think that being given "preferential treatment" in any game because you paid more money then someone else is a good thing. What it is is a Class System among gamers and quite frankly should be done away with. Just because your Class System isn’t out killing the lower classes doesn’t mean it’s a good thing or something we should tolerate. Injustice is injustice, no matter where it is.

It’s time to apply our ethics everywhere, we shouldn’t put them to bed at night when we go sit at our computers and play.

Anonymous Coward says:

Correction Shohat: The last ...

Correction Shohat: The last thing *some* gamers want is to pay for game "as a service."

I’ve been playing games for a long time now. For online play, as long as the price is relative to the game, I have no issue paying to be able to play on "official" servers.

Look at Counter-Strike. None of those servers would of been running without donations to whatever Clan is running it. Usually there were monthly donations of 5 dollars from the majority of "regulars."

Contrast this with b-net. The biggest complaint on Battle.net was the latency issues. It was a free service so technically you shouldn’t be complaining, but if they charged 5-10 bucks a month they would have been able to erase all those problems and make a profit off of it. Knowing Blizzard, this would be partially invested back to make expansions/games/b-net better.

It is all a matter of worth. I personally don’t care much for money. 5-20 bucks a month to be able to do something I enjoy relatively hassle free is worth it to myself. It’s cheaper than some other monthly expenses people make for ‘entertainment.’

Also I disagree with your assumption that if the game servers are down the game is worthless. It really depends on the game maker, but they don’t have to make it that way.

Call of Duty 4 for example has a great single player campaign and can be played on the LAN. You could also have "official" servers that require a subscription in exchange for no wait times and high performance and still allow people to host their own game servers. This gives you the best out of both worlds.

Same thing if it were a Blizzard game. Make the "Closed B-Net" a subscription based thing where you pay for good connections that aren’t throttled way down and where they actively prevent cheating. Then you can leave the "Open B-Net" a free service that gets the same patches to prevent exploits and the like but they aren’t as active hunting down the ‘hackers’ (which they don’t do on either one right now BTW) and the connection is throttled as per norm.

There are lots of things you could do, depending on the game, that can give you the same net results. Paying to play isn’t a bad thing really. I’ve found the games I enjoy more are the ones where I pay to play. Where the people I’m paying are actively trying to make it better, and the other players that are paying as well do likewise.

What goes around comes around…

I do agree with your other points though. Out of the 50+ gamers I personally know only three re-sell their games. The rest are like myself and prefer to collect the games as well as own them or just like to be able to go back out and play them later down the road (Tie Fighter & Discworld come to mind for that for me).

Anonymous Coward says:

How does getting people to pay ...

How does getting people to pay 10 extra dollars for a golden chainsaw fit into your extreme view? Now people simply won’t buy a used copy of Gears of War 2 because they don’t get the essential golden weapon, allowing them to be more visible in multiplayer! That definitely makes the publishers upset about that money they won’t be making off second hand sales.

I think you’re just always trying to be an ass to the man now whether you have a point to make or not. The "essential" things you’re referring to are also going to be released to anyone willing to pay… what a surprise, about 10 dollars. All they’re missing out on is the superfluous retarded golden weapons that undoubtedly people will be harassed to death for using.

Anyway not to say your failed argument came from bad grounds, but any download vouchers are in addition to the traditional special content. You know, the bonus DVD behind the scenes/making of stuff. Not that I care about it but considering plenty of people have been buying special edition games way before there was something called "downloadable content" I’m sure that nothing you said hurts the developer when they trick people into spending 10 more dollars on something they spent at most 1 dollar more on. Unless it doesn’t come in a tin case, then it was 10 cents more production cost.

Danny (user link) says:

Just offer a scarce physical ...

Just offer a scarce physical good. Why not something tangible like a coupon for a percentage off the sequel/expeansion/another game by the same company or something like that (and not some piddly 5% I’m talking something real like 30%)? Or a collectable item added to it like a hardcover or leatherbound book, an exclusive figurine, a one time use code tha puts you in a contest for something like one year of free service (for an MMO), or whatever?

There are plenty of ways to intice people to buy first hand.

Joel Coehoorn says:

If, as you've said in the ...

If, as you’ve said in the past, economic forces will eventually push the service prices down to their marginal costs, then charging a subscription to connect to the service isn’t very viable either. Sure, it costs Blizzard or Valve money to run their content servers. But the cost of connecting one more user for one more month by itself is pretty small, especially at scale. We’re talking well under a dollar. So even the service could be considered a so-called "infinite" good.

It can be real tricky to find a scarce good surrounding these games to actually sell, especially as your choice of which game to play continues to increase. Merchandise alone won’t cut it.

One idea I’ve had is to use game play balance as a way to create scarce resources in an infinite world. For example, certain items could be introduced into a game in such a way that having too many of them obviously unbalances the game in some way. Then you charge an additional fee for players to use this item, and set the price for the item based on how much it’s used to encourage a stable population and balanced game.

Great care would need to be taken so there wouldn’t be an impression that players could just buy their way to the top of the skills chart, but it’s certainly possible to work around this. I’ll use WoW for my example, even though I don’t play that game. Let’s say they add a very powerful spell or weapon to the game that you have to pay to use. They could avoid the "buying skills" issue by first requiring you to attain your max level and complete a difficult quest to gain access to it, and then set the price in part based on how often you use it, so the more you use it the more expensive it gets. Each use destroys the item. In this way, they can use game play balance as an excuse to charge money to players in a way that doesn’t make anyone very mad.

Anonymous Coward #42 says:

I haven't seen anybody mention ...

I haven’t seen anybody mention Guild Wars here. It is most definitely a SaaS game, like WoW, but one that doesn’t require any subscription fee. I refuse to pay monthly fees in order to play a computer game. With Guild wars, they charge one-time fees for each new piece of content that comes out (campaigns, expansion packs, and other goodies such as an extra character slots), but you never pay for the service, which includes continuous updates for bug fixes new minor features, special events/items, etc.

Resale for something like this is somewhat difficult, and prone to fraud, because the game is only accessible through their servers, and you would basically have to sell your account password to somebody. Over the internet, it’s easy for a supposed seller to take somebody’s money, give them a bogus password, and run. Likewise, a legitimate seller could end up giving somebody their password and not getting any money for it.

HOWEVER, I never buy any computer/video games with "resale" in mind. I buy them because I know I want them. If at some point I decide I want to sell them, I already knew from the moment I bought them that they wouldn’t be worth much of anything. I may eventually get tired of Guild Wars, but I don’t know if I’ll ever try to sell my account. For the amount of entertainment value I’m getting out of the money I spent on it, I’ll probably consider it money well spent and that will be the end of it. And besides, if I ever do want to get back into it again, providing the game servers are still around, then I wouldn’t have to buy the software and start over from scratch again.

Ultimately, there are lots of different kinds of gamers out there, and they all think different ways and have different ideas about what makes good value. I personally think that trying to move all console games to SaaS is a very, VERY bad idea, because it ends up just being more DRM under the guise of "value." Just like Microsoft’s DRM scheme, once they decided to shutdown their activation servers, all your DRM’d music became inaccessible. The same will be true for video games. Now, while this may look good to companies who are trying to maximize their profits (because it will basically force people to buy new games when they ‘deactivate’ the older ones), it is really going to tick off a lot of gamers, and could end up majorly hurting their margins in the long run. Hopefully this won’t get out of hand.

jonnyq says:

I've never actually played WOW. ...

I’ve never actually played WOW. Just going by what I’ve heard and the basics of their business model – millions of users * a few $ a month = billions of $. If Lineage is even bigger and better, then kudos to them. Since Lineage is the same genre business model, then that just supports my point.

Beyond that, I don’t know if the rest of what you said is directed at me.

Jesse says:

I don't mind some subscription ...

I don’t mind some subscription services, and I played eve for a while. They have some good ideas, like allowing you to suspend your account for six months without losing your character (eg so right now I’m too busy to play). But overall, I find it too expensive. 15 a month is too much for me. If I went out and bought, even an expensive game, it would be maybe 60…but then I could play it whenever I want. I mean every now and then I like to get back into an old game, like Starcraft, and it’s been more than a decade since I first paid for it. Good investment.

On the other hand, with eve, the ‘expansions’ are free, and so is the actual game. And it is an online community of course, but in many ways so is Starcraft, and that is free. So I don’t know if it is worth it…but for me personally Eve feels a little too expensive.

Mike (user link) says:

Sure, it costs Blizzard or ...

Sure, it costs Blizzard or Valve money to run their content servers. But the cost of connecting one more user for one more month by itself is pretty small, especially at scale. We’re talking well under a dollar. So even the service could be considered a so-called "infinite" good.

It’s still a scarce good, even if it’s cheap. There *is* a marginal cost for Blizzard or Valve.

But, even more importantly, it’s a scarce resource that *they* have control over. So, for them, there isn’t real competition that drives the price all the way down to marginal cost. The value of the *game* is the differentiator that lets them profit.

chris (user link) says:

steam, live arcade, mmo's... ...

steam, live arcade, mmo’s… this is the last generation for games deliverd on disc. after the current generation of consoles is replaced i can guarantee that delivery will be the norm.

the people who should be afraid aren’t firsthand gamers or seconhand gamers… it’s the gamestops of the world. these are pretty much high end pawnshops, and if physical game formats decline, these shops will cease to exist since you can buy/sell/trade hardware and accessories on craigslist.

matt says:

it's not "new" vs "used", it's "now" vs "later"

money talks…..period.

A simple example:

NHL 2K9 Retail: $59.99
NHL 2K8 Retail: $19.99
NHL 2K7 Retail: $14.99

these are new game prices. used is even more skewed– $55 for ’09, $15 for ’08, and $10 for ’07.

When you consider there isn’t very much new content in the past two updates (some claim its even regressed), you can see why they want you to buy it TODAY when it’s $60, and not tomorrow when it’s $20. It’s not new or used, it’s now vs later.

Doesn’t matter sports titles or otherwise – with the $$ required to make modern games, plus stupid amounts of money for lawyers, marketers, advertisers, promoters, audio licensing, etc, they NEED to sell these at release date and not in six months.

Gamers on the other hand have gotten smarter, I think. I know I’m much more likely to look at a new release coming out and think “you know what, this game will go down 50% in price in less than six months, and it will play the same.”

There’s so much content out there that it’s really just not a huge deal to wait until the prices are more manageable, especially in a down economy where everyone’s cash strapped.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:


Couldn’t you just see this move as them offering an infinite good (the maps) in order to sell more of a scarce good (the game). That seems to be consistent with the Masnick strategy, so why the criticism?

It looks to me like you’ve just flipped the wording around, and called it, “selling ‘infinite goods’ rather than scarce goods, and that seems likely to backfire”. But aren’t they offering the two as a bundle now? I see it as selling the scarce good, and throwing in the infinite, which is borne out by the fact that they previously only sold the scarce, and only now “threw in” the infinite.

That’s what you argue for consistently, until now. What am I missing?

The other old guy says:


This sucks. This article, eventhough it is dumb, it had great comments, including mine. But you had to royalli screw it up. Anyway, we forgive you, but check and recheck your backup / restore options.

I can’t remember downloading any goodies for a game I just bought. Sometimes I download patches for my games, but not for CoD4 for example. It’s 1.6 patch SUCKS big time because the servers are not as good as the original release, eventhough it has “new maps”.

If I download some patch, I make a backup copy, with the full backup I make every 3-6 months.

In summary, I don’t sell my PC games. Never. Not even once. I don’t know a single hard core PC gamer that sells his/her games. Hard core gamers like to re-visit their old games, so why sell them?

Anonymous Coward says:

This strategy is aimed solely at Gamestop stores. Gamestop sells new games, but they also sell used games that were just released for $5 less than the new version. Their employees are also trained to offer the used version to anyone that asks, since there is a higher profit margin on the used copies. So by including these maps for the new game at $60, Epic and Microsoft are trying to give people a reason to buy the game new shortly after release instead of used. They don’t even sell the maps so that people who buy used can get them, the only way to get them is to buy the game new.

I don’t actually think this strategy will work, or at least, not to the level that they are hoping it eill.

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