Microsoft's Attack On Used Game Sales Asks Customers To Sacrifice Their Rights To Save An Industry
from the industry-is-not-responding.-kill-process? dept
As Microsoft stumbles towards the eventual release of the Xbox One (an all-in-one console apparently aimed at replacing all of your entertainment devices with a sleek black box equipped with eyes, ears and a frustrating inability to fire up a secondhand game without tossing some
cash Points into the tollbooth), gamers (for the most part) have expressed their irritation and disbelief, even going so far as to call on Sony to not eff up the next Playstation with the same sort of purposefully limited feature set.
But, this intentional limitation does have its supporters within the gaming community. One of them is Ben Kuchera, who penned an editorial in support of the new Xbox over at Penny Arcade. He argues that this combination of account lock-in and elimination of used games will be a net win for most gamers, who will presumably enjoy some sort of trickle down effect from game developers.
GameStop may not be able to aggressively hawk used games for $5 less than the new price to customers under these new controls, which is great if you’re a developer or publisher. Once that secondary market is removed you can suddenly profit from every copy of your game sold, and as profit margins rise it’s possible we’ll see prices drop.
Yes, that’s a possibility. But I would imagine it’ll take a few years before new releases start hitting the market on day one for less than $60, especially if Sony goes the other way and keeps secondhand gaming alive. Kuchera also suggests that Xbox may feature more Steam-esque bundles and faster price cuts, presumably because killing the secondhand market will flood game developers with price experimentation-type money. He could be right, but (again) I don’t see this developing the near future.
But here’s where Ben goes wrong.
It needs to be made clear, if all the studio closings and constant lay-offs haven’t made this explicit: The current economics of game development and sales are unsustainable. Games cost more to make, piracy is an issue, used-games are pushed over new, and players say the $60 cost is too high. Microsoft’s initiatives with the Xbox One may solve many of these issues, even if we grumble about it. These changes ultimately make the industry healthier.
Microsoft wants consumers to buy discs but come away with nothing more tangible than licenses when all is said and done. This push has been in the making for several years, with the PC gaming market leading the way. Of course, you can still buy the discs (and resell them — if anyone’s buying) but services like Steam have paved the way for gamers to load their hard drives up with bright, shiny licenses, and not much else. For many, the convenience is a decent trade-off. For others, the speedy application of price cuts makes giving up the right of first sale a little less painful. But Ben’s arguing that we, the public, should willingly give up another chunk of our rights in order to help bail out an industry. Is that what we really want?
In a brilliant response to both Ben Kuchera and another commenter in the Neogaf discussion thread (who maintains that the “detrimental effects” of used game harm the gaming industry), faceless007 argues that we don’t.
You admit you only hold this view because of the detrimental effects (you think) are impacting the industry. You are asserting that a fundamental aspect of property rights and consumer rights as it has existed since the beginning of trade should be adjusted and recodified on a per-industry basis, not because it’s inherently bad or unethical, but just because you think it’s a threat to the industry’s health. Which means you are essentially arguing for protectionism for corporations–consumers are free to exercise their consumer rights only up to a certain point, but if that free exercise is perceived to threaten the viability of the industry, then their rights must be limited in order to save the industry.
It’s one thing to see an industry mouthpiece tout the “benefits” (which, for the consumer, are often “limitations”) of replacing the right of sale with digital license boilerplate full of phrases warning that everything in the “agreement” could change at any given time. We expect that from those who directly benefit by removing or severely limiting the secondhand market. It’s rather galling to hear affected customers arguing for the health of an industry over their own rights.
But faceless007 isn’t done and turns on the industry itself, taking it to task for its self-inflicted inability to flourish in a market that it endlessly exploits to the nth degree.
The industry does not come first; consumers do. I have no sympathy for an industry that cannot properly stumble its way around a viable secondhand market like every other mature industry in the world… If this industry can’t find a way to make money off the primary market — even with DLC and exclusive pre-order content and HD re-releases and map packs and online passes and annualized sequels and “expanding the audience” and AAA advertising and forced multiplayer — then, if I may be so blunt, fuck it. It doesn’t deserve our money in the first place.
If an entire industry has its head so far up its ass, is so focused on short-term gains, and has embraced such a catastrophically stupid blockbuster business model in the pursuit of a stagnant market of hardcore 18-34 dudebros that it thinks it has no choice but to take away our first-sale rights as its last chance of maybe, finally, creating a sustainable stream of profits, then it can go to hell. It doesn’t need your protection, it needs to be taken out back and beaten until it remembers who its real masters are.
There are many industries that love having customers but actively hate granting them the control to resell their purchases. It pains them to watch money change hands without taking a bit off the top.
Look at the recording industry. It likes licenses for music on platforms like iTunes. Digital means a lower distribution cost. But it still handles each sale like a physical CD — at least when it comes to paying their artists. The end format is malleable for those who control it. Want to sell your purchased mp3s? Sorry. It’s just a license. Looking for your larger license royalty? Sorry. It’s a CD.
The motion picture industry is no better. Please jump through our DRM hoops and get your entertainment through our portals… until these shut down and you are the only one getting screwed. Why? Because the industry won’t make it if it can’t find the next $200-400 million to throw into holes like “John Carter” and “Green Lantern.”
Do we really need more examples? We need to pay more for games in order to save an industry that’s done things like hand customers a fully, purposefully broken SimCity and then spent the next several weeks denying every contradictory fact gamers dug up? Microsoft may get more developers on board by promising them they’ll never have to “lose” a sale to Gamestop again, but if this is the only sustainable route, then the gaming industry has problems that run much deeper than used game sales. If the Xbox is the “new way,” then purchasers are paying for the privilege of being victimized by an industry that wants its customers to pay for its bad habits.
The game industry thrived for years alongside a secondhand market. If it can’t make it now, it has no one to blame but itself.