The Used Games v. Piracy Debate

Honestly, I didn’t even know this was a debate until I happened to stumble across some forum posts talking about it.  The basic question is: is buying used games the same as software piracy?

Let’s get semantics out of the way first.  No, buying a used game is not technically the same as piracy.  With software piracy, a person either buys a single copy of some program & then illegally creates more copies, usually to sell for their own profit, or they illegally download the software in the first place.  Piracy is about making a profit for yourself.  People who buy used games are not attempting to make a profit.  They simply don’t want to pay $60 for a new game.  So on this point, no one is arguing that piracy & buying used are the same.

The crux of the argument is the bottom-line (at least for publishers & developers); Buying used deprives companies of the money the same as piracy does.  If I buy a used game from my local Gamestop, the money goes to them, not the publishers.  So the retail store makes a profit because they’re making extra money on a single copy of a game instead of having to purchase new ones.

Now before I give my opinion on the matter, I want to look at both side of the argument, because both do make valid points.

Used Games Are Piracy.  This is the stand of most publishers, developers & some gamers.  The idea is that buying used games deprives the companies of the profit.  For example:

A retail store buys a new game for $60, then sells it to a customer for $60.  The retailer breaks even, but the profit goes to the publisher.  Now supposed the customer sells the game back to the retailer for $10, then the retailer sells the game used to a new customer for $40.  Now the retailer has made a $30 profit, & the publishers get nothing because a new copy hasn’t been bought from them.

This is how companies look at it.  It is in this way that companies compare used games to piracy.  Either way, they’re still not getting any money from it.  The only difference is they can’t legally do anything about used games.

People argue that used games hurt the industry.  They take money away from publishers & developers.  As much as we’d like to think that developers love gaming as an art, want to make meaningful games & whatnot, they are still ultimately in it to make a profit — even if it’s for no more reason than to be able to make more of the games they love.  Would developers make a game they didn’t think would sell?  No.

People who choose this side point out that developers only receive a small portion of the sales of their games, when most of the money goes to the publishers.  If the publisher doesn’t make a profit on a game, they won’t support that developer in their future endeavours.  In this way, used games hurt the industry.  If developers don’t make money, they can’t keep producing games.

Used Games Are Not Piracy.  Predominately made of gamers, these people argue that buying used games does not, on the whole, hurt the industry.  It’s simply a more viable economic choice for them.  Especially in today’s economy, shelling out $60 for every game is just not an option.

Even if it does deprive the companies of some profit, proponents of this side believe that it doesn’t really affect them in the long run.  The basic argument goes something like this:

Say you have a person who isn’t completely convinced they’ll like a certain game.  Sixty dollars is a lot to pay for a game they’ll only play once before deciding it wasn’t worth it.  But they might be willing to pay $30 for it, especially if they know they can sell it back later.  Then supposed they buy a used game & really like it.  This makes it more likely that they’ll buy the next game in that series or from the same developer new.  Had they not had the option to buy the game at a cheaper price, they wouldn’t have bought future games, thus only adding to the company’s profit.

People who support used games also argue that buying a used game does not prevent gamers from buying DLC’s, which is further profit for the game companies.  Probably even more so, because DLC’s are cheaper to make because they have no production fees (meaning they’re completely digital, so companies don’t have to pay to put them on disks or sell them to retailers).

Besides, they argue, once someone has bought the game, it’s no longer the company’s right to tell them what to do with it.  So long is it’s not illegal (i.e. real piracy), the customer can do with it as they see fit.  It’s no different from someone buying, say, a car & then chopping it up to sell the different pieces.

So now that I’ve shed some light on both side, which side do I agree with?

I side with those who argue that used games are NOT piracy.  I do not believe, ultimately, that my refusal to pay full price for a game hurts the industry.  I’ve bought both used & new games.  There are some games that I enjoy so much I don’t mind paying the extra money to have the game the day it comes out.  For instance, I’ve preordered both Skyrim & Mass Effect 3 because I know no matter what, I will like both games.  I’ll also probably get Saints Row The Third new for Christmas.  So just because I have bought used games doesn’t mean I don’t support developers I like.  I know it costs money to make games, & if I want to see more of the games I like I need to buy them directly.

I also believe that it benefits companies to have retailers resell used games.  I read a statistic that 42% of Gamestop’s profit comes from used games.  And what do they do with that profit?  Use it to buy new games, of course.  So even though the profit goes directly to Gamestop, the game companies ultimately get the money back.  And while we’re on that subject, what do you think gamers do with the money they get back from selling used games?  I always sell my old games back to Gamestop for in-store credit, which I then use to buy new games or gaming accessories.  So the publishers still get my money, I’m just not out as much as I would be had I bought everything new.

Also, I don’t buy the game companies’ sob story about recouping their expenses.  Yes, I know it costs a lot of money to make games.  But I’m not naive.  I took both Micro & Macroeconomics, & got A’s in both.  And therefore I know there is no product on the face of this earth that isn’t sold at a higher price than it costs to make it.  Plus, I’ve yet to hear of any game developer going under directly because used games stole their profits.  I have a hard time believing monoliths like Ubisoft crying that they’re not making a profit anymore.

If companies get away with stopping used game sales, what’s to stop them from saying renting games are illegal?  Isn’t it the same thing?  I pay Gamefly a monthly fee to temporarily own a game before they rent it out to someone else, the companies don’t actually get my money for it either.  I’m just now getting around to older games that I was interested in when they first came out, but didn’t have the money to permanently own.  I’d rather save my money for games I’m really excited about then risk it on a game that might not live up to my expectations.  For example, I just now finished Assassin’s Creed, & plan to rent the sequels in the future.  So if I end up liking them, I’m more likely to buy the new game that comes out.  Again, more sales for the companies that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

I have nothing against companies trying to entice me to buy a game new, or even preorder it.  A lot of companies include free content for new game purchases that purchasers of used games would have to pay to download.  For example, when Dragon Age Origins first came out, it included a code to download The Stone Prisoner content for free.  Without this code, it would cost you 1200 MP (or $15) to purchase it.  But we should not be penalized for buying a game used.  Take the current issue with Rage.  A lot of people have been up in arms about Id Software withholding content in their upcoming game to people who buy the game used.  It’s one thing to have codes that allow free access to extra content come with new games or say I can’t have your fancy new content until I pay extra, but it’s quite another to lock up content that was already in the game just because I can’t afford to buy it new.  For the record, I never intended to buy Rage, but I’ve long ago come to the conclusion that I’m very passive-aggressive, & I am the type of person who wouldn’t buy something because the publishers pulled a stunt like this.

I’m sorry, game publisher.  How dare I prioritize my money & believe that college tuition, car insurance & food should come before buying the game that only a small percentage of the proceeds go to the people who actually made the game.

Don’t forget, oh great & might publishers, that until I actually hand you the money, it’s mine to do with as I see fit.  And if I want to give it to you to buy your standard, run-of-the-mill Halo clone, I can choose to do so.  Or if I’d rather stand on the side of the Ohio River & toss $60 in it to watch it get eaten by toxins, I can choose to do that too.  But if that makes me a pirate in your eyes, then I’d better start looking for a parrot, and eye patch & a cool nickname.  Oh wait, I’ve already got one of those…

– GamerDame



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2 responses to “The Used Games v. Piracy Debate

  1. CCE

    Let’s replace $60 game with $60,000 car and publisher with manufacturer. If you buy a 10y/o car for $15,000 are you taking money away from the manufacturer? Should you be forced to buy only new cars, paying full price? So what if you can’t afford a new car? Are you saying that if you can’t buy a new car, you shouldn’t be allowed to own one? Are you saying that if you did buy a new car, you shouldn’t be allowed to sell it?

    When I pay for a game, I am buying property, not an untransferable users license. To whom or for how much I sell my property is no ones business. That is every bit my right just like buying someones else’s used property. Sometimes I buy used because I can’t afford full price. If I didn’t have the option to buy used games / systems, I wouldn’t be a gamer. And then the industry wouldn’t get ANY of my money, but I do so they do. Thankfully, I live in America not Nazi Germany.

    • I’m glad you brought up the used car example, because it’s something I thought of after the fact. Chevrolet isn’t trying to guilt me on the fact that I’ve only bought their used cars. And I’m pretty sure the $10000 loss they’re experiencing is worse than the $10 loss EA gets. Publishers really do themselves a disservice by saying games are a luxury & therefore don’t have to bother putting them at reasonable prices.

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