A Love & Hate Relationship: Pre-owned Gaming

We gamers probably know more about getting scammed than most. Be it the words "hello, stranger" or a 35 year-old, rosy-cheeked midget dressed in green, the result is always the same. We trade the hard-earned goods we obtain from our brutal pillages for just a few rupees, only to be later told we will have to pay triple that amount to buy them back. There is an ever-present aim to get as many Republic Credits, Gil or Septims as we can, which often blinds us from the blatant crude business practices employed by Tom Nook and his kind.

In Europe, we take this even further, into our real lives. I'm talking of course about the pricing of games. I remember ISS 64 and Turok 64 cost me £64 when the N64 came out. This, of course, was extremely clever, and we all appreciated the subtle mastery of their pricing policy. There was a huge uproar when games were only £50 on the Xbox360, not £360. I guess we will have to settle for cheaper games.
Cynical British sarcasm aside, the news that Rock Band will be £180 in the UK did rattle me a bit. I can understand that our value-added tax adds 17.5% to the price, but compared to the US price of $169 (£85) I can't help but feel bitter. Not only is Europe at the bottom of every release list ever created, but we also have to pay more for the wait. This isn't all about me moaning, though. For cost per hour, games are better value than DVDs and some CDs. I've just clocked my 90th hour on Oblivion and I'm still yet to finish the fighters' guild. That works out at less than 50p (or about $1 USD) an hour. Also, gamers should be aware that development costs can sometimes be huge for the big-budget game titles, and marketing costs are rising by the day. Regardless of all this, a lot of UK gamers still feel the need to sometimes delve into the seedy market of secondhand games.

When I was younger, I was a Nintendo fanboy, yet I secretly longed to play Metal Gear Solid and GTA. So instead of forking out a huge amount of money that I didn't have, I bought a PlayStation secondhand, happy in the knowledge that Sony wouldn't see a penny of my pocket money. I do, however, feel guilty when buying secondhand games and I recognise it as a problem for the industry, especially with so many developers declaring bankruptcy in recent years. The secondhand market in the UK was worth £100 million in 2007, something that makes gaming companies increasingly wary. Publishers are often complaining that it is this type of transaction that is killing the industry, with developers only receiving money in the first few weeks of sale. HMV doesn't sell second-hand CDs or DVDs, so why do they sell second-hand games? Or so the argument goes.

I can understand the publisher's concerns, but there are reasons we buy games of a secondhand nature. Firstly there are collectors, who like to own specific titles. If someone only just found out about Knights of the Old Republic, then they would have no choice but to buy it secondhand. I don't see LucasArts whacking out any new copies of the game. Communities like eBay rely on the resale market, and sales of secondhand games help retail stores make a profit during the driest months, particularly the independent shops. Secondhand games also allow us to dabble with titles like Viewtiful Joe for £20 or so, a game that many would not have gambled £40 on. The bargain bin often contains a wealth of treasures, and it's not unusual to stumble across Super Monkey Ball or Halo for a couple of quid.

The industry is making attempts at crushing the market. With digital distribution and locks on files (grrr… iTunes) preventing 'sharing' or re-selling of your media, the death of secondhand games seems imminent. Why buy a SNES, when you can buy a Wii and download a past favorite? Why walk to Game to buy that game you love but only just remembered, when you can download it straight to your hard-drive in minutes?

The reason why we should still buy hard copies of games is because it empowers us. Forgive the analogy, but games are like prostitutes. If you want a fresh, never-been-used one, then you will pay the premium price for one. Obviously, if they are a good-looking and rewarding individual, then you will be pleased with the purchase. If they are lazy and ugly, then you can't help but feel scammed. The secondhand market is dirt cheap, where you will find the whore equivalents of old FIFA titles and Lord of the Rings ports, that have been around the block and back. Then you find the real gems, the ICOs and the Chrono Triggers of the world: the legendary and exotic ones that you will pay anything to have.
By only buying new games from developers that we feel deserve our money, it puts consumers back into a position of authority. Valve should be rewarded for Orange Box, and Ubisoft should be punished for King Kong. Therefore, I bought Orange Box brand new and I bought King Kong from eBay (yes, for the achievements; please don't hate me). It's not about games costing too much in Europe; it's about the games that aren't worth it. We have the money, so we have the power. Hopefully, our spending habits will prevent any more lazy Wii titles and promote the production of more worthy games. Maybe we can force Harmonix into lowering the price of Rock Band. Unfortunately, we all know that Need for Speed and FIFA will always top the UK charts and most original IP like No More Heroes will fail to succeed. I still like to think we have a bit of influence, though. As long as we find the best balance between giving the deserving companies our money and looking for bargain in between, then there will be no problem.

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