Tighe: Used games spark debate

Columnist Samantha Tighe discusses the future, relevance and controversy of used video games.

Samantha Tighe

Samantha TigheThe debate about the validity of used games has been raging for decades. Most gamers can attest to having purchased a pre-owned game at some point of their lives. Buying a video game at a discounted price is actually quite a bargain. Rumors have also been circulating for years about the impending crackdown on used games by video game developers and companies. It’s no secret that for every pre-owned game that is sold, the companies take a profit hit, begging the question: What if the used games market becomes obsolete?

Very rarely do I purchase a game at full retail price. Unless it’s something that I’ve been dying to play, I’ll usually wait around until it gets cheaper. Even a brand new game has a used game counterpart somewhere. For example, about a week after “Skyrim” was released, one of my old roommates managed to get a used copy that surfaced. Essentially, he got a new game $10 cheaper than what it was retailing for. In grand scheme of things, he still would have purchased “Skyrim” even if a used game version were not present at that particular GameStop — but a deal’s a deal, so he acted upon it.

GameStop, arguably one of the world’s largest video game retailers, makes a decent chunk of change out of used game sales. In this year’s 10-K form, GameStop reported that used games attributed to almost 31.9 percent of the company’s gross profit.

Let’s say that, worst case scenario, the next generations of consoles have security features built into them that prevent a game from being used on another console. In other words, when you purchase a video game, it is yours exclusively forever and can’t be sold. You wouldn’t even be able to let your friend borrow it. What would that do to GameStop?

I imagine, for a couple years, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and even the Nintendo Wii would still be fairly popular until major game titles start releasing on the new consoles. Eventually, most gamers would make the switch and, with almost 30 percent of its profit gone, I’m sure GameStop would take a hit.

Additionally, the video game rental company, GameFly, would be out of business unless it would specifically work with companies and developers on creating a solution. It’s no joke though — there are companies out there that rely on the used game market to make profit. If that profit or market were crippled, I’m sure a lot more companies would be going out of business.

What I’m saying does appear to be a strange doomsday approach to the situation. However, it’s not like I’m completely coming out of left field with these musings. Video game companies have already dipped their feet into this cesspool with the use of SecuROM.

Some of you may cringe at the word “SecuROM,” and others may not know what the hell I’m talking about. SecuROM is a built-in protection feature for CDs and DVDs and has been used in several big title games like “Mass Effect” and “Spore.” Its original purpose was to prevent video game piracy — supposedly SecuROM games can’t be copied or downloaded illegally. That purpose is fine; one can’t really condone illegal downloads.

However, one of SecuROM’s controversial features is the limit of activations granted to a particular game. That means that if I purchase a computer game with SecuROM on it, I only have between three to five activations — depending on the game — before it shuts me out. So, say I need to completely wipe and restore my computer. When I re-download that particular video game I’m already up to two activations. SecuROM also doesn’t uninstall itself from your computer when you uninstall a game it is attached to, which starts to get into the user-privacy realm.

There are ways around it, and if you call the particular video game company you can deactivate certain computers or raise your activation limit altogether. It’s a hoop that people have to jump through, an unnecessary step many have to take to simply play or sell a game they had already purchased. It’s true, SecuROM’s presence has declined due to the general outrage because of it, but it opened the door for future preventions. Although most games don’t use SecuROM exactly, many do have security features that resemble it.

Companies have been toying with other ways to goad gamers to buy new. Developers have been releasing purchase codes for additional game content, like new guns or quests. This key can only be entered once, an incentive to get players to purchase a new game.

Furthermore, we consumers don’t have concrete information to go on regarding the next generation of the Xbox and PlayStation. Hell, we don’t even have names. The rumor mill has been turning, but most of these speculations can be taken with a grain of salt. There are some people out there who are claiming that future video game purchases will all be done online via Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network and that these games can only be used by your account.

At this point, consumers have to wait and see what the future holds for used games. Development wise, we’re at a crossroad. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising to see some limitations posed on previously owned games, but it also depends on how we react. We do have a lot of power — they need our money to run their companies, but do gamers have the collective willpower to boycott?

Samantha Tighe can be reached at samantha.tighe@temple.edu.

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