From the pages of the past! Ads of yesteryear – More Used Games

The used games debate has been fiercely raging as of late. There’s even news of a retailer promising to give back 10% of their used game sales to the publishers/developers.

There’s no doubt that used games are something of a sore point to developers and publishers. They’re perceived as a big problem elsewhere, such as in Japan. At the same time, telling people that they’re not allowed to sell back their plastic discs or cartridges can often get one speared by angry looks and negative forum postings.

People like selling their stuff if only to get back some of their investment to get newer stuff. It’s something of a free market tradition since the dawn of capitalism. That’s probably why there’s so much resistance to the idea of killing the used game market – it’s just inconceivable when you look at used movies, cars, etc. everywhere else. Why single out games?

I explored the question of used games in an earlier post and confess to buying used myself, especially when it comes to older games that I had missed out on or titles that I might finally get around to playing months or years later. Unlike books, when a game ceases its run, the only copies left are those found in bargain bins, Ebay, local garage sales, a dumped ROM, or in your friend’s collection.

One thing I’ve noticed from the debate is how the used market is going to kill everything. Just like that. An apocalyptic end game to gaming in general thanks to used games.

But used games have been around for decades, years that have seen countless iterations of PC hardware, generations of consoles, and vast software empires such as EA and Activision rise like phoenixes from the dust.

Used Games ad from the early 80s

Here's an ad from the early 80s selling used Atari carts. You had to buy a minimum of 3, though.

But used games…killing gaming? Where did that come from?

It’s increasingly apparent that more emotional rhetoric is being delivered into the debate. At the same time, it’s also clear that much of it should be aimed more squarely at certain practices such as what Gamestop does with its own used games market. Pricing its used titles near to the MSRP of its new games is something of the poster child for the major problems brought up in many of the arguments I’ve read.

However, it’s also not new. Many others in the past have done exactly the same thing. And some using pricing models that are far worse than what Gamestop does today.

Used games ad for NES titles

Here's an old ad with a list of NES titles for sale during the system's heyday. Buy in prices are listed in one column and what they'll sell for in the next. As you can see, this particular outfit nearly doubles up on the used game prices but uses that psychological trick to keep it slightly less to convince people at a glance that they have decent deals.


Used games ad, early 90s

This outfit has some of the worst prices I've seen for used games often marking up titles three times of what they'll pay for. That's right, that high markup is for USED games. The only thing missing from the drawing of the happy kids in the upper left hand corner is that of a pirate pickpocketing their lunch money from behind.

In comparison to some of these examples, Gamestop almost seems like a saint. Almost.

But if these ads are any indication, and if the market is anything to go by, the gaming space has little to fear other than what it’s doing to itself. I’ve also heard arguments asking that games be dropped to half of what they are now in order to bring in more players with publishers/developers gaining a larger audience share while breaking even on sales revenue.

That’s all well and good, but personally, I think that people will still spend their money on games that they like. Dropping Skyrim to $30 won’t convince an FPS or sports fan to play it overnight. It might enable a faster sell-through, but I have doubts on whether it will actually make as much bank as the approach proposes.

That and publishers have proven that they are more willing to bet on a high price point to garner an immediate return on what they see as an investment. Most of the largest sales numbers are recorded in the first few months of a title’s sale and unfortunately, there are more than enough customers to justify sticking to the $60 price point for console titles. And then there is the mobile market.

High production costs aren’t helping, either. As technology continues to improve at a breakneck pace and as people yearn for bigger and better experiences, developers are becoming hard pressed to meet that demand in the console and PC space. But costs haven’t scaled as well as their budgets could hope for contributing to the adoption of the $60 price point regardless of a particular title’s budget.

And those costs are being passed down to customers. Will games get more expensive in the next generation? No one can say other than that more than one developer have already voiced concerns over spiraling production costs. And publishers are going to try and find ways to get back everything on that investment. They already have been with online passes and DLC.

And as games get more expensive, more people will probably be looking at the used game market to shave a few more bucks off of that price sticker. Something that gamers have been doing since the Atari made its big splash nearly more than thirty years earlier.


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