There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
-- Isaac Asimov
I find the debate around used games very frustrating.
It isn’t much of a debate – no one is interested in studying the problem because everyone’s too invested in having opinions about it. In the age of social media, having an opinion is good enough – I tweet therefore I am – and challenging the worth of an opinion is tantamount to an act of war.
So consider this a warning shot.
In 2009, Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter reported that used game sales generate roughly $2 billion in annual revenue, and used games accounted for one-third of all game sales in a given year.
And it appears everyone in the industry – certainly the game publishers and developers, and a lot of the press – stopped reading there.
But Pachter went on to say, "The vast majority of used games are not traded in until the original new game purchaser has finished playing - more than two months after a new game is released - typically well beyond the window for a full retail priced new game sale.” His research also suggested the pre-owned market gave gamers more income to spend on new games – amounting to a 6% gain in new sales because of it.
Anyone arguing against the sale of used games – saying that the developers deserve your money for all their hard work, making it a moral stance – are ignoring the available data.
Everything the industry is doing now – online passes, holding content hostage as DLC, making claims about who is owed what – is not about taking back something that was lost. It’s about profit. They see $2 billion and want it for themselves, and fuck every law or consumer right or inconvenient research that stands in their way.
What scares me most is how easily it has happened, with such indifference from the gaming community. And editorial here, a few forum posts there, some whinging on a podcast – barely questioning it and never attempting to fight it. Never saying, “The right of first sale should be protected. As a consumer, these practices are directly infringing my rights, and I won’t have it.” No, we wring hands and line up anyway, because apparently our desire for entertainment vastly outweighs our common sense.
I wrote about this on a now-lost blog in 2009. I thought it was a big deal. This was Pachter the analyst, not Pachter the Game Trailers sideshow. But the story didn’t go anywhere. No major consumer sites picked it up – no one in a position to advocate for our rights did so. They marched us into this present, where we now have gamers advocating for the rights of developers to squeeze undeserved money out of consumers and call it a moral good.
There is no data to back up that position. You have big business stating the opinion that consumers should get less for more at the same time as claiming ‘lost sales’ without any data to back it up. They feel they are owed more, but the truth is they just want more.
And we are giving it to them. Some of us gladly, arguing for them, taking up their appeal to emotions and never looking beyond.
On Friday, TorrentFreak shared a link to a report about the effect of piracy on the Hollywood bottom line. Hollywood lobbyists have crowed for years about the fatal effect internet piracy will have on that industry, also making the claim of ‘lost sales’. Of course, in the years since this ‘threat’ began it has never actually manifested. Box office records continue to be shattered – the most pirated film of 2009 was Avatar, which also happens to be the highest grossing film in (unadjusted) history.
As researchers from the University of Minnesota and Wellesley College report, “We do not see evidence of elevated sales displacement in US box office revenue following the adoption of BitTorrent, and we suggest that delayed legal availability of the content abroad may drive the losses to piracy.”
Rather than evil internet pirates running rampant through Hollywood profit, the only genuine lost sales Hollywood suffers are those it perpetuates by holding to outdated modes of staggered international release. Millions and millions of dollars are spent lobbying against a problem that doesn’t actually exist, and all Hollywood has to do is think different about how it distributes its product.
Piracy happens. It has and will always happen. Just because the technology used is better doesn’t mean it is having a greater effect on the industry now than it has ever done. Piracy does not necessarily have the negative impact on sales billion dollar companies would like to believe it has.
And the games industry? Things have been rough in the past few years, for a lot of reasons – this economy, the inflated cost of development, sales being down across the board even if a few titles make Oprah-money. Could it be that the aggressive attacks the industry is leveling against consumers to fight imagined lost sales is finally paying off? If Pachter’s analysis was right – that the money consumers get back from selling their games is more often than not used to fund new game sales – could the decline, in part, be a result of successful lobbying? It’s not the effect the industry wants, but that tends to happen when you’re fighting windmills and calling them dragons.
And the worst thing is, it’s a self-sustaining system. The industry introduces anti-consumer measures to make itself more money; consumers have less money from selling their used games to buy new; the industry goes, “SEE! We’re losing money! KILL USED SALES!”; more anti-consumer measures are introduced to claw back money that is, now, genuinely lost, though still not for the reasons they claim; and so on, until the whole thing comes down.
I’m not claiming this as a truth. It is my opinion, and it’s based on the research I’ve done – and I can’t claim that the research is true, as I’m sure someone could point out, because I didn’t do it myself. It’s all second hand. But the point is, I did research. I’ve looked into this situation rather than just felt something about it.
What I found lead me here – embattled, angry, impotent to make change but wanting to do something, anything, to say that I didn’t just roll over while this industry shat itself and used us to wipe; while the enthusiast press still prioritizes clicks over critical thinking and kowtows to its master more than questions it; while so many people viciously defend their right to have an opinion about this but don’t bother to make it worth something.
Here, saying you’re wrong about used games, and asking you to think.