The end of second-hand games?

Video games today lose value rapidly. I bought several games at the Steam Christmas sales for half price which had only just come out this autumn, like Borderlands 2 or Dishonored. Of course a part of the reason for such big rebates is just plain marketing. But there is another factor: The sale of used games. People that buy games on release often resell them a month later for half price, when they played the game through. And as a “used game”, unlike a “used car”, is as good as the original (if not better after the first patches), that supply of half-price used games drives down the price of the original.

While that is good news for people who can wait, it is obviously not so good news to game companies. At best they sell me a game at half the price, at worst they get absolutely nothing while I buy a used game. If only they could stop the sale of second-hand games, they could keep prices high for longer and sell to more people. So it is not really surprising that they are working of ways to achieve exactly that. Sony has a new patent that could prevent the resale of games of some future console.

It works relatively simple: Game discs would come with an RFID chip embedded, and the first time they are played on a console, the console writes its unique ID onto that chip. From then on the game runs only on that console and not any more on any other. Now of course some people would quickly find ways to erase that RFID chip. But at least in the USA that would illegal under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which prohibits circumventing any digital rights management systems. You’d be able to buy second-hand games from the boot of a car, but second-hand game shops would have no legal way to exist.

Now this is just at the patent stage yet. It might not yet be a feature of the Playstation 4, but it might come with the Playstation 5. And if Sony does it, Microsoft and Nintendo won’t be far behind. As for the PC, well, I already can’t sell my used Steam games.

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7 Responses to “The end of second-hand games?”

  1. Klepsacovic says:

    The secondhand shops could still legally exist. They sell things that are property: the discs.

    This method would be a huge problem if a console breaks or needs to be sent in for repairs. Also no bringing a game to a friend's house to play with them.

    Once again, it is a 'solution' that won't stop the resale or piracy, but will reduce the value for the customers.

  2. Josh says:

    That's somewhat clever, from a technical perspective, but RFID chips aren't really to the point where the patent could be reliably implemented. The first time time a batch goes bad from heat, it'd be a hell of a nasty class action lawsuit — and that's ignoring the potential for sabotage by some pissed-off customer or employee walking down a store hall and breaking tens of thousands of dollars in inventory by spamming a fake (or real) consoleID. Solvable problems, but also problems where they can look solved until disaster strikes.

  3. Unknown says:

    The big problem with the Steam model is that it allows a company to hold a lot of my property at their whim. Right now because of a dispute with them, they have locked down my account and the only recourse I have is to argue with some low level CS reps on a website. All of the money I spent on games through them is lost with little I can do about it. They even locked a game from installing that I bought a physical copy of at gamestop because it authenticates through them.

  4. Redbeard says:

    I suspect that long term it would depress the gaming market rather than add more profits to game companies. If people aren't able to sell old games, they might get choosier about what game they want to buy, which will impact game companies' bottom lines.

    Imagine if people only picked up the big sports games (like Madden Football) once every three years or so rather than pick up one each year, that would have a big impact on EA's financials.

    With no resale value, people would look for things like longevity more. (Imagine people passing on a game such as Arkham Asylum because it doesn't take as many game hours to complete as some other titles.) Of course, some games with inherent unique value such as PvP will last longer, but that might be at the cost of PvE game content.

  5. MagrothJ says:

    The big problem with different kinds of DRM is that the ones that are getting hit are usually the actual customers who paid for it. Not the ones they are trying to prevent from stealing/copying/reselling it.

    So if they're locking the game to a specific hardware, and that hardware breaks down and has to be replaced you have to buy a new game? Lovely…

  6. scrusi says:

    I've never been a fan of used have sales and those stream sales seem like a good idea to prevent them in theory (if it wasn't for the fact that used PC games aren't usually sold anyway.

    I don't think I'd buy a console game with machine bound DRM though. I don't mind account binding much, but machine binding is too much

  7. Woody says:

    Given that it doesn't stop PC games depreciating, one wonders if it really would prop up game prices after the hype period ends. I am not sure used games have any impact.

    If I really want a game I pay full price. If I don't I wait for prices to drop. By postponing the price drop they would merely postpone my purchase. The value of a game in my head is determined by my desire to play it and not my projections of future pricing.

    Potential cuts or second hand availability might influence kids with pocket money but most gamers are far older and with large disposable incomes. If they want it they buy it and don't hold off because they think it will drop in value.

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