Game Designer Defends Used Game Sales

Game designer Soren Johnson has written an essay entitled "The Case for Used Games" in which the Civilization 4 designer and Spore programmer expresses the feeling that "a few words should be said in defense of used games."

At the outset, Johnson concedes that he agrees with the main argument against the used game trade: "the less money developers get from sales of their games, the harder it is for them to take risks further down the road, let alone stay in business."

Nevertheless, his first claim in defense of used games is that GameStop is integral to the games industry and should not be seen as separate from the industry's publishers and developers. "One has a hard time imagining how the overall games market would be healthier without a strong retail chain dedicated purely to gaming," argues Johnson.

The numbers side with the designer. GameStop sales totaled $7.1 billion in 2007, a year which NPD estimates generated $17.9 billion all together.

Johnson's claims that used games are part of "market segmentation" found in more mature industries. "Consider the movie industry, which segments the market into full-price tickets, matinee tickets, pay-per-view, DVD rentals, and broadcast rights, each with a progressively lower price point per session. Used game sales are the primary method by which the retail games market is segmented."

"Keeping these price-sensitive consumers [such as youths]--who will often be tomorrow's full-price customers--in the retail system and away from piracy is a good thing all around," argues the designer.

Used games and their lower prices may expand the audience of a game, which Johnson argues is good for DLC vendors. "A used copy of Rock Band may go through several owners, but each one of them may give Harmonix money for their own personal rights to 'Baba O'Riley' or 'I Fought the Law.'"

Johnson also references new-copies-only DLC not as a method of enticing shoppers to buy new, but rather another revenue channel for users who want to buy that content for their used copy. He offers the $20 daily roster update feature in EA Canada's NBA Live 09 as an example of that DLC offered as a business opportunity, rather than a punishment for used buyers.

As his final defense of the practice, Johnson employed an argument favored by GameStop COO Dan DeMatteo in interviews: that the used game trade imbues a new game with value. "People will pay more for a new game because they know they can get some of that money back when they trade it in at the local Gamestop," he writes.

Johnson, in closing his essay, touches on digital distribution, which is widely seen as the antidote to the used game trade. But, in his mind, it has one vital flaw that's easily fixed. "Game publishers need to take an important step for digital distribution to finally matter. Games purchased digitally need to cost less than their boxed, retail counterparts." Johnson says this price difference is vital precisely because users cannot resell games they've bought digitally.