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Over the past decade or so, the second-hand games market has been slowly transforming the video games industry. What begun as a niche dominated by specialist stores like the UK’s CEX is now a standard retail practice not just in game stores like GameStop and on eBay, but in supermarkets and high-street entertainment retailers. The huge appetite for trade-in is now pushing developers and publishers to offer pre-order bonuses to encourage us to buy games at full price – or to implement longevity features into their games that discourage you from selling them on.
When it emerged last week that Capcom’s Resident Evil: The Mercenaries for 3DS does not allow users to delete their save files, the immediate uproar from gamers brought our attitude to the second-hand games market into sharp relief. If we can’t trade a game in, or if a publisher is assumed to have done something that devalues it, it’s seen as an encroachment of our consumer rights. Resident Evil: The Mercenaries’ permanent save file was immediately assumed to be an anti-trade-in measure, and the reaction was caustic.
Capcom has since claimed that the feature had nothing whatsoever to do with preventing trade-ins. “Second-hand sales were not a factor in this development decision,” said Capcom Europe in a statement to the press. “The nature of the game invites high levels of replayability, encouraging fans to improve mission scores. The save mechanic ensures that both original and unlocked game content will be available to all users. We hope that all our consumers will be able to enjoy the entirety of the survival-action experiences that the game does offer. ”On Friday, Capcom US boss Christian Svensson addressed the issue in a video interview on the Capcom Unity website, assuring everyone that it would be a one-off. “There was no hidden motive to prevent buying used copies. It’s not some secret form of DRM,” he said. “It’s simply the way we designed the save system to work with the arcade type of gameplay.
“It’s fair to say there was never quite the malicious intent the conspiracy theorists out there would have you believe… It’s also fair to say in light of the controversy it’s generated I don’t think you’re going to see something like this happening again.”
But to many gamers and more than a few retailers, it doesn’t seem to have mattered. In Japan, trade-in prices for the title are severely affected by the inability to wipe the previous user’s data. In the US, GameStop ordered stores not to accept trade-in copies of The Mercenaries, though the company later backtracked on that decision. In the UK, retailer HMV decided that it will not sell the game second-hand, though more gaming-focused retailers Game and GameStation are selling the game as usual.
The storm, it seems, has not yet passed. Whether or not Capcom intended Mercenaries’ one-save-only nature as a deterrent against trading in the game – and it certainly didn’t, based on the evidence – that’s how it has been interpreted. And it’s raising some questions about our attitude to second-hand games. Just what can publishers do to encourage us to buy games first-hand, on the day of release, filtering the money back to them and the developer rather than into the pockets of a retailer? What measures are they taking, and are they fair to us?EA’s Project Ten Dollar has proved controversial.
EA’s Project Ten Dollar is perhaps the most visible example of a publisher taking a stand against trade-ins. Beginning as a one-use code offering access to things like Mass Effect’s Cerberus network and a few Bad Company 2 freebies, Project Ten Dollar soon developed into a way for EA to monetise its online multiplayer offerings in EA Sports games, charging players who bought the game second-hand a $10 fee for an EA Online Pass that allows them to access online play and leaderboards, amongst other things.
Project Ten Dollar didn’t exactly get brilliant press when it was announced. It was regarded as a way of punishing people who buy second-hand, restricting content to those who pay a premium – even though EA has always gone to great pains to explain the Onilne Pass well and be transparent about how it works and why it was introduced.
By contrast, Activision has emphasised that it will never charge for multiplayer, wherever you buy a game. Call of Duty Elite, announced just a few months ago, is also an incentive programme – although unlike the EA Online Pass, Activision isn’t charging for multiplayer features, but for extra analysis, social features, competitions and skill vids. This isn’t a direct attack on second-hand, but a more long-term way of making money out of multiplayer; it’s unlikely that first-hand buyers will get any free Elite access.
Pre-order bonuses are another, less transparently mercenary way of combating second-hand game sales, offering people something they can’t get any other way. Extra costumes, guns, items or tidbits of free DLC are usually enough to sway proper fans towards a day-one purchase. This comes with its own set of problems, though, as the recent panic over Battlefield 3’s pre-order bonus weapons demonstrates. Enormous care must be taken to make sure that those weapons don’t unbalance the game, and if they offer even the slightest advantage, gamers will not forgive it.
So are these measures fair? Is Project Ten Dollar and pre-order incentivising a fair and effective strategy? And if Mercenaries’ single-save policy had been an anti-trade-in measure, would it have been justified?
It’s easy to argue that the best way to get people to buy and keep your game is to make something that’s good enough and long-lived enough for people to want to keep for more than a couple of weeks. Sustainable multiplayer is one way to do this. Ubisoft is one of many publishers to start putting multiplayer in practically everything that it releases. But tacking on multiplayer isn’t an easy task – it’s something that often represents millions of dollars of investment, not to mention added development time.BF3’s pre-order bonus guns: unfair advantage, or fair incentive?
The fact is that the people who actually make video games – developers and publishers – see absolutely no revenue from second-hand sales at all. Of course they want more money. It’s entirely understandable that publishers are attempting to find a way around the trade-in market that is cannibalising their earnings. But there is a wrong way to go about it, and the danger zone lies in restricting a player’s choice.
Choosing to buy a game second-hand should not restrict you from content. Offering significant extra exclusive stuff through a Ten Dollar-esque pass is risky – instead, it’s imperative to give players the choice to purchase it independently later on, if they want, for around the same price.
Restricting second-hand players from online features unless they pay a fee is more of a grey area. Online multiplayer is currently expected to be free for everyone, though that perception is slowly changing. But the EA Pass does offer choice – it lets you pay for online multiplayer only if you want it, rewarding those players who choose to pay full price.Dead Island is yet another game to offer DLC as a pre-order bonus.
Most important, though, is a player’s right to choose what they do with a game that they own – whether to keep it or trade it in – and any anti-second-hand measure that affects that choice should rightly be called out. As gamers’ reaction to over-protective DRM has consistently shown over the past few years, we expect to be trusted to do what we want with our possessions.
There are some rules here, clearly. You can’t give players who pay full price anything that can’t be bought later on by everyone else, too. You can’t offer anything that gives an unfair competitive advantage to people who pay more. And clearly, you can’t build anything into the game that restricts a gamer’s ability to sell it on, if that’s what they choose to do.
But why should publishers be pilloried for wanting to earn money from their own releases? Why should tackling second-hand sales be something that deserves vilification? There’s a difference, after all, between restricting content and offering incentives. What publishers are doing at the moment is attempting to find that line – and there have been a few mis-steps along the way.
Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, however, wasn’t one of them. It was just an unfortunate design decision that has had unintended consequences, for Capcom and for players hoping to trade the game in. And after it caused such a ruckus, we can be confident that it won’t happen again.
Fonte: Owned by Pre-Owned?