Sit Down, Shut Up, Stop Whining: A Letter to Publishers About Used Games

SDSUSW

Dear publishers,

Sit down, shut up, stop whining.

“But it’s taking money from our pock-“

No, it isn’t. Sit down. Shut up. Stop whining.

“You’re screwing over develop-“

That’s your schtick. SD. SU. SW.

“We won’t be able to afford to make gam-“

Rethink your business model. And while you’re at it, have you considered SD, SU, SW?

The problem with arguing against used games is it often requires a kind of tunnel vision; a willingness to treat games like it is the only market to ever suffer the scourge of second-hand goods. This is patently untrue. If I look to my left, I can see the Kindle which used to belong to my sister-in-law. If I turn all the way around, my gaze falls upon no less than seven Discworld books bought from charity shops. Book publishers are oppressed as shit.

But let us put that aside. Let us pretend, for a moment, that gaming is the special snowflake it so longs to be. Let us treat this bullshit with a bit of decorum.

“Used games take money from publishers.”

No, they don’t. If you view the experience of playing that game as something directly purchased from a publisher, then yeah. They totally do. But what’s actually being sold here is a small shiny disc, and the consumer is free to treat that flashy little frisbee however he or she desires, provided it isn’t bred with certain software to produce a litter of identical copies.

This argument hinges on the idea that the money that second owner might have paid for a new copy belongs, in some ethical or possibly spiritual manner, to the publisher. Forgive me, but when the cash in question is hypothetical, I neither care nor anguish over its symbolic theft.

As that single copy passes through two, three, five sets of hands, it takes nothing from the publisher except the odd pinch of bandwidth for a patch or space on a server – just as it would have in the possession of that first purchaser.

“When you buy second-hand, devs don’t get paid.”

Oh come now, let’s not be coy. The poor fuckers don’t get paid anyway.

I kid, I kid. Sorta. The vast majority of sales profit goes straight into the pocket of the publisher, assuming the contract wasn’t a one-off payment to the out-of-house studio, which it probably was. The worst you can accuse used game buyers of is causing a publisher to blame the studio for lower sales figures and, while that’s utterly fucked up and totally harsh on the devs, isn’t that really a problem with the extreme power imbalance between devs and publishers? When I buy a second-hand book, am I to blame for the author not making back their advan- SORRY, SORRY, SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE.

“We won’t be able to afford to make games anymore.”

Dude, if your business model relies entirely on spending sky-high and making truly obscene returns, your business model is kinda boned. Not that I don’t love the eye-candy extravaganzas, but Hollywood cannot live on action blockbusters alone. Make the odd rom-com once in awhile.

Let me use Portal as our example: dear, darkly-humorous Portal began life as a humble mod. Scooped up by Valve, it was fed a production budget and glamorous things like wages, then thrown in with Half Life 2: Episode 2 as a tasty little snack. In the grand scheme of things, it cost them pennies.

Four years later, the sequel made them oodles. They didn’t even make a new engine or blow the bank on big celebrity voices or anything. Instead, the fiendish bastards used underhanded tricks like good writing and prioritising design over tech.

You don’t need to chase the Next Big Hit with every game you make. Small games which make back their cost are a perfectly worthwhile venture. And if one of them strikes a chord with people and goes viral? Congratulations, here’s your new important IP. Try not to mutilate it too badly.

(This one also has the faint ring of a threat about it: If you don’t stop being so naughty, boys and girls, Santa won’t come this year and it’ll be all your fault. Fuck off.)

“But, but, but-“

SD. SU. SW.

Making used games unobtainable or unplayable – why hello there, latest Xbox rumours – commits a far graver sin than just locking poorer players out of the hobby[¹]; it destroys old games. Right now, if I want to play Morrowind I will buy myself a second-hand copy and go killing guar until my bloodlust is sated. In the (potential) bright new future, can the same be said for Elder Scrolls VI, or will my Xbox 720 squat sulkily in front of the telly; a palpable air of “You wanna play an Elder Scrolls game? Go buy VIII, bitch. You can get that new.” radiating from its tiny frame? Unless publishers are planning to continue manufacturing new copies of every single game they have ever made, that is inevitable. Do they just think that nobody is interested in playing anything more than four months old?

That was a rhetorical question. Of course they think that.

They think it because they’ve spent years telling gamers that tech is all-important, that the coolest thing about new games is whether they’re on a recently-developed engine or have realistic lighting. It’s the consumer base they’ve fought so hard to create; the one which screams and whines for newer tech, who will throw away your last game and reach for the latest with eager, grasping hands because it has slightly more pixels per millimetre. Well, I have an idea how to combat the slavering horde, lads, and you’d better hold onto your hats because this one is revolutionary:

MAKE GAMES PEOPLE WANT TO KEEP AND REPLAY.

You’re welcome.

¹ My opinions on this are unprintable. Word spontaneously developed sentience and removed them in horror.

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