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Nickel and Dimed at the Online Store

An in-depth roundtable discussion on the growing used games monetization problem – and its solutions.

Nick: A side effect of this syndrome that hadn't occurred to me before is that this can ruin a game for the ages. See, when the servers inevitably get turned off and your system dies and can no longer be repaired, you're going to lose anything locked by one of these online passes. You can't just grab a different working system and play all of the content, just what was available inherently on the disc. 

This is a huge problem for someone like me who collects video games. While I love the options downloadable games (via XBLA, PSN, eShop) have afforded the market, I know that those will likely be lost in time or continuously migrated to the new systems that hit the market. This stuff won't be. This stuff is going to be lost and that's a damn shame. 

I feel like this is ultimately going to backfire on companies and force them to take a serious look at how games are provided and start offering more sustainable prices and models to attract more consumers.

Julian: As someone who worked at an indie games store for 8 years, I'm always interested when the used market comes up. I was shocked in a recent EGM roundtable talking about the Resident Evil Mercenaries save file issue, and more than one editor said that gamers who buy used are basically pirates, and that they basically are stealing from a developer when they buy used.

Bull. Let's be honest here: whenever a developer complains about the used games market, they are really complaining about Gamestop. And with good reason -- they have a stranglehold on the retailer market. They give crap for trade-ins and sell their recent used games for nearly new prices. So when a developer sees a Gamestop employee push a 55 dollar copy of Rage on a customer, it makes them angry. The customer gets a 5 dollar discount on a game they were already going to buy, while the developer gets squat from that sale. Now, if Gamestop was selling their used games at a fair price to customers, the used copies would end up selling to the price-savvy customers who weren't going to buy Rage for 60 bucks anyway. Then you have an entirely different split in the market.

And to reach those people, the people that never buy games at full price, THAT'S when the DLC comes into play. Because no matter how many times that copy of Rage gets resold, any new owner of it that wants to play that add-on content is going to have to pay the 5, 10, or 15 dollars for it. That's money that the developers would normally never get, and for a big enough game with good enough content, that money could be huge. Again, I bring up Mass Effect 2. Until they release a GOTY version of the game with all the content, anyone who buys and enjoys that game is more than likely to buy at least some of the DLC missions.

Esteban: This is why I have such a big problem with online passes. You two just described me: I like (and try) to collect video games and I rarely buy brand new. I shell out for downloadable content but I'm also a completist. When I collect games, I try to get the original case, the manual, and all of the content. Making me pay extra for something that's actually on the disc already is ludicrous.

Fortunately I don't think we'll have to worry about online-only content fading away once these consoles are old because we have so many savvy computer users; someone will eventually catalog them and post them online for use, similar to emulation.

Julian: Nick, you're totally right. I'm a collector as well, and I am being dragged kicking and screaming into the era of digital distribution. Have you ever had to move your XBLA games to a new Xbox? It's bloody annoying. And besides that, yeah, some of that content may just go away. That's why I end up re-buying games just to get physical copies of DLC. I own two versions of Dragon Age: Origins, for example. And instead of downloading the GTA IV Liberty City Tales, I waited for the disc and bought that instead.

Nate: Jesse, I would disagree with your comparison of games being like cars. Saying online passes are gaming's equivalent to a loss in value is like tearing out the last two chapters of the used copy of Terry Brooks' "Sword of Shannara" I picked up at Goodwill and offering them online for a marginal fee. A game's loss in value comes from the game cartridge or disc failing. A game disc getting scratched over time from frequent use; the battery save on a Game Boy cart dying; the sticker on the cart fading or torn; this is the degradation games receive. And either way, if a product is so perfected that it has little or no devaluation that occurs (to the content) then why are we letting companies purposefully devalue them for us? To let them try and resell us the 'whole package' down the road on a new medium?

Online passes are merely a thinly veiled profiteering ploy akin to DLC. More and more often you are seeing launch day or 'launch window' DLC. Every time I read an article revealing new DLC close to launch I feel like someone who realizes they shook hands with someone who just came out of the bathroom without washing up. It was bad enough when we got launch window patches but now they are just throwing salt in our wounds right after whipping us for money.

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10/25/2011 at 09:11 PM

Jesse- it's funny you mention that the used price should be LOWER if an online pass is required to play it.....just today I was scouting the Gamestop site for a used copy of Battlefield 3, and the used pricetag (for ps3, at least) is 49.99.

Is this a taste of things to come???

Julian Titus Senior Editor

10/25/2011 at 11:57 PM

That's probably what newer releases should be used to begin with. It's a good start, anyway.

Jesse Miller Staff Writer

10/26/2011 at 09:12 AM

It very well could be. The blessing in disguise could be lower used game prices for gamers that couldn't care less about online content. My worry is when games like the new Batman have single player unlockable content that actually ends up being a good chunk of the game.


10/26/2011 at 01:47 PM

Agreed. The entire 10 dollar headache in order to use Catwoman is absurd....she's a significant portion of the game, and easily one of the most anticipated characters in AC by fans. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside knowing that GameStop is going to do a solid and give that access to those who purchase used. BTW....if either of you guys need NOS codes for a Batman Beyond skin, let me know via PM @ 1Up, I'll shoot them to you directly. I drink NOS every day.

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