It was March of 2000 and a new day had dawned; civilization was still chugging along against all odds, the Dreamcast was at the vertex of its parabolic rise to the home console troposphere, and twitter was still just a verb. At that year’s Game Developers Conference in San Jose, They Who Must Not Be Named announced their plans to jump into the sweat-slick console mosh pit and release the Xbox, which was purported to be crammed full of so much raw computing power that you dare not look directly at it, lest you fry your corneas and lie twitching on the floor like a blind but thoroughly impressed carp. Sixty-four megabytes of RAM and a Pentium III processor? The possibilities seemed limitless, and for a time all was right with the world — finally, PC-quality gaming in the comfort and whatever of the living room.
When it was later revealed that the Xbox would run on a modified version of Windows and sport an 8 GB hard drive, my excitement waned. Hard. We’re talking old-school waning, like one of Neptune’s moons that’s just witnessed its parents going at it behind Uranus. I’d learned from experience in the 98/ME era that anything to do with Windows, a hard drive, and You Know Who was a recipe for disarray, though concerning the Xbox I was only partially right; while it was generally spectacular, each Xbox had a life expectancy similar to that of the average mosquitofish. Its successor, the Xbox 360, might not even last as long as a mosquitofish with a fondness for fast swimming, casual reproduction, and twelve-year-old single-malt Glenlivet.
I Solemnly Swear That I Am Up to No Good
Creators should be paid for their work. “File sharing” and “warez” are both idiotic euphemisms for theft and stolen property, and those who obtain copyrighted works illegally should face criminal charges. This is non-negotiable, but if the rumors are true that the forthcoming Xbox Next/720/3 will not play used games, I must admit to being rather less-than-sanguine about The Dark Lords’ infernal machine — again, not because I object to creators being paid for their work, but because in the not-so-long run it will hurt the entire industry. As someone for whom the words “techno-whore” were first liaised with that unseemly hyphen, my indifference to the next Xbox is nothing short of heretical.
The notion that publishers and developers “lose money” on used games employs a straw man fallacy to make the case for blocking used games from the next generation of consoles. In this case the straw man (the essentially unequal component of their argument that they’re counting on you not to notice) is the superficial assertion that every used game sold would have been sold as new, had the used version not been available. This is a favored practice of corporate bean-counters everywhere, as the music industry and lately the publishing industry use the same manipulative tactics to make a case for loss where none exists; the music industry “loses money” on each illegal download, and the publishing industry “loses money” on each $9.99 e-book that’s bought instead of a $25 hardcover. Again, I do not dispute the ethics or legality of obtaining music or software without the consent of its producer, but let’s examine the meaning of the word “lose” for a moment:
To lose something means to have had it at one point, and then to not have it any longer. If you buy 500 shares of They Who Must Not Be Named’s stock, and the stock price plummets because their company is run by spastic chimpanzees with the financial acumen of loosely packed sand, then you’ve lost money; you had it, but now you don’t have it. Easy, right?
Let’s say you work like a bastard for eighty hours a week and the government takes 35% of your earnings just because it can; you once had 35% more money than you have now. You had it, now you don’t have it. You’ve lost money. Still with me?
Now let’s say you make cars. If the used car market were suddenly destroyed by some gimmicky technology that you installed into the engines of your cars, making it impossible to resell them, you could assume that you’d sell a number of new cars equal to the number of used cars that were sold before your new tech came on the market, right? Because every used car that’s sold represents a loss to your company, doesn’t it? Okay, sure. If you’re a total economics dillhole.
What you, as a car manufacturer, have failed to grasp with your middle school comprehension of market forces is that the failure to sell is not a loss. After all, some people simply cannot afford a new car, so for them it’s buy used or ride the bus; other people buy a new car like a Honda or a Lexus specifically because of its resale value; that is, they know they can turn around and sell it with minimal depreciation in just a couple of years. Then what do they do? They go out and buy — you guessed it! — another new car. With your system, though, they’ll probably hold on to their first new car well past the point at which they would have sold it and bought another one, all because of your resale-killing technology.
What the games publishing industry doesn’t acknowledge is the number of new games that are sold each year explicitly because of their potential resale value; people realize that if they hate a game, they can always get something for it in trade, or sell it online, or at the very least give it away to someone with no standards. The secondhand game market is a hedge against the mountain of garbage that’s shoveled down the average gamer’s throat every year, a throat that has, by the way, absolutely no other recourse against shoddy workmanship — try getting a refund on a new game because it’s a reeking pile of shit, and you’ll see what I mean. The entire concept of the trade-in is like an insurance policy for consumers and the industry alike; it provides consumers with partial protection against crap, and it provides the industry with the means to reach people who otherwise wouldn’t try a game without the prospect of recouping some of their losses if it turns out to be a turd in a slim green box.
If game publishers think the margin is slim now, if they think it’s the end of the world because GameStop sells used games, wait until they see what will happen when the secondhand market is no longer a factor in people’s decisions to purchase new games. Fewer used games means fewer specialty retail outlets, and fewer specialty retail outlets means fewer consoles and fewer new games sold. In other words, they’re looking at an industry-wide contraction, and not just for the company whose system eliminates the resale of physical media.
Of course, this could all be pointless — the industry might not get its way when You Know Who announces the next Xbox and its features, but rumors — especially such persistent rumors — usually come from somewhere. If this is true, too many people will think twice about buying something that will have demonstrably lower value to them right out of the box, turning They Who Must Not Be Named’s next bit of hardware into That Which Must Not Be Bought.