Penny Arcade, in their latest news post, berated Gamestop for their practice of selling used games. I’ve a bit of a mixed opinion about this. Hopefully I can explain it clearly. 

The used game market is absolutely essential to gaming today. Games are only printed for so long and they go out of stock pretty quickly. Some game shops only sell a subset of the games released, so you never end up getting the game in your area even if you want it new. Sometimes, you don’t know you want a game until months or years after it is released. This is the case with many of the games I own. My game collection would be ¼th the size it is today without used games that I discovered later.

At the same time, the way Gamestop is handling their used game business is actually harmful, not only for the customers and the publishers, but for their own long-term health as well. I frequently go to gamestop and find a new game on the shelf that I want to buy. Every time, they try to downsell me to the used copy if it is available. I always say no because it doesn’t make sense to me to get a used copy for $5 less, but their argument is quite compelling if you don’t understand how such markets work. They not only sell it for 10% less, they toss another 10% discount on top of that if you have their card. They also give you longer to return it for a full refund. The games usually have been resurfaced and usually have all the manuals and the like included.

This is harmful to the consumers and themselves in several ways. If you sell a used game instead of a new one, you’re reducing the total number of copies of that game in circulation by at least 1. Copies in circulation is the life blood of a used games market. There are people that keep their games when buying them used, That’s another one out of circulation. For every game that is taken out of circulation or never put in circulation, that decreases the chances of that game being for sale in the used store when you go to find it once it is out of print. This reduces Gamestop’s sales in the future of that used game. It’s essentially short term thinking at the expense of long term profitability.

It also hurts the developers and their prospects of releasing more games. A dirty little secret in intellectual property is that when you buy a piece of IP, you are not paying for THAT IP. You’re paying the production costs of the NEXT game that the company releases. If you like the series, say Dragon Quest, the best way to keep enjoying that series is to buy the copy new. If there aren’t enough new sales to support it, the next game never gets brought over or made. This hurts gamestop because fewer games and poorer quality games being made means they have a much shallower market to sell used games to in the future.

Finally, it’s promoting things like electronic distribution, and also making companies adopt schemes to stop the used games market. The former is good for consumers, but hurts Gamestop. The latter is bad for both because it also makes it hard to take a game and play it at a friend’s house, or play it on multiple consoles in your house.

What should be done?

1. If you go to gamestop or another used game store, check to see if you can get it new for a tiny extra price first. It’s almost always worth it to get a new game copy and it helps the developers out.
2. Gamestop should quit downselling customers to used games. If the new game isn’t available or is out of print, they’re perfectly right to go nuts on selling that used game though.
3. It would be a good gesture to the developers and could help stave off future crackdowns if Gamestop would share some of the profits of the used game sales with the developer. A small percentage should be enough.
4. Make sure that if a game is still in print and still selling that they try to obtain new copies of it to keep in the store. If they don’t keep new copies on the shelf, then it’s essentially an end-run around #2.