Discussing: My Used Pirated Conundrum

clip_image002A pretty heavy topic that branches into other problems has been on my mind a lot recently. I have been unable to resolve it myself in my own head so this blog will serve as both an opinion piece that I hope will fuel a discussion and evoke a collection of different sets of opinions as well as a means for me to more or less dump all of my disjointed thoughts on this matter onto one place and make sense of them. So I apologize in advance if this blog is all over the place with no real concise point or focus.

As a staff writer on PixlBit, my main duty is to report on the latest news in the video game industry. I also do other things for the site such as reviews, previews and features. I also participate every other week on the site’s PixlTalk podcast as a member of the Hell Block Heroes group along with my fellow colleagues JD Lewis, Jesse Miller and Michael Wall.

Our last podcast was a discussion about various types of extra incentives publishers are implementing to make gamers buy their games brand new, such as online passes and day 1 DLC in light of its recent implementation into Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. After that episode (and even before it really), I really took a hard look at what I’ve do things and maybe due to over thinking and a predisposition to unwarranted overwhelming guilt, I came to a harsh conclusion.

I’m part of the problem.

clip_image004When it comes to video games, I almost always buy used. Now to clarify a bit, I rarely buy games when they’re released. The point of me buying used is so I save a good deal of money so I’m not the guy who buys a used copy of Skyrim because it’s $55 dollars instead of $60. That’s not really saving money. No, I’m the guy who buys Skyrim for $25 when a new copy is $40 (if and when that does happen). When I do buy a new game, it’s special. Getting a fresh copy in perfect condition and that nice smell of plastic; sweet, toxic, earth killing plastic.

Now as I said before, I do this to save money because for me, money is tight. More importantly, money has always been tight. I’ve always gotten my video games through pawn shops, swamp meets, yard sales and, after the creation of Funcoland, video game retailers, both chains and local. However, now that I’ve become more and more of the video game community and the industry (to a somewhat lesser extent), I’m seeing the other side of the argument.

When I don’t buy a game new, even if I really enjoy that game, I’m not supporting that publisher financially to continue making games like it or to continue whatever project they may have in mind or have already started. I could tell myself “Well, it’s only one sale. It doesn’t matter that much.” This is clearly not the case as publishers are trying new and different means to convince you to buy it new and also, right away.

clip_image006Now there’s the argument that sometimes you shouldn’t buy new or the game at all if the publisher has implemented some business practice that you don’t agree with. That way you are sending a message to said publisher that this isn’t an acceptable means to controls sales or roll out content. As I know from many recent news stories, this ends up hurting not the publisher but the developer, as any loss obtained from the lack of success from a particular title is basically dumped on them and usually results in layoffs or “restructuring”. Basically, publishers cover their own ass before incurring revenue loss by cutting developers loose. Therefore, this idea only hurts developers and not the publishers. Classic misfire.

Now part of this problem is there’s talk of console manufacturer Microsoft planning some sort of technology (or maybe just a CD key) in order to eliminate the used game market all together. While I don’t think this will be implemented on the next console generation, I think it’s VERY possible on the generation after. Put simply: I wouldn’t be a gamer without the used games market. That’s why I also feel the need to support the used games market simply as a means to make sure it still exists.

There’s an argument that PC gamers already have this implemented already. And I hate it. There is no used games market on the PC games. This is very self-destructive because in lieu of a used games market is a big torrent market. I’m not going to sit here and say that I’ve never pirate a game before. I will sit here and tell you that I don’t own disc copies of PC games anymore because all of them stopped working on my computer one day, most of them due to CD key issues.

clip_image008See, the point I’m getting at here is whereas with the consoles, I’ve become torn between used and new copies of games, the PC market is completely different. Because of the unwieldy nature of computers and the lack of maintenance from developers and publishers on their products after being released, the consumer trust is completely gone. As far as I’m concerned, unless that title sees a release on Steam or OnLive (and maybe Origin but I’ve yet to use that service), I’m getting this game anyway I can. I’ve been burned too many times by retail copies and no other online store has the same type of standards OnLive and Steam do about compatibility and bug issues.

This also is weird because publishers and developers alike tend to have a nasty attitude about pirating PC games. Quite frankly, it’s their own damn fault as they frequently release titles that constantly need to be updated and patched and then those titles won’t work in a few years from its original release. Also, PC gamers get subpar console ports with features missing and that haven’t been optimized for the platform. So don’t be mad at gamers who pirate a copy of Fable: The Lost Chapters because their retail copy stopped working. Yeah, that actually happened to me. The disc kept giving me some nondescript error but the other copy works to this day.

clip_image010So we have quite a strange situation here in that we basically have a before and after effect of the way publishers are doing business. On the console front, I’m finding myself wanting to buy new games because I want to support the developers (regardless of how I feel about the publisher) but being unable to due to a lack of funds. I immediately trust that if I did buy new, the money would go to a good cause, in that developers will try their best to support their product after launch and they will be able to make more titles that I’ll probably enjoy (not necessarily saying a sequel to the game in question).

However, on the PC front, I have a complete lack of faith in any title not released on Steam or OnLive and I don’t give a second thought to get a title by other means if its not offered on those services. I have over 100 titles on my Steam account and its where I get most of my PC games. Even titles that I had gotten before by other means, I later bought on Steam because of the reliability and the service that’s promised me. This doesn’t exist outside of that so in other words, its open season. I have no remorse about supporting the developers or publishers because PC games always feel like an after thought, with some exceptions.

Turning back things to a personal viewpoint, this past weekend I found myself looking up older games that I wanted to get and seeing if I can get new copies of them. I’ll use three of the games I was looking at as examples: Kameo: Elements of Power, Amped 3 and Call of Duty 2. These are all Xbox 360 launch titles.

clip_image012First was Kameo and I found a new copy on Amazon for a little under $20. Not a bad price for any game and seeing that I really like Kameo, I would definitely say it’s worth that amount. Also, I would really like to see a sequel to that game and although it may be unlikely, as Rare is mostly focusing on Kinect titles these days, new copies of Kameo still selling could at least inform Rare (through residuals) that there’s still interest in the game.

On the other hand, this new copy is probably just a left over from the last production run, which was probably several years ago. Since it is extremely unlikely that anyone will order another shipment of Kameo, would my brand new purchase even go to Rare or have they already seen all the money they were going to see from that game? If so, what’s the point in getting a new copy aside from having it in perfect condition (which is tempting)?

Furthermore is that if I were to get a used copy of Kameo, I can get it for around $5. That’s a pretty sizable discount! So should I get it new and have a pristine copy that may or may not help the developers I’m trying to assist or should I get a used copy that helps my wallet even if the game case will look like it was buried in the sand, assuming it even comes with the case?

clip_image014Next we have Amped 3. This one I think I have figured out already but I’ll present it regardless. On Amazon, a brand new copy of Amped 3 runs around 50 to 75 dollars. Not exactly cheap. A used copy can be found for somewhere between five to ten dollars. Now in this instance, the developer, Indie Built, is defunct. 2k Games shut them down the following year this game was released. However, would a new game purchase show an interest in the Amped series to the publisher, since there’s no helping the developer anymore?

By the way, I know it may sound like I think I somehow will convince multi-million dollar game companies to do what I want with my measly purchase of one copy of their game but every purchase does count, just like how every vote counts in elections (especially if you’re in a swing state). Also it helps when you’re speaking your opinion in a language companies understand: money. Anyway, last title in question.

clip_image016Call of Duty 2 is around $20 on Amazon brand new. It’s my favorite entry in the series and it’s definitely worth that price. However, this is one of the rare instances where it’s actually cheaper to buy it digitally on Xbox Live. It’s $20 there too but Amazon requires shipping (I know I could get the shipping free if I reach $25 but on it’s own, it’s still more), therefore making it the cheaper solution. I do like having the actual case with the artwork and the manual but as my large Steam library shows, I don’t mind digital copies.

Now here’s my question. How much money does the developer make from digital copies sold? Since I don’t have to worry about a case or manual or disc, it’ll be technically brand new. These are questions I need answered. Or not. See, this is one of those cases where I’m sure they don’t need my money. Obviously, the Call of Duty series is doing fine and they probably won’t bat an eye when they see a brand new copy of the second game sold on Amazon or Xbox Live. Hell, to be honest, I’d actually like to see this series go a way for a year or two. However, it does raise the question on residuals on digital copies which would be helpful on a title with a developer that does need my support. Also, Call of Duty 2 is available on PC via Steam so that’s an option.

All of this also boils down to the fact that I want to also get as much as I can for my money. By this means I should get the cheapest prices I can find regardless of its condition status or who the money is going to (as long as its legit). However, there’s also the fact that PixlBit keeps me pretty busy every day and as such I probably won’t have time to play all these games right away. So they’ll most likely go into my always expanding backlog. So at which point am I being a smart consumer and at which point am I being greedy and getting what I don’t need?

These thoughts have been going through my head for quite some time now and they have also been pouring into other forms of media such as movies and music but I think I’ll save that for another time as this has gotten to be quite long already. As I said, I don’t have any answers for the most part and this has no formal end. Part of this could also be due to a lack of knowledge as to how some aspects of the economics of the video game industry works. Anywho, please comment below and share your opinions. Maybe someone can share some insight that I can’t see. Someone on the outside looking in, as it were. Now I’m going to continue trying to beat Medal of Honor on Hard for the achievement, which is a title I bought new because it was only $20 as opposed to the used $18 and also because I get the exclusive code for downloadable content for multiplayer that I’ll never use because I don’t like it’s multiplayer.

*head explodes*


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