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Opinion: Pre-Owned Games, Heavy Rain Edition

Heavy Raining on your parade.

I won’t pretend to be Heavy Rain’s biggest fan. Looking back the game – to me at least – rode on the back of being a PlayStation 3 exclusive and something a little bit original rather than actually being very good: it wasn’t – the cynical might suggest it was actually a rather sub-standard ‘game’ wrapped up in then-fancy graphics and a twisty, turny plot that extends to, in 2011, very little replayability once you’ve seen a couple of the endings.

Which, naturally, is why you’ll find plenty of copies of games like Heavy Rain second hand, pre-owned, cheap, and also why you’ll find members of the development team getting rather excited about people not giving them money to play a copy of the game that someone else has already bought.

Finding out that a million people didn't like you enough to pay must be pretty depressing.
“We basically sold to date approximately two million units,” said Quantic Dream co-founder Guillaume de Fondaumiere recently. That’s pretty impressive figures (and goes some way to disprove my interpretations of the title) but it’s clearly not enough for the Frenchman. And he’s not happy about pre-owned copies. “We know from the trophy system that probably more than three million people bought this game and played it,” he said.

We’ll ignore, for a while, the rather sweeping statement. “On my small level it’s a million people playing my game without giving me one cent. And my calculation is, as Quantic Dream, I lost between €5 and €10 million worth of royalties because of second hand gaming.”

Where de Fondaumiere’s argument (valid as it is, on some level) doesn’t entirely hold together is that just because three million people have played the game, it doesn’t mean that many have bought it in whatever form. His maths is sound enough – there’s a million people with trophies on top of the two million that bought the game new, but how many of those were playing it second hand? A million? Really?

No, I don’t think so. As some of the comments in our story pointed out, people could have (quite rightly) rented the game via a service like LoveFilm, or borrowed it from a friend. Do these people owe the developer anything? No – absolutely not. There are a dozen analogies I could fire off here, but they don’t matter – if someone borrows a game of mine (yes, mine) why would they feel the need to give the developer anything for the pleasure?

They don’t, and shouldn’t, and they never will. If they feel the desire to then go out and buy the game then – great – the developer (and publisher, and so on) get their cut, but I’m getting tired of the current trend of calling out gamers who buy pre-owned as if it’s some kind of subculture, something to be ashamed of.

As Brendan says in the comments of the original article, the second hand market is “one of the benefits of a open, free and democratic society” and he’s right. Why should we feel like we shouldn’t be buying pre-owned games? When I was a student, after getting my first ever overdraft just so I could purchase an N64, pre-owned was all I could afford. I’m now considerably older, but not hugely better off in terms of disposable income, and Star Fox for the 3DS was the first full price, brand new game I’ve bought for months.

I buy pre-owned sometimes because it’s cheaper – and I don’t give much of a consideration to developers when I do so.

Is that harsh? Not personally, because it’s my opinion that that particular copy of the game has already been sold. I don’t have the funds to splash out £45 on something that I might only play a couple of times and genuinely feel aggrieved to be doing so – Star Fox was a cert because I was a huge fan of the original (that I bought pre-owned for N64, too, for the record) and knew that I’d get my money’s worth – but that’s the exception rather than the rule.

According to Wikipedia, de Fondaumiere was President of the French video game trade body Association des Producteurs d’Oeuvres Multimédia (APOM) for three years and now sits as Chairman of the European Games Developer Federation. His knowledge and interests, I’d suggest, might well extend a little further than just the raw figures mentioned above, but I think his statement still points at the wrong target.

Regardless of the technicalities – at least the Quantic Dream head is rather more tactful than some on the matter. Blitz Games’ Andrew Oliver famously compared the sale of pre-owned to piracy. “The bigger problem on consoles now is the trading in of games,” he told Develop back in May last year. And who can forget our own article on the matter from Josh that drew considerable heat when he linked the two.

Ethan can't believe he's washed his receipt with his jeans.
Not that he’s the only one. “Piracy these days on PC is probably less problematic than second-hand sales on the Xbox,” said Lionhead’s Mike West, and David Braben referenced retailer GameStation when he said that “more than half their floor area is dedicated to pre-owned” and that the profits were “something as an industry we don’t see”.

Braben has a point, and it’s here – rather than vilifying the gamers who keep you afloat – that things are most interesting.  If a retailer (like GameStation) only stocks new games from the last few months and chooses to push pre-owned copies over new ones (the markup for the former is thought to be considerably higher) then do the buying public really have much choice?

I’ve seen this for myself – some high street retailers seem to prefer to have one or two racks per console for the latest, full price games and two or three (or even more) dedicated to second hand. When a potential customer is faced with this it’s obvious why Joe Public would opt for the cheaper, and yet often more profitable to the retailer, pre-owned game. Some shops have the top twenty on proud display and then hide the rest of the recent games in single file underneath, whilst alongside it are yards and yards of discounted second hand games.

To me, it’s this side of the industry that needs to discussed by the developers and publishers that are mentioned in this blog. Gamers shouldn’t be the target – that much is clear – rather the way that cheaper versions of games are pushed our way. The rental market is getting bigger (and I’ve just signed up for a LoveFilm account myself) but if publishers are to ensure they get the royalties they claim they’re entitled to then it’s not by calling out those that might otherwise pay full price.

De Fondaumiere does state that he thinks games are too expensive though – “I’ve always said that games are probably too expensive so there’s probably a right level here to find,” he said as part of the same interview, a major bugbear with customers, but still seems to think that the second hand market isn’t the “right approach” and thinks that “developers and certainly publishers and distributors should sit together and try to find a way to address [the pre-owned market].

“Because we’re basically all shooting ourselves in the foot here,” he said.

Sure, bring in your online passes and multiplayer bonuses, but don’t make us feel bad for paying a bit less for games we’re not sure about or simply don’t have the cash for. Locking games to just one player is deplorable (as I’ve said before) – there’s no question there – but when it’s linked to second hand games (or worse, pretended it’s not) I think back to when I was a student and wonder where on earth I’d be if publishers and developers were as bullish about the concept then as they are now.

The truth is that the pre-owned market is incredibly important to gamers and retailers, and it’s my opinion that publishers and developers have already found the answer in the form of online passes. That’s clearly not going to help single player games like Heavy Rain, but perhaps there’re other reasons why people didn’t hang onto the copies that they’d paid full price for anyway…

Update: Article updated with more from the original quote.

  1. 3shirts
    Since: Aug 2008

    He also ignores the simple fact that many people ONLY bought the game because the used copy was cheap. I guarantee that a lot of the people that bought Heavy Rain second hand would not have bought it new so you can’t call it a lost sale.

    I often pick up used games purely because they are cheap without knowing much about them. I wouldn’t even have considered them at full retail price. In several cases I have enjoyed the game so much I bought the sequel brand new! That is actually an ADDITIONAL sale that only happened because of the second hand market.

    Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 14:17.
    • Dazbobaby
      Since: Aug 2010

      +1 Uncharted 1 was used for me, yet UC2 was a day one purchase.
      I only buy a handful of games new, most are used, and I wouldn’t have bought most of them new anyway… so it’s not really a lost sale for the devs and publishers.

      A good way for devs to recoup some of that lost revenue is DLC, I’ve bought a lot of DLC for used games, so in that way I do give back to the devs.

      Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 14:35.
    • bacon_nuts
      Since: Mar 2011

      I agree, I bought Ratchet and clank 1 used, subsequently bought every game since, new.. Somehow I don’t think Insomniac would be that angry..

      Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 16:18.
  2. stonyk
    Since: Dec 2009

    yeah, i played heavy rain from lovefilm. Would never have played it otherwise – but will keep an ear out for their next game because of it. May not purchase it new full price, but might once the price drops. Either way – their “loss” from my experience may turn out to be their gain in the future.

    Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 14:20.
    • Youles
      Since: Feb 2011

      You make a good point. I wonder how many of the 1M who didn’t buy Heavy Rain but played it, WILL buy their next title. Couldn’t he just be happy with Sales and Numbers Played separately?

      Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 14:29.
  3. jimmy-google
    Since: Feb 2009

    “There are a dozen analogies”, but they are only analogies. There is no other medium quite like games. Even film and music have other avenues to bring in income (cinema and radio contribute massively to both).

    PSN pass and the like may annoy people now but we’ll see them for single player games before too long. The disc will be no more than a means of getting the content to end user. Developers/publishers will simply seperate the license from the disc so everyone who wants to play has to buy one. Once one dDvelopers/publishers starts the rest will follow.

    Retailers may be pushing second hand games too much but it will be the end users that suffer as it is the easiest way for the industry to deal with it.

    Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 14:23.
  4. R4U Eldave0
    Since: Aug 2008

    Great read and definatley one which is a sore subject for me. Unless I *have* to buy a game day-one I will nearly always wait for a pre-owned copy to materialise a month or so later. I’m married and have bills to pay so unfortunately I don’t have quite as much disposable income as developers seem to think I do.

    “Is that harsh? Not personally, because it’s my opinion that that particular copy of the game has already been sold.”
    It’s this point that I always come back to as well. I don’t understand why developers feel cheated when someone has bought their game second hand when they know that, by very definition, a pre-owned game has to have been owned by someone else in the past in order to make it 2nd hand… You don’t see the LEGO company jumping up and down in disgust because little jimmy bought some lego from a carboot instead of going into his local toy shop so I fail to see why the games industry should be any different.

    I appreciate that a lot of developers are going under right now and first-hand sales are important, but pinning their failings on second-hand sales is, for the most part, a load of rubbish. (In my opinion of course) the Split/Second team for example folded because they were stupid enough to release their (admitidly excellent) racing game on the exact same day as Blur and the exact same argument applies to the Blur team too.

    Ultimately it boils down to the fact the the games industy is bigger than its always been and the economy is at a point where people aren’t going to hand over lots of their hard earned cash on un-finished, buggy games. If you want good sales and to encourage people to buy games new, release good games that are finished, bug free, don’t need a day one patch and don’t rob gamers with overpriced DLC ;)

    Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 14:23.
  5. bajere
    Since: Aug 2008

    nice little read. i hardly ever buy pre-owned really… maybe if i see an old game that iv always wondered what its like, but not fussed about getting it day one (vanquish is a good example).

    Publishers/Dev’s should really just concentrate on making games that people cant wait to get there hands on, and just HAVE to get it brand new, day one. GT5, LA Noir, MGS, Uncharted and Assassins creed all fit this for me. No time to wait, must buy it asap. If the game is not a day one purchase, then the publishers and dev’s cant really expect people to shell out top dollar. eg; If the makers of Ghost Busters think we should be flooding to the shops by the millions to pick up their game, and not see countless pre-owed/ rented copies floating about, then they are sadly mistaken…

    also, price is a factor… 9 times out of 10, if the game is old, you can get a new copy for cheeper than pre-owned. Case-in-point, i bought borderlands from Sainsburys for £10 saturday… went in for beer, but at that price, why not. but the point is, if Borderlands never dropped to £10 new, would i have picked it up for £15 pre-owned next time i walked past Gamestation?? Maybe, and that would of been another pre-owed sell for people to moan about.

    Maybe the answer is to drop the price on games. Sell them for around £20 brand new, and sell double the amount. happy gamers as we get a cheeper hobby, happy devs as they sell twice the amount, then gain a slightly higher revenue.

    Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 14:23.
  6. Youles
    Since: Feb 2011

    I don’t think de Fondaumiere can complain too much about the Heavy Rain sales, based on the type of game it is, and how short it is. This is definitely going to encourage people to swap it, loan it to friends, and trade it in. I think I even remember reading that QD’s intention was for people to only play it once, so they had varying outcomes to their friends! It’s not like a huge multiplayer game like CoD where you may sample it online, then “have to” go and buy your own copy. You may try something like Heavy Rain, knowing full well your mate will be finished with it in a week or so, and you can borrow it. He’s surely his own worst enemy.

    Also, developers should release more demos if they want us to buy new. Sometimes I won’t risk spending £40.00 on a game, if I haven’t played a demo, and therefore am sort of forced to wait for a pre-owned copy – thus they lose the “new” sale.

    That said, I Platinum’d my new copy of Heavy Rain and buy 90% of my games new, so they can’t grumble at me!

    Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 14:27.
  7. Klart
    Since: Jun 2010

    Great article nofi, his statement is wrong on so many levels. You’d expect more sense from a man in the industry.

    If they really want that people can only buy games brand new, they’ll have to add a code (like the online codes) for the single player.

    One thing they are forgetting however is that tons of players buy new games for full price because they (know they can) sell it on later or trade it. A lot of gamers go “from game to game” like this. They’ll lose all of these when they’d implement something like a pass for single players as well.

    Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 14:34.
    • R4U Eldave0
      Since: Aug 2008

      “tons of players buy new games for full price because they (know they can) sell it on later or trade it. A lot of gamers go “from game to game” like this” I must admit I used to do this a lot as a kid. I’d buy one £40 game and trade it a couple of weeks later at GAME and use one of their “get game x for £4.99 when you trade in game y” and I would jump from game to game like this.
      Of course, that was when I was at sixth form/Uni and had a lot more free time on my hands to keep up that approach lol. Now it takes me a lot longer to play through games so its not really an option.

      Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 14:37.
  8. Crocadillian
    Since: Feb 2011

    I think even online passes are the wrong way to go. Developers and publishers need to ensure their games are available new, rather than blaming gamers for buying pre-owned games when there isn’t a choice. Look at Steam for example, it is an incredibly profitable platform because of how accessible they make purchases and how reasonable the price of games are, so you can still buy something that’s technically new and the developer will get a cut out of it.

    Gamers should not be punished just because publishers and developers cannot keep up with the market, and don’t have the initiative to make the hobby we love more accessible.

    Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 14:37.
  9. robeagle
    Since: Oct 2010

    They seem to be forgetting about the money that they make from DLC purchased by pre-owned buyers, so it’s not like they don’t get anything from pre-owned. I would have thought DLC to be the workaround to this “problem” as it allows the publisher to collect extra revenue from a copy of the game they wouldn’t have ordinarily sold. CoD online map packs are ridiculously expensive, yet I bet most online players buy at least one of them

    Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 14:52.
  10. Watchful
    Team TSA: Writer
    Since: Oct 2008

    The two paragraphs in the interview after the one where he mentions the 5-10m Euros aren’t getting coverage:

    “Now I know the arguments, you know, without second hand gaming people will buy probably less games because they buy certain games full price, and then they trade them in etc etc. Well I’m not so sure this is the right approach and I think that developers and certainly publishers and distributors should sit together and try to find a way to address this. Because we’re basically all shooting ourselves in the foot here. Because when developers and publishers alike are going to to see that they can’t make a living out of producing games that are sold through retail channels, because of second hand gaming, they will simply stop making these games. And we’ll all, one say to the other, simply go online and to direct distribution. So I don’t think that in the long run this is a good thing for retail distribution either.

    Now are games too expensive? I’ve always said that games are probably too expensive so there’s probably a right level here to find, and we need to discuss this altogether and try to find a way to I would say reconcile consumer expectations, retail expectations but also the expectations of the publisher and the developers to make this business a worthwhile business.”

    He agrees that this is something that developers, publishers and distributors need to work out. He agrees that games should probably be cheaper. Seems perfectly reasonable and balanced from where I’m sitting.

    Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 14:52.
    • heedbaw
      Since: Nov 2009

      I’d say that the publishers would be in the best position to help drop costs. To me it’s the silly marketing spends that are pushing prices up. One that always pops up as it’s easiest to remember is MW2 as that was a $50 million game with a $150 million marketing spend, and from some quick lookee figures it seems Heavy Rain was a $15 million game with $8 million spent on marketing. Just silly that for bigger games it looks like ther’s a trend to spend about twice as much marketing it than actually making it.
      And older stories with 2 million sales reached headline means he already got twice as much as the 10 million euros he’s bitching about having lost.

      Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 15:15.
      • Klart
        Since: Jun 2010

        MW2 a $50 million game with $150 million marketing? Dang. Just shows how much of CoD is created hype & how much went into creating a decent game.

        Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 15:39.
      • colmshan1990
        Since: Apr 2009

        Did you really just say he doesn’t have to right to complain about losing €10 million because he made €20 million?
        If a business made €50 million and I went and stole €25 million, that business would have no right to complain because, hey! €25 million profit?!!

        Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 16:41.
      • tantalus_blank
        Since: Nov 2008

        Yup, and in doing so those games make huge amounts of money. You have to spend money to make money, and marketing budget is not a good place to skimp out. Just look at how successful Apple, the Wii, and Kinect have all been, all down to massive amounts of money spent on marketing. Well maybe not Kinect, but I don’t think they’d have sold many units at all if not for the constant stream of Wii-esque adverts. I imagine countless people are cursing the day they bought such a bizarre piece of equipment they wouldn’t ordinarily dream of buying

        Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 17:57.
      • heedbaw
        Since: Nov 2009

        Colmshan, didn’t say he had no right to complain. He can complain all he wants but when he’s already minted it’s falling on deaf ears here. And no one has stolen money from anyone so that comparison is a bit pointless. I was just throwing in some figures to give a bit of perspective. 5-10 million sounds like a lot of money, but if he’s already got 20 million out of it what’s the problem. It was profitable, and going by some older stories it sold even more than they were expecting so overall he’s gained.
        I would hope that if I had made that amount of money out of a game, I would be happy for people who can’t afford new to be able to play it somehow. And what better than 2nd hand rather than pirated as at least that way it’s already been paid for.

        Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 22:40.
    • TSBonyman
      Since: Dec 2009

      Nice one Watchful, was about to post a similar comment.

      Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 15:26.
    • nofi
      One for all.
      Since: Forever

      Doesn’t necessarily change his argument though, even if it’s more rounded. I’ve added to the article a little though.

      Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 15:29.
      • TSBonyman
        Since: Dec 2009

        It is more rounded but i agree with you,he should not have singled out pre-owned market.

        Comment posted on 13/09/2011 at 16:03.

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