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’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.
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.