Why Used Games Are Not Evil [Opinion]

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used video gamesAs anyone who reads my articles here on MakeUseOf regularly will already know, I’m a bit of a gamer. I’m far from hardcore, and instead am happy to call myself a casual gamer. That’s not to say I don’t care about the games I play, or that I only play games which require the brain power of an ant to complete, but more than that I have other things in my life. Like watching movies, reading books, socializing etc.

As a casual gamer I rarely buy brand new games. The number I’ve ever bought on launch day can be counted on one hand, though GTA V will be added to that short list soon. I usually buy used games weeks, months, or even years after a title is released. As is my right. Or is it? The used games market is under increasing threat, to the point that it may cease to exist over the next few years.

Used Video Games

used video games

There is at present a healthy market for used video games, with various retailers offering you either money or store credit for your old games, which they then sell on to others for a profit. Consumers win, retailers win, but the developers and publishers lose. Or at least they appear to lose. Which is why there have been moves of late to curtail the used games market.

So far this has amounted to offering extra features for those buying new, or removing features from those buying used. The easiest method is to lock online play to the first purchaser, with subsequent buyers required to buy an online pass go unlock features.

Things are likely to ramp up when the next generation of hardware arrives, with both Sony and Microsoft rumored to be including built-in methods for recognizing used games and somehow disabling them or limiting their usability. Is this fair? There are, as always, two sides to every argument. And we begin with the case for the prosecution.

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How The Industry Sees It

used games

For the video games industry, which includes the developers, publishers, and console manufacturers, this issue is plain and simple. It comes down to nothing but money, and them being cut out of the loop when a game is bought or sold beyond its original owner. Their main three points of contention are as follows.

Give us the cash, it’s our cash, we deserve a cut from used games!

Video games cost a lot of money to make. The biggest games take years to create from scratch, and everybody involved, from the writers to the QA testers, needs paying. Then there’s the voice actors. And the manufacturing and distribution costs. Etc., etc. All this money spent for someone to buy a used copy which sees no money being passed to the creators. That’s plain wrong.

Why would you want to sell your games? Why should you be allowed to do so?

When you buy a game you shouldn’t expect to sell it on. Instead you should buy it for keeps; to play for years to come, and then to stick it on a shelf where it may accrue added value as a retro classic. The physical disc may be yours, but the data stored on that disc is only sold under license, a license which doesn’t give you the right to sell the game on to someone else.

You tightwads are killing the industry with your selfish ways!

It’s this attitude that is harming the industry and which will ultimately kill it. If you were to buy games brand new instead of used there would be several billion dollars more money feeding back to the developers and publishers. They would spend that money on creating new, and hopefully better, games, and everyone would be a winner.

But wait…

The Endless Counter Arguments

used video games

The industry has its reasons for wanting to see the used games market end, but they’re not exactly concrete. Let’s put the case for the defense.

With a healthy used games market in place, gamers are more likely to take a gamble on a new game, especially if it’s not a Triple-AAA title. At $60 a pop, a new game is an expensive purchase, but one which more people feel they are able to make if they then have the choice of selling it on if they either don’t like it or if they finish it quickly.

The money gained from selling a game can be plowed into buying a new title. The idea that people who buy used aren’t contributing anything to the good of the industry is illogical and ill-informed. Even those who exclusively buy used spend money on hardware and peripherals, and it’s also likely they’ll occasionally buy new, using the money gained from selling games to do so.

Used games keep retailers interested in selling games, as there is a considerable mark-up on offer to those who get it right. These retailers are also an outlet for new games, and while they may draw people in with their used offerings, consumers may leave having spent money on new titles. Prevent the likes of GameStop from selling used games and they may go out of business completely.

Used games aren’t a new phenomenon. Rather, they have been around for as long as the industry itself, and yet it’s only now that there is a sudden push to eliminate them. Without used games sales there would be no retro games and retro gamers, and yet they’re the passionate types who will persuade offspring and siblings to become interested in video games in the first place.

Buying games pre-owned is often a way of getting into a long-running series. You buy the older titles cheaply, and you will inevitably then want to buy future iterations as soon as you can, which means buying new. Kill the used games market and the chance of gaining new fans for a classic series which is being rebooted or continued dies along with it.

Why shouldn’t I be allowed to buy and sell games as I see fit without having to pay some kind of penalty to the creators? When you buy a new house or a new car you’re not barred from selling it on. And when you buy a house or a car that’s already been owned by someone else, the builder or manufacturer doesn’t ask for a percentage or decide to remove some of the components. That would be ludicrous, and so is this.


As if all that wasn’t enough, I’ll make one final argument defending used video games. I suspect a lot of people who call themselves gamers at the moment would give up their hobby or at least become lapsed gamers if used games were to be killed by an industry desperate to squeeze every last drop out of the pockets of consumers.

New video games already cost a lot of money — hence the need for ways to game on the cheap — and here is the industry as a whole trying to take away one of the choices gamers can make in order to be able to afford their hobby. If the used games market disappears then the industry is going to lose gamers and lose the money they plow into their hobby.

Will this fact, as well as the other points, is enough to persuade the developers and publishers not to head down this route? We’ll likely find out soon when the next-gen hardware is released with or without anti-used game systems in place. In the meantime let us know your thoughts and views on this subject, whether you agree or disagree, in the comments section below.

Image Credits: Steve Wright Jr., Seth Werkheiser, Greg Dunlap,

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Comments (39)
  • Robert Brock

    I really don’t get why the game makers feel like they should get a cut of the used game income. They set their price at what they feel is fair and then want a small chunk of the used market. I can’t think of any other market that feels that they should keep getting paid over and over again.That would be like car manufacturers want to be paid every time their make is traded in and resold !!!!

  • Lisa Santika Onggrid

    Dear game developer,
    You ask me not to buy used games. Now tell me where could I buy that title you released ten years ago? Or you’d prefer that I make a pirated copy?

  • Chris Hoffman

    The best compromise between the industry and players is cheaper games. When I buy an indie game for $2.50 on a Steam sale, I don’t care that I can’t sell it.

    • Dave Parrack

      That would be an infinitely better solution. If physical video games didn’t cost $60 up then I would be happy to buy new. As they do cost that I’d rather spend $20 on a used copy.

  • Alan

    Its the same old story about piracy/Second hand trading. I bought a Vinyl LP from 1986 the other day and plastered on the front is a little symbol “Home taping is killing the music industry” That was 1986 and music is definitely not dead.

    • Dave Parrack

      That’s very true. All the scaremongering over how there won’t be any musicians in a few years proved to be absolute twaddle. It’s the same for game developers. They’ll still exist, the industry will just have to evolve to avoid dying.

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid

      In the days of Sony Walkman we recorded music when they played it on TV. I believe a lot of people have done it before and I don’t see it killing off the musicians now.

  • Samol

    Here’s an interesting news link from Techspot that posters will want to follow up on.


    German consumer group sues Valve over the resale of Steam games

    By Matthew DeCarlo
    On February 1, 2013, 8:30 AM EST

    The Federation of German Consumer Organizations (Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband e.V. or VZBV) has sued Valve for not allowing Steam users to resell their games. Speaking about the policies of Valve’s digital distribution service, VZBV project manager Carola Elbrecht said that if customers truly own the titles they purchase on Steam, they should have the option to resell them when they want to, just as they would when dealing with a physical card or board game — a shaky comparison, some would argue.

    Elbrecht noted that although a Steam user could technically download a game, burn it to a disc and sell the physical media, the buyer generally wouldn’t be able to play the title because it’s likely bound to a specific account. Additionally, Valve doesn’t let users transfer accounts, so legally selling an entire library is also impossible. Given those policies, Elbrecht feels consumers only have partial ownership of their games. “If I pay the full price for a game, then why am I not allowed to do with it what I want,” she said.

    The filing marks the VZBV’s latest attempt to loosen Valve’s restrictions. The group targeted Steam’s lack of support for account transfers in a 2010 suit that case made it to the German Federal Court of Justice, which sided with Valve. Given that outcome, it remains to be seen how successful the VZBV’s latest push will be, but the group may catch a lucky break considering the CJEU’s recent ruling in favor of the ability to resell digitally distributed software. If nothing else, it will raise awareness Elbrecht said.

    Speaking with PCWorld about the latest suit, Valve vice president of marketing Doug Lombardi said he was aware of the VZBV’s press release about the filing, but that Valve hasn’t laid eyes on the actual complaint yet. “That said, we understand the complaint is somehow regarding the transferability of Steam accounts, despite the fact that this issue has already been ruled upon favorably to Valve in a prior case between Valve and the VZBV by the German supreme court,” he said, referring to the mentioned 2010 case.

    In addition to pressuring Valve over the resale issue, the VZBV has criticized the company for following the lead of other industry heavyweights by banning class action suits and forcing users into an arbitration clause with an EULA update last year. The organization deemed the policy change to be a form of coercion because Valve essentially forced users to agree with the new terms by holding their accounts hostage. Without agreeing to the updated conditions, users couldn’t access their accounts or games.

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.