Why Used Games Are Not Evil [Opinion]

Dave Parrack 30-01-2013

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 8 Reasons Why I'm Buying GTA V On Release Day [MUO Gaming] Grand Theft Auto V is definitely on its way. This is a fact we know for sure, but everything else about the game is draped in a cloth of mystery. We don't know when it's... Read More 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.


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 6 Ways To Game On The Cheap [MUO Gaming] Playing video games isn't the harmful activity some politicians and media outlets would have you believe, otherwise every single gamer out there would have psychological problems brought on by their hobby. However, playing video games... Read More — 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.

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  1. Robert Brock
    April 26, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    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 !!!!

  2. Lisa Santika Onggrid
    February 5, 2013 at 11:12 am

    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?

  3. Chris Hoffman
    February 2, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    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
      February 4, 2013 at 1:58 pm

      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.

  4. Alan
    February 1, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    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
      February 4, 2013 at 1:57 pm

      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
        February 5, 2013 at 11:27 am

        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.

  5. Samol
    February 1, 2013 at 6:13 pm

    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.

  6. BenN
    January 31, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    I certainly agree with the article. I am mostly a used gamer but used games have led me to buy new games. Morrowind was purchased used, Oblivion and Skyrim were purchased brand new, first day at full price. I will do the same with the next in the series. But instead of agreeing with Mr. Parrack, let me disagree with the industry, that sounds more fun.

    And I agree with the comments so far that it is just wrong. Legally I can't see how they can do this. But if they install tracking on the hardware itself I won't buy it, if they force a download that would end my subscription. I am the type of consumer to cut-off service completely and for good.

    I have not, nor will I, buy a DVD again. Ever since I bought one (probably 10 years ago) and tried to play it on my computer (my only DVD player at the time) and it said I couldn't. I will not buy CDs at all, and MP3s only if they are DRM free. Even the Amazon 10 device limit is rubbing me the wrong way. If I buy a digital copy of a song it is good for life (assuming I back it up), I will replace MP3 players, tablet and phones- I don't think I should have to check with Amazon to get their permission.

    XP was the last Windows system I would buy. You install WGA against my will, I am done. I switched to Linux. (Now I think Linux surpassed them in quality anyway.)

    Sony and Microsoft are pictured- have they made clear public statements they are going to try and shut it down? I certainly don't doubt it as both companies annoy me and I find them both pretty lame. In my opinion, the Xbox is the only good product MS has left and they seem to be slowly ruining it. And ever since the Sony DRM Rootkit scandal I would never buy anything Sony. This is all the same argument as the Steam TOS, which I will not agree to. You want me to buy your product but not own it? WTF! How about I give you my money but you can never spend it?

    With tablets, phones and android powered consoles getting more and better games this seems like the worst time to attack their customer base. They are digging their own graves. Why not give me a reason to keep my games?

    Add-ons are great. I will happily pay $10 bucks for good add-ons. Why not go more open and let users develop add-ons, split the profits and you get money for nothing. If TW's Golf allows users to build courses I will pay $5 for good courses Offer me an early purchase date and $5 off your new game if I give you my old game. Keep adding new patches to old games- maybe something as simple as a code that unlocks an avatar for a new game. There are tons of positive strategies to make more money.

    Sony, Microsoft, MPAA, RIAA... they still seem to think the best business strategy is to insult, attack and treat their customers like criminals, and then put out a more inferior product to try and make things better.

    • Dave Parrack
      February 1, 2013 at 4:38 pm

      It's still unclear what the intentions of Sony and Microsoft are in this area, but all the rumors, much of them originating from within the industry itself, is suggesting there will be a crackdown.

      I agree with you that the best way for the industry to make extra money, from both gamers who buy new and who buy used, is to sell DLC. Those who want it can pay, those who are happy with the basic experience can stick to that. No one is attacked.

  7. Samol
    January 31, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    Lets see now.
    If a company manufactures a product that's intended to be sold for profit, sets a price on it and then advertises that they will sell this product to me (or whoever) for that set price - is this not an unwritten sales contract. If I agree to do this transaction for a copy of that product, Governments then collect a "sales tax" on this transaction, both Federal and State/Provincial taxes. In the eyes of the law does this not mean a "transfer of ownership"?
    If I now own this product I should be able to sell it or give it away for free. When you buy a car and a few years later decide to upgrade what do you do with your old car? You sell it and keep the full sale price. The same rules apply to your house and so on. How come these rules don't apply to companies that produce games, music and movies? Why are they so special?
    Just a rant.

    • Dave Parrack
      February 1, 2013 at 4:35 pm

      As previously mentioned it's a gray area when you have content on a disc rather than a purely physical product such as a house or car. But I don't believe there should be a gray area, we're right and they're wrong!

  8. Joseph Wilickers
    January 31, 2013 at 5:50 am

    When I trade in a game or buy it used, it is never at the brand new value. So these companies aren't "losing" as much money as they think they are.

    I'd say game companies should instead focus a lot more on making really good games, then putting them at a decent price. That way, more people are likely to buy their own, brand new copy.

    • Dave Parrack
      February 4, 2013 at 1:52 pm

      So, you wouldn't buy it new, hence it's even arguable whether they've lost a sale in the first place.

      Less big budget BS and more inventive, innovative games that don't cost the earth to produce. I'd love that.

  9. android underground
    January 31, 2013 at 5:36 am

    What's next? Laws against trading used CDs and DVDs and blue rays? Bomb all the second hand book stores? Sue me for reading my neighbors newspaper? Jailtime for sharing old copies of Playboy without sending extra money to the heirs of Hefner?

    Hey wait! If my girlfriend and me read this site together your ads load only once! Have you already sent out the black helicopters?

    • Dave Parrack
      February 1, 2013 at 4:32 pm

      They're on the way... look to the skies!

      Books are a good comparison, because the words on the pages are just content, the same as the data on a video game disc is, and yet the publishing industry has never tried to limit the second-hand market.

      • Lisa Santika Onggrid
        February 5, 2013 at 11:22 am

        It's funny that despite having many similarities to print publications, video game developers use an entirely different approach. I borrow my friend's book, find it entertaining, and buy myself a copy. Likewise, if I borrow a video game disk (which I've done before) and I like it, I'll go to the store to buy it. Nowadays DRM doesn't even let you lend your friends your collection.
        Back to used games, if they find sales to be high on a certain title, they might want to do re-release digitally (so it can be cheaper) if they still want money. Buying used copy doesn't even mean you'll never buy a new copy. I know some people will if that title is worthy enough.

  10. Matt Rees
    January 31, 2013 at 1:39 am

    Couldn't agree more with these comments
    I too am a casual gamer and quite frankly if they implement such tech on next gen consoles, I will either keep my existing one and do what Im doing now, or get the damn thing bastardised and stay off being online

    I won't bow down to these fat-cats.
    I understand games are expensive to manufacture, but $100+ for a new game is just unacceptable. I don't care for the 'latest' and I don't care to just pirate for free, that's not right, but I do care about value for money and that's what the used game market is to me.

    Just like I believe Hollywood should stop paying their actors 10mil for leading roles, but instead reduce prices of releases to fix their issue, if the gaming industry isnt healthy right now its only due to the ever increasing purchasing costs and as far as Im concerned the entertainment industry as a whole needs a shake up.

    Life is about adapting, business is no different.

    • Dave Parrack
      February 1, 2013 at 4:30 pm

      You've mentioned something I failed to in the piece; piracy will surely increase if these limitations on used games are brought in. Those of us who try to stay on the right side of the law will be punished for doing so. Which sucks.

  11. Bill
    January 31, 2013 at 1:37 am

    My biggest problem with used games is they really are no that much cheaper then new at the used game stores. A person spends $60 on a game and then beats. They take it back and only get $10 if they are lucky. The store then turns around and sells it for $50. That is where the real rip off is.

    • Dave Parrack
      February 1, 2013 at 4:28 pm

      I think this is especially bad in the U.S. but here in the U.K. the rates tend to be fairer. I usually get around two-thirds of the price the store ends up selling it for, which I feel is fair.

      • JoeG
        February 27, 2013 at 9:01 pm

        Bill is absolutely right, the used game retailers although are doing the community a service by providing an outlet for unwanted games are indeed making a ton off gamers here in the US (buying back for fraction of original cost and reselling for a few bucks less than new).

        Cause of this I partnered up with two other gamers to provide the community with a better alternative, trading your games with other users looking to trade theirs directly online. There are a few sites up and running doing the same but even they have major flaws. We decided to do it better and for free.

        We created the site for cas gamers as well as the hard core. Register for free, trade for free, meet other gamers for free, Our goal was to create a site for gamers by gamers. Leaptrade is still in its infancy but with this gaming community I know it will grow. Right now only setup in the US, if you want check it out at Let me know what you think, would love to hear your thoughts and opinions.

  12. MY-T-MAN
    January 31, 2013 at 12:30 am

    I can't believe the greed of these people. I have been a gamer since the seventys (yes I'm an old geezer 66yo) and I quit buying games five years ago because of thier DRM and other crap like this. I would sell my old game to help pay for a new one that I wouldn't have bought had I not been able to sell it. What if General Motors or GE or any other manufacture felt the same as game producers. If you sold a car or appliance you would have to give them a cut of the proceeds.

    • Dave Parrack
      February 1, 2013 at 4:27 pm

      Your proof that gamers will give up their hobby if used games are prohibited. The industry has lost you as a result, and it'll lose a lot more people in the future.

  13. Samol
    January 30, 2013 at 11:18 pm

    If game, music and movie companies etc win the argument in the courts then this would set a precedent for other products would it not. If I sell a used TV to someone would this not be cheating the TV Manufacturers out of some money. If I sell a used Dining Room table and chairs for cash would I not be cheating the company that manufactured the table and chairs etc etc?
    Where do you draw the line? Lawyer heaven.

    • Dave Parrack
      February 1, 2013 at 4:25 pm

      The argument of the games companies is that while we own the actual disc, the content on it is only ever licensed out to gamers. Hence the gray area of the law. I think you're correct when you say "lawyer heaven."

      • Scutterman
        February 2, 2013 at 1:07 am

        They may own the IP, but I think we should have more rights to it than we do. Technically you're not allowed to sell books second hand, but I don't see publishing houses getting car boot sales and bric-a-brac stalls shut down.

        • Dave Parrack
          February 4, 2013 at 1:51 pm

          Exactly. They don't because they realize it would be a stupid legal avenue to explore. Unfortunately the games industry has found a new way to tackle the "issue."

        • Scutterman
          February 6, 2013 at 10:17 am

          Of course, with crowdsourcing, increased exposure for indy devs, DRM-free games, and new players (like Steam), it may be we see a paradigm shift in how powerful the console companies and AAA games companies really are.

  14. Scutterman
    January 30, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    I've owned a master system, a mega drive, and all three Sony consoles. Every new generation brings a roughly double increase in release game price, despite the larget companies having made improvements in manufacturing and distribution processes, as well as increased market and marketing.

    Indy companies, without these advantage, have cheaper games for often better games, or games that offer longer re-playability.

    The sad fact of the matter is, I don't think we'll have a choice in used games for much longer. I strongly believe that, by the end of the next generation of consoles, digital distribution will be the primary method of obtaining games. With this comes the ease of implementing DRM as well as removing the option to re-sell the games.

    The good news is, piracy has always been one step ahead of stupidity. People have the option to play old games using emulators, it won't be long before "old games" starts to become a very relative term.a

    • Dave Parrack
      February 1, 2013 at 4:23 pm

      You make a very good point. It could be that my point is completely devoid of meaning come the next generation. Digital distribution is definitely going to be pushed, but there will be a backlash from people who prefer physical copies of the content they own.

      • Scutterman
        February 2, 2013 at 1:04 am

        It's not just that - a lot of the world doesn't yet have internet that can support a totally download based gaming hobby. Especially with games getting so large, which isn't going to get any better if the developers don't have to worry about fitting it onto a disk.

      • Lisa Santika Onggrid
        February 5, 2013 at 11:15 am

        Sometimes not just the content. The box art of physical copies is fun to collect too.

  15. Chase Hainey
    January 30, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    I don't personally buy used games on current systems. I do like to check out pawn shops and similar shops for good finds on NES and SNES games and peripherals from time to time. But, with brand new games being discounted so heavily a month or so after release, I just wait it out. I have bought one game in the last year on launch day, and that was Halo 4. I got Assassin's Creed III and Boarderlands 2 both for half price on Amazon in their amazing sales.

    • Scott Hilderbran
      January 31, 2013 at 12:54 am

      I have a pawn shop I know that is absolutely loaded with older video games and systems. Its a great way to get some classic titles.

      • Dave Parrack
        February 1, 2013 at 4:20 pm

        I'm guessing you hate the move to digital, and the efforts to kill used games then?

        • Lisa Santika Onggrid
          February 5, 2013 at 11:14 am

          I love having physical copy of my collections. Besides, physical version often have goodies like treasure map or poster (at least it used to be).

    • Dave Parrack
      February 1, 2013 at 4:19 pm

      Imagine in 10 years time a world without any retro games from the next-gen on. Sucks, huh?