Evaluating the Potential of Used Games Being Blocked on New Consoles

Posted February 8th, 2013 at 10:30 am


Rumors of technology being implemented in consoles to block used games are nothing new. In the lead-up to the Xbox 360 and PS3 there were rumblings that were unsubstantiated and now they’ve surfaced again. The latest unverified reports, which focus on the next Xbox though similar news earlier related to the PS4, are harder to ignore given the push towards a digital future and the restrictiveness that has been escalating throughout the current generation. 

The most recent uproar originates from Edge’s report on information collected from sources which features details such as the console being “always online”, using large Blu-ray discs, coming with Kinect 2.0, and most notably blocking any games from being played that aren’t brand new and tied to the user’s account. Microsoft has not acknowledged the rumors though it is their policy not to do so.

In general terms taking that anti-consumer action would appear to be a monumental mistake. It may immediately please developers, who have turned to “Online Passes” to try and account for what they deem to be sales lost to the secondhand market, but the widespread perception of the console would take a significant hit.

It is almost certain that it will be both Sony and Microsoft going this route or neither will. Being isolated as the only console where games can’t be played unless they were bought new would push consumers to the competitor. Third party developers would follow as they would be putting their titles out on one system where used games would be blocked and the other where they would not be. Retailers like Gamestop would shift their efforts to supporting the more open console. The damage done to the one restrictive console would be devastating. Retailers and consumers would be forced to adapt if both did it however with the former likely offering more in the way of bonuses to fight digital sales and the latter buying fewer games.

Personally not having the ability to utilize a secondhand market would greatly affect purchase decisions. Any games that I found myself at all on the fence about would be passed over knowing that they could not be sold to recoup some of the costs involved if they didn’t pan out as hoped. Certainly if the two consoles went opposite directions I would be buying every third party title on the one that remained open. Consumers don’t have to actively buy used games to be affected in this. Not having the ability to rent or borrow games to try them out would affect many other people as well. A shift in such a direction would also only serve to strengthen the development trend towards mostly big budget AAA titles and shrink market options.

Sports franchises however are in a unique position releasing yearly on very specific cycles. League licensed products are especially front-loaded because their relevance is limited to the seasons on which they are based. Publishers have further accelerated early sales of new copies by introducing the “Online Pass” (reducing the value of used) and pushing pre-order incentives. They’ve attempted to provide reasons to hang on to the titles longer as well through DLC and modes like Ultimate Team. The windows for relevancy and subsequently value are very slim. Therefore a decision to block used games would be less damaging to the sports franchises than it would with other genres.

The more likely outcome of all this may be something along the lines of a universal “Online Pass” built in to the consoles with this more drastic rumor being floated to soften the blow of a later reveal. In fact many would probably be thankful that used games weren’t being blocked completely when, if no one had known about that possibility to being with, they instead would have been very upset about that now perceived middle-ground being introduced.

With the current state of sports gaming a move towards preventing any secondhand games market would likely not have a huge affect on the outlook of major franchises going forward. The contraction over the course of the last nine years means there are very few fringe titles, which rely more on word of mouth that would be limited by such a tactic, that would be threatened. It would have a drastic influence however on the industry as a whole. There is no reason to panic right now – certainly a denial by Microsoft would be welcome – but should it actually materialize the widespread ramifications will be dramatic.

  • gamer2008

    Ill be the first to tell you. If this happens, it will end the console gaming itself. I do agree with you though, I’m heavily basing my purchase choice on which system does it or not. If each go a different direction, say Microsoft does. Sony will dominate the sales market.

    • I’m someone who prefers 360 to PS3…and I’d flip if that was the case for next gen too.

  • CmPunked

    I’m praying that Sony is smart enough to let Xbox test the waters first. I know Sony has been rumored too but it was a few months ago that we heard about it and havn’t since. While the Microsoft rumors have been more recent. Let Xbox test the waters and if they succeed than I guess Sony will have no choice but to join them, but if it fails than Sony doesn’t have to worry.

    • With the PS4 being announced on the 20th these rumors are a little suspicious to me timing wise. Like it’s being leaked to soften the blow for either Sony doing the same…or neither doing it but having some other restrictions in place to please publishers.

  • lonnie

    i have been reading these rumors as well,for me i will not buy a new console if this holds true,i am a hard core gamer and have invested thousands in games over the years but most of that money was spent on used games,when it comes to this my decision will be based on putting food on the table and paying bills,sadly my gaming days will end..

  • WooRicFlairWoo

    So stupid. So I wouldn’t be able to bring a game like Madden over to my friends house without bringing my whole console? Even if they let you sign in on your profile on another system it still is a hassle. Don’t plan on buying any of these systems until a few years after since they’ll be overpriced and probably loaded with problems.

  • I try a lot of games out based on being able to trade in older games towards them. Developers need to realize that their won’t be bought as much if people don’t have that extra money from trade-ins to get a new game.

  • Developers and Publishers are making more money now than they ever have before through various DLC and online subscriptions. The used game market/borrowing/renting/etc has always existed in some form – so this is nothing new. It’s not like they are all of a sudden struggling in the face of the secondhand game market.

    The “always online” system will simply never happen. Rendering the console as a brick if one’s ISP is down or having issues is just stupid, not to mention there is still many people that don’t bother with online gaming, have other means of online access (cell phone and other mobile devices, etc) that this just isn’t feasible.

    A console’s success this day and age rests largely on its accessibility. The measures these companies may or may not be adopting are highly restrictive practices that could spell certain doom for one or both of them and an entire overhaul of the industry as we know it.

    • Well said, Philip. This would more than likely destroy the console gaming industry. The fallout from that would be a loss of jobs throughout the industry, from development to retail (like Gamestop).

      This idea is so stupid, you’d think it was created by an EA/Tiburon executive…

      • Keith.

        EA probably doesn’t realize it, but they’d stand to lose a lot of $ with this. I know a lot of people in the past have bought NCAA knowing they could trade it in a month later for $40 towards Madden. As it stands, that equals 2 $60 sales for EA. If this happens, I’d bet a lot of those people just pass on NCAA, as $120 for 2 separate Tiburon football titles is a lot to ask of even the most die-hard of EA fans.

  • I’m guessing we are headed towards a digital gaming future, or at least a more digitally-involved one, given how certain games are developed now – ESPECIALLY sports titles.

    The one thing I’ve noticed is that nowadays, the majority of excitement from games like Madden and 2k13 are tied into being online at all times. Take the CCM mode for example. You can’t play with friends locally, yet if you’re connected online, you can have 32 users. Or, take how the VC replace the contract in MyPlayer. If you disconnect or play your MP offline, then the VC reverts to a contract, at which point you can’t earn extra “money” for your player outside of the mode. And if you disconnect on accident? Too bad, you have to start over. Another example is how the ASW was made DLC, which is a shameless money grab IMO. (I know 2k12 doesn’t have a season pass, but I think my point was clear…)

  • David

    I bought Far Cry 2 used and then bought Far Cry 3 new. I bought Assassin’s Creed used and then bought ACII, Brotherhood, Revelations and ACIII… all new and some on the day of release. The used market has a use to developers/publishers in a way I don’t think they realize. Had I not taken a chance on the cheap AC game, that’s over $350 that UbiSoft would have missed out on (I bought the Collector’s Editions). I think it’s a dumb move. These publishers are NOT losing as much money as they think they are on the used market. Most people who buy something used and cheaply would otherwise just pass on the game. But by having it in a gamers hand, at least they are effectively “advertising” for future releases.

    Oh… and I would rather spend the $60 on a newer game than the $55 for a used one that GameStop charges. That 5 bucks ain’t worth it. Sorry, GS.

    • Bingo on all counts.

      Especially now as publishers have built in revenue streams through used gamers (DLC and online passes). And you’re right…taking a chance on a game has led many to buy in for sequels and beyond.

    • MichaelMD

      On the other hand, not having used games may lead to a market like steam has, where games go on ridiculous sales. Right now, companies sell a game at 60 bucks. All games are the same price. They realize that only some people are going to pay that price, the rest will pick it up used some day. In a world without used games (like digital distribution with Steam), companies put the game out at 50 bucks. Once they’ve captured just about everyone they can at that price, they’ll slash the price down real cheap for a short period. This gets a ton more people to buy it, which boosts the game up onto the “most popular” list, and back into peoples consciousness so they can capture even more people buying it. This leads to cheaper game prices for the consumer and more people buying the games for the publisher. Its a win win situation.

      • AndyMP

        I think it’s wishful thinking if you believe that games will be released at 50 bucks instead of 60. In the short time as a sweetener, maybe, but that wouldn’t last long and they’d be back at 60 before long.

        • godaddy

          Its going to be 70$ on next gen too… this will suck

  • JJ

    The backlash of even testing the waters will leave a bad taste in everyones mouths.

  • HV

    They are already doing this with digital versions, if you buy a game by download, you can’t borrow or sell it. The least offensive way to make the used market smaller would be to sell digital versions at a smaller price than the physical ones. That way you knew you wouldn’t sell it, but you’re paying less from the beginning. And don’t tell me they can’t sell it cheaper, no plastic, no paper, no disc, no distribution, no profit to the shop, of course it should be a third cheaper.

    • TheSpartanZombie

      Steam does that and it works great. Xbox has the game marketplace and what really confuses me is that the digital versions of games are the same as buying new from the store. Like buying NBA 2k13 on the marketplace is $60 which is the same price if you were to buy it “new”. I actually bought NFS Most Wanted on there without realizing that you also have to pay for the online pass which is ridiculous since I’m already paying the same price as a physical copy.

  • clubsteve

    smh….this would put pressure on developers to make great games ALL the time. i mean, there would be SO much more risk involved with having to buy a new game only. new game prices are expensive enough the way it is. on the other hand, you really don’t get much for trade-ins anymore anyways. so gamestop and other used retailers would hurt more than anyone. on a side note, if ps3 had backwards compatability, i would have purchased a ps3 over xbox 360.

  • wolf onatshirt

    I guarantee that if they go this route, it will be the beginning of PC gaming and the end of console gaming. OR….if one decides to go that route and the other not, the other will prevail as the leader of console gaming. You know one or the other will happen. But I highly doubt that all console gaming will go this route. Very doubtful. It’s bad marketing, bad for consumerism, and just bad overall. It will bite everyone in the ass. I don’t think they want that.

  • World Peace Brosephs

    Totally wouldn’t side with the devs on this one!! Like others, I too have bought a used game just to try out and fell in love, which led me to by the sequel NEW when it released. I always trade and buy used games, no reason to spend 45-60 bucks on a “new” older game and end up not even liking it. I complain about GameStops horrific trade in values, but if this would ever go into effect, once you buy a game its pretty much worthless once you beat it or get tired of it. I wonder how companies like GameStop, CEX, etc. feel about this. It would hinder their income greatly due to the fact that about 45% of their revenue come from the buying and trading in of used games. This is just absolute greed, honestly what else would be the reason behind this idea. They want their money from the purchase of their new game plus the additional online DLC and crap like that. Look at FIFA for instance, EA are still raking till this day far past the release because of FUT. Buying FIFA tokens and countless Microsoft Points being spent. Lets see what the future holds! Hopefully we don’t get scammed into pouring more money into gaming.

  • Gunt

    Video games are dying!!!!

  • brian

    if either system does this im out of the video game world.i have 360 and most my games are used and i dont have live.i just want a system that plays games i dont want a mini computer and if i did id go on a laptop.i dont want to be online and pay for dlc to make that 60$ overpriced game 100$ or more depending on what u get.i would just wait like a year till the game is 20$ if i did stay …but wont unless pirated games are easier to get lol

    • AlphaTurtle

      so microsoft lost a whole lot of money on you. They will be perfectly fine losing your business to be honest since you aren’t benefiting them in any way

  • buckeyeboi

    This for one bothers me for the simple fact that you won’t even be able to take one of your games over to your buddies house to play together. That also goes for trading games with one of your buddies. The videogame industry is getting ridiculous!!!!

  • buckeyeboi

    This for one bothers me for the simple fact that you won’t even be able to take one of your games over to your buddies house to play together. That also goes for trading games with one of your buddies. The videogame industry is getting ridiculous!!!!

  • buckeyeboi

    This for one bothers me for the simple fact that you won’t even be able to take one of your games over to your buddies house to play together. That also goes for trading games with one of your buddies. The videogame industry is getting ridiculous!!!!

  • AndyMP

    I won’t buy any console if they don’t support used games. I actually rarely buy used games so it’s not even an issue that directly affects me. It’s more a matter of principle. This increasingly anti-consumer direction that gaming is moving towards as profits are squeezed isn’t cool. They had it good for a long time but now we see games released half-finished, games released with features left out and made available subsequently as DLC that you have to then purchase if you want the complete product… and I’m getting tired of it.

    • AlphaTurtle

      and the companies won’t care about losing you at all since they don’t make money off of your used game purchases

      • Tom

        your an idiot alphaturtle. He said he rarely buys a game used so yes the companies would lose money due to him not buying their games. Also stop fighting the power here, as a consumer everyone has eachothers back against the larger corperations. Quit calling out people for standing up for what they think is a low move by the larger corperations.

      • TruthBeTold

        If you had read his comment correctly, you would realize that he said “I actually rarely buy used games…”. This would imply that any games purchased by Andy are new. Sit your ass down before I sit you down.

  • These companies are getting way over their heads. Just make the damn console with video games and fun in mind. Money will be made, but over thinking like this loses money. Having to buy games either online only or eliminating used games/borrowing from friend, will equal death to consoles. These big wigs need to get their head examined.

    • AlphaTurtle

      they actually don’t make money on selling consoles at all, they actually lose it. They only make money selling new games so of course they want to make it so you can only buy new games

  • AlphaTurtle

    well one semi-easy solution to the thing about not being able to test games that you were on the fence about would be for companies to make demos for pretty much all games to be downloaded

  • Brian Murray

    I can’t even understand the logic behind it other than, “where else you going to play your console games?”.

    I’ll start looking into PC gaming if that’s the case. Totally unfair to the consumer.

  • harley dyse

    the biggest thing to me is, what if i have 2 locations i bounce bac and forth from with consoles set up in 2 diff locations, i cant just pack the game up and take it with me, ifd have to take the ENTIRE console!! what about the times when u wanna go over a friends house and have a madden tourney etc, BAD MOVE ALL AROUND

  • gamingbus

    I think the impact will be less damaging than you think. Gamers tend to do the opposite of what they say, for one – SecuROM, UPlay and other DRM schemes haven’t really affected sales – and furthermore, if an exclusive hits a system that people want, they will buy that system. “Screw the XBox. I’m not going to go near that sh– ooh, Halo 5? New Gears of War? I’m in!”

  • JustANormalGuy

    If they do block new games, wouldn’t game rental businesses like Gamefly sue?