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Month: August 2010

Logic Lost: Used Game Sales Hurt Developers

Ars Technica is reporting on a Penny Arcade article that’s reporting on a blog post by Computer and Video on how buying used games hurts the game developers.

Okay first things first, I ain’t go no dog in the horse race. I’m not a gamer, I’m not in their market to start with. Well that’s not completely true, I do play some games, at this point their becoming rather antiquated games, but new game releases that I have any interest in are few and far between.

What bothers me, why I even bring this whole thing up, is that apparently somewhere some large portion of the population stopped participating in the logical world and started off on some other past.

The argument that game developers are making is this.

  1. Games cost money to make and support for online multiplayer play.
  2. That money comes from the sales of the game
  3. There are no secondary income sources in the gaming industry, like concerts; game releases are like a movie’s theater release with no DVD to follow.
  4. Ergo when people sell games, they hurt the developer because the money that trades hands doesn’t support the developer’s ability to keep the game’s servers online. (I assume nobody gives a shit about single player games anymore, now that we have the magical internet.)

The problem with this is well 4 does not follow 3. When the seller relinquishes their game disk they also relinquish the ability to play the game. This is what all that DRM that’s suppose to keep people from pirating games is for, you don’t get to keep a copy to play when you give the media away. Because of all that fun DRM, there’s no increase in the number of players. As far as the game companies know, the original user’s IP address changed–yes I know it’s more complicated than that with accounts and what not.

The point is, from the developer’s perspective the costs to run the server for some period of time into the future was paid for when the game was originally sold. There’s no difference in costs between:

  1. The original player playing online for 3 years
  2. The original player playing online for 1 year then selling the game to another buyer who plays online for 2 years.
  3. The original player playing online for 1 year, the selling to someone else who plays online for 1 year, then selling to a third party who plays online for 1 year.

The point is, so long as the play time online is the same, the costs are the same.

The failure in reasoning is really maddening.

However, what might be the most telling from all of this is what it means about the way the developers budget for multilayer capacity. What the developers are really admitting is that they are, in the long term, over selling their servers. That is they don’t really expect anybody to play the game for 3 years, they expect people to play the game for 6 months and then go play the next game they release.

Of course this problem is mostly their doing as well. Since multiple player play is now, almost exclusively, handled though a developer/publisher owned server, ostensibly for piracy reasons. The cost of running those servers falls exclusively on the shoulders of the developers.

By comparison, games that have stand alone servers shift the burden of hosting the multilayer games onto the community. If the community is big enough to support continued access some years down the road, the community, not the developer/publisher, will find a way to foot the bills for those multilayer games.

By tightening their noose around how people can play online they cut their own necks when it comes to who foots the bill for online play.