back to article Braben sticks knife into secondhand games market

Elite co-creator and Raspberry Pi backer David Braben reckons the secondhand games market is detrimental to the development of core-gamer and single-player titles because most retailers won't give them long-term sales support. "I know publishers who stopped games in development because most shops won't reorder stock after …


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  1. I think so I am?

    Goes to show

    why, I haven't payed for a new game in 2 years. Wait 3 weeks and buy 2-3 games for the price of a new one.

    1. I think so I am?

      Re: Goes to show

      Down vote! shame on you - GAME created the bubble that is 2nd hand games, if they didn't I would of bought all my games new.

      Their death will be brought about by their own doing !

  2. S.G.

    Why not?

    And then do the same for cars, so manufacturers get a cut of second hand sales as well.

    Also, I recycle toilet wastes as compost, should I send money to the food industry, you know, to make sure the can survive?

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Why not?

      Your analogies are not quite correct.

      Car manufacturers during the first 3-7 years (depending on car) get a cut of second hand sales from service, maintenance and execution of warranties. Even if a car is sold its warranty goes along with it. So in fact, that industry actually works off that paradigm.

      The problem of the games industry is that it never managed to find a compelling "warranty", "maintenance" and "support" arrangement for single player games.

      IMO they should have taken a leaf out of the soap opera marketing book on those. Release small episodes, release often and leave the core game purely as an engine to run the episodes. This however is against the way industry is structured so it is not surprising that nobody has tried it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why not?

        Repeat after me: CAR ANALOGIES NEVER WORK!

        1. admiraljkb

          Re: Why not?

          "Repeat after me: CAR ANALOGIES NEVER WORK!"

          Right. Games are published like a book. So a book analogy would be closer. In fact there recently as an article where someone was saying the second hand book market was costing sales, and that the publishers should get a cut on second hand book sales as well. I wish I could remember where I saw that now.

          I like the single player games truthfully. The storyline and all that is cool, and it'll get me by until the holodeck is invented. :) I don't generally like multiplayer, unless its a "lan party" with friends I know or family. Then its a lot more fun being able to taunt, razz and joke around.

      2. Arkasha


        Valve tried episodic gaming with Half-Life 2. I liked the idea.

        1. Figgus

          Re: Episodes

          Seems as if a few of you can't tell the difference between car dealerships and car manufacturers. The dealer gets the 3-7 year addon business, the manufacturer just sells the car once.

          This subtle distinction makes the analogy work much much much better.

          1. The Indomitable Gall

            Car dealerships

            Car dealerships pay a LOT of money to be an official Vauxhall/Ford/BMW whatever dealer and service centre. Warranty terms often specify that all servicing must be carried out by an official dealer, and that repairs must use official spare parts. That keeps the customer's business with the manufacturer for several years. Even afterwards, there's still a lot of money in aftermarket parts that are increasingly specialised and difficult to reproduce.

            Furthermore, a car costs thousands of pounds and R&D is a relatively small component of that -- manufacturing costs are high.

            Manufacturing costs for digitial media and cardboard packaging are negligible, but the time spent developing a commercial game is absolutely huge.

            1. davtom

              Re: Car dealerships

              Warranty terms for cars can't say that an authorized dealership must service the car now; that was legislated against, probably because it was anticompetitive.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why not?

        Valve tried it. We are all still waiting for HL2, Episode 3.

      4. npupp 1

        Re: Why not?

        because that is precisely what people want isn't it, 5 episodic parts to a 20 hour game released 2 months apart. playing 6 games concurrently while content is released sparradically for each of the six.


        replay value (perhaps alternate endings, perhaps non linearity), engaging content, hidden content; these would go a long way to keeping your games out of the 2nd hand rack a week after release EA (applies to others, but they are serial offender)

      5. The Jase

        Re: Why not?

        But DLC and add-ons are an additional revenue stream. You can't sell those on with your old games...

      6. TimNevins

        Re: Why not?

        The car is a good example.

        Same goes for houses/toys and everything in between.

        The point is that a warranty/maintenance/repair etc makes more sense for a car where mechanical wear and tear is the norm.

        The same does not apply for CD/DVD sitting in a wallet.

        As for passing the saving on to the End User this is a myth.History shows that every company will keep the boost in profits for shareholders and bonuses.

    2. Shrek

      Re: Why not?

      To be fair, a comparison to the car market doesn't exactly hold up...

      Car manufacturers (or at least the dealers of those manufacturers) do have the opportunity to compete with the non-manufacturer market by adding value to the sale (e.g. increased warranty and 'approved used' schemes). I appreciate that not everyone will feel that there is any value being added, but there is at least the opportunity to compete by adding value or supplying OEM parts etc.

      Again the consumer has a choice and the manufacturer can gain a slice of the action, as I see it with the games market there is simply no secondary revenue stream for games of the type mentioned in the article.

      Likewise with food you will have to consume more (new!) food to produce more waste, i.e. the process sustains itself.

      1. Anonymous Coward 101

        Re: Why not?

        Also, cars deteriorate with time and use and so become less valuable as time goes on. A second hand game could go on to the end of time provided it isn't damaged: why buy new?

  3. Nick Ryan Silver badge


    "the price of new games would have come down a long time ago if the industry was getting a share of the revenue from used game sales"

    or alternatively:

    ...more games would have been sold if they hadn't been such greedy b'stards in the first place and priced the games at a more sensible price. Falling revenue is rarely countered effectively by upping the sales price.

    ...if the games actually had replay value then gamers might keep the games and not return them after completing them in 6 hours

    ...95% of the budget wasn't be spent on visual effects, instead producing games that a gamer might want to play for longer as once you've watched a movie you tend not to need to watch it again. (similar to the above point admittedly)

  4. jai

    simple solution

    Digital distribution. Just like mobile gaming, you buy the game online, download it, then you can't sell it on to anyone else, because there's no physical media to re-sell.

    That said, I don't look forward to having to download a blu-ray's worth of data on the next games like GTA5 and Max Payne 3. But possibly the solution is you open the games up to pre-ordering, and users can download them over a couple of weeks, and then on the release day, the copies are unlocked when connecting to their servers.

    Or, commit more to DLC. So you can buy the physical game, but you'll need to keep the disc around if you want to play the full game, as 70% of the single-player gameplay, and the multiplayer, all gets downloaded from online. The disc can hold all the music and the high-def textures, but the gameplay content gets downloaded and only works keyed to your account, or something.

    I know the 2nd hand market is a problem for the game developers. But I don't think many of them have done much about it other than whine "it's so unfair!!!"

    There are definitely ways around it, they just need to get us players into the habit of downloading more of our content in a means that makes it very complicated to then re-sell on.

  5. Tom 35 Silver badge

    Braben claimed the price of new games would have come down a long time ago

    He also has a bridge he would like to sell.

    1. auburnman

      Re: Price...

      Games have cost forty quid or more when they are released since the days of Sonic the Hedgehog. If you can't afford that why not buy older games? A glance at just now shows brand new copies of Assassin's Creed Revelations for sub twenty quid, and Portal 2 for thirteen quid.

      The fact is there are ways of buying excellent games on the cheap AND supporting the people who make them and the shops that actually stock new copies of games. Second hand sales are hurting developers by chipping away at the people who can't wait to play something they created but will try to shirk the premium day 1 price.

      That said, the way games are funded and sold could be about to undergo a radical upheaval - look at the companies who are using kickstarter to approach their fans directly for upfront funding and cutting out publishers.

    2. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: simple solution

      Or even better, Jai - just charge everyone a monthly fee and don't give them any games at all.

    3. Lee Dowling Silver badge

      Re: Price...

      Single-player games that take note of this advice aren't dead. That tells you a lot. Hell, it's hard enough to find single-player games in retail stores nowadays without attacking the very concept of them. How dare someone complete a game!

      In the era of BBC Micros and ZX Spectrum, it was still a problem - in theory - countered by the fact that actually most games lasted much longer anyway and could be replayed (hell, I'm still buying emulators to play some of them again). Even DOS games would have had the same problems but - gosh - sales of and similar sites are doing quite well, thank you, and paying their dividends. Recently I had the choice between the old and the new Syndicate. Guess which I chose. Now ask yourself why.

      The era of £50 single-player games being the norm is way over, that we can agree on. But claiming that there's somehow a problem with the business model is to ignore the very business model that got him where he is today (aside from selling small devices that are delayed and not having a single example in the wild despite HUGE fuss about being released). It works... IF you play fair.

      If you can sell a game that's popular, people WON'T trade in their copies. They will buy it for multiple platforms. They will buy it for their friends. If you sell a game that's recycled pretty junk, it'll end up in the pre-owned bin, of course it will, where it only serves to tell your potential customers NOT to buy the damn thing at full price. It's like claiming that game rental destroys the market (by the same arguments he uses, they would do more damage!) but OnLive seems to be doing pretty good at that (and I might JUST buy Space Marine if the price comes down a bit because of a quite good demo of it using my "free" first OnLive game).

      Make decent games. Supply decent demos (What's happened to them? You think I will risk my PC and cash on your dodgy coding and idea of gameplay without having a quick jaunt first?). Stop paying for FMV and ads that look so unlike the game they have to have a disclaimer. Stop paying for DRM that's about as much use as a chocolate teapot in a heatwave. Price reasonably, so I don't WANT to give it away, and people *won't* buy a secondhand copy of it because it's not worth the difference between that and a new one, and so I can buy 2, 3, 4 copies for friends. Make it replayable (not the same enemies in the same location every single time). Make it not take up 10% of my disk space so it's the first candidate for culling. Put it on lots of platforms so I end up buying it for my phone too.

      Then go look at the "indie" market, see that they've done ALL of those things and have stolen all the revenue from big studios by doing just that, even to the point of "pay what you want" and giveaways (just got a free key for Faerie Solitaire from the developer - ended up paying for another for my girlfriend in appreciation because she liked the game).

      Your second-hand market wasn't the downfall of your game. It was your poor attempt at hitting the first-hand market and severely stripping them of value that did that. At that point, you'd ONLY consider looking at second-hand or your mates copies. If it was really any good, both you and your friend and the guy who sold the game would have wanted to hang onto it.

      I'll tell you where all my "game" money goes nowadays:

      - Humble Bundles

      - Indie games

      - Steam sales

      And most of the things I buy *are* single-player. I don't even own most of the big titles of the last five years.

      Start making things that people DON'T want to re-sell the second they get hold of them, or can't complete in an afternoon. But, of course, that's HARD. This guy did it once. You'd think he'd know that it was harder to do than just knocking up a formulaic, unoriginal modern game with pretty graphics.

    4. Richard 81

      Re: simple solution

      "Or, commit more to DLC."

      I'll be sporting and give you a 30 second head start.

  6. g e

    Boo Hoo

    It's one of the remaining methods of not paying full price for a game that's legal.

    I'm not convinced that paying £40-ish quid for a game that you complete in 20 hours and no point re-playing once completed is value for money.

    If more games were like Mass Effect (86 hours to complete) with the attendant depth of story, characters & gameplay and production values then yes, that's worth forty quid.

    So. Perhaps what the consumer should be asking is 'will you slash your prices by 75% (80/20 = 4) if second hand games are made illegal?'. No. Thought not.

    That latest Splinter Cell game.. about 5 hours to complete. Utter rip off, played it and punted it on eBay to recoup losses, a tragic end (presumably) to a classic game series.

    If your game takes 10 hours to play then it's worth a fiver based on Mass Effect 2's 86 hours gametime (not completed #3 yet but looking like 80 hours, too), cos if ME is worth £40 quid then _your_ game *isn't*.

    I've nothing against game developers making money, many games provide loads of fun (Portal a great case in point) but be realistic about what it's worth FFS,

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Boo Hoo

      £40 is the price if you're lucky! Publishers would have them retailing at £50-£55. It's not that unusual a situation for an 18-20 year old minimum wage worker to have to work more hours than they spend completing the game. It'll only get worse once publishers have carte blanche to set pricing with locked-in digital distribution systems. PC gamers should be thankful Valve are so damned good.

      1. TheRealRoland

        Re: Boo Hoo

        Uhm, here in the US there are people that have to pay more for gas to drive to work, compared to what they make at work...

        Luxury problem, anyone?

        Power to the People! I think it's our birthright to get games that are cheaper than what they cost now!

        Stop whining - read reviews, then buy, instead of 'gotta have it when it's released'.

        1. mark 63 Silver badge

          Re: Boo Hoo

          Roland ,

          Americans complaining about gas prices will get no sympathy over here!

          unless the gas prices are the 'luxury' you were likening to games

          when you learn to make cars that get more than 14mpg.....

          1. Goldmember
            Thumb Up

            "Americans complaining about gas prices will get no sympathy over here!"

            @mark 63

            Well said, sir. I pay £1.47 per LITRE for diesel currently, which roughly equals £5.57 / $8.83 per US gallon.

            Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Not that many could afford to, at these prices.

            1. Aaron Em

              Re: "Americans complaining about gas prices will get no sympathy over here!"

              Sucks, dunnit, to live in a society where the social engineering is even further advanced than what we've got here?

            2. Paul Wells

              Re: "Americans complaining about gas prices will get no sympathy over here!"


              But how many miles do you get for that $8.83 per US gallon? An American car doing 20mpg is standard.

          2. TheRealRoland

            Re: Boo Hoo

            btw, i used to be from 'over here', after having lived 'over there' for a while, really opens your eyes...

            Little off-topic - take it one more cycle: the people having to scramble for gas for their 16mpg cars do not have the money to buy a more recent car to begin with.

            Anyways, i totally agree with the fact that it's ridiculous that developers now should get another piece of the pie, trying to cut in to the second-hand market.

            BTW, what's up with that weird wave of entitlement going on? People complaining that they did not like the ending of ME3, and now they're trying to get the developer to change the ending so it suits them better? And now this?

            I don't know, i must be getting old, fast...

            1. SYNTAX__ERROR

              Re: No money to buuy a more efficient car

              Usually smaller, less powerful cars cost less than big fast ones. They also tend to be more fuel-efficient...

              Although I'll admit, the traditional mindset in the US has been to buy vehicles with massive petrol engines and so there's probably a lot of second-hand ones about.

    2. Seb123

      Re: Boo Hoo

      I completely agree, but this is why I vote with my wallet. I love games, but I only buy about 4 per year. I don't have the time to play more and most games just don't interest me.

    3. JetSetJim Silver badge

      Re: Boo Hoo

      I'm not disputing that it's wrong for the games industry to get a cut on the second hand game sale price, but you are saying that you value your "entertainment time" at less than £2/hour if you are unwilling to pay £40 for a 20 hour game. What about the cinema - ever go there? That's about a fiver minimum (I've not been in a long time) for at most 2 hours normally - so you're paying more per hour for that. Or renting (or even buying) a film - how much does Blockbuster charge nowadays for the latest release? LoveFilm is £6/month (or thereabouts) and I wonder what the average number of films folks watch is.

      Just curious to know what your price-point is? I do agree with the principle that shorter games should be cheaper - but when you start adding in the "value add" of multiplayer online gaming how do you factor that cost. I've owned a variety of FPS games of varying single-player lengths and invariably I've put in at least high-double-digit numbers of hours in their online aspects - effectively amortising their cost over far more hours (yay for value for money).

      1. g e

        Re: Boo Hoo

        No. I never go to the cinema as experience shows that when I do I was better off watching the advertisement trailer which had all the best bits of the movie in it compressed into 1 minute for free, all the hype & marketing being absolutely no more than hype & marketing.

        I do pay Netflix though, and so far have no problem with value for money there, mucho TV series to marathon through plus reasonable movie selection. I also have no problem with games like ME3 as stated above, that game just keeps on giving.

        Thinking you have a right to some residual income from secondhand sales is ludicrous though. Anyway they'll have pretty much destroyed that market in the next generation of consoles. Watch prices NOT fall, though, regardless.

      2. g e


        I don't play much multiplayer at all, so that has little value to me - there's only one giant flatscreen with a surround system in the house and it has to be shared between PS3, XBOX360 and SKY+, 3 kids and a wife and annoyingly I have to spend time eating, sleeping and working, can't spend it all running around with an MP-5SD and night goggles.

    4. Blank Reg

      Re: Boo Hoo

      I finished Mass Effect 3 in about 30 hours, and I did all the missions. I'm replaying it now on insanity difficulty and it's looking like it will still take around the same amount of time.

  7. bob 46

    bad guy

    How can Game possibly be made out to be the bad guy here? These games cost a ridiculous amount of money, buying them 2nd hand is the only way a lot of people can afford them. The producers think they deserve a cut of every little bit of money this game makes, but they don't. As someone else pointed out - do Ford expect a cut of the 2nd hand price of a car?

  8. The BigYin

    Go get a grip, Mr Braben

    What next?

    "Second hand cars sales are ruining new cars! Manufacturers demand a cut!"

    "Second hand book sales are ruining new books! Publishers demand a cut!"

    "Second hand clothes sales are ruining new clothes! Tailors demand a cut!"

    "Second hand DVDs sales are ruining new DVDs! Distributors demand a cut!"

    Once I buy a thing, it is *MINE*. Doctrine of first sale (or whatever the Yanks call it).

    I will agree - the second hand market is ruining the market for vastly over-hyped, over-budget AAA titles. But just because the market decides that you product is a bit crap is not excuse to try and curtail the market - change the product! Trying to destroy the free-market is the tactic of the RIAA, BPI, MPAA etc.

    Why the hell should I pay £40+ for a game when I can get totally ace games from the likes of the Humble Bundle?

    Braben and Bell started something amazing with the original "Elite" the mighty have fallen.

    1. James Howat

      Re: Go get a grip, Mr Braben

      It's not about publishers demanding a cut. He's saying that if they got a cut, they might be able to afford to make new games, which could then be re-sold, to everyone's benefit.

      First rule of being a parasite - you don't kill the host.

      1. Ru

        "First rule of being a parasite - you don't kill the host."

        I can think of plenty that either kill or neuter their host. The trick is not to kill *all* the hosts.

      2. The BigYin

        @James Howat Re: Go get a grip, Mr Braben

        It's not about being parasitic, it's basic market forces. If you produce something that people want, but not at that price-point; either the market adjusts the price-point (e.g. via a second-hand market), they simply don't consume or they go outside the market (e.g. illegal).

        Just because you make a thing, does not mean people HAVE to buy it. The parasites are the jumped up games publishers who think they are OWED £40, £50, £60 a game. Sod that. Buy indy games (or music, or movies or...)

        And as for simply "owning a license", I can sell that license on (just as I can with music/film discs). Restricting MY freedom to do as I see fit with MY stuff is simply not on.

        If your business relies on perverting the market, then your business is wrong. End of discussion.

      3. Peladon

        Re: Go get a grip, Mr Braben

        "First rule of being a parasite - you don't kill the host."

        Isn't that the first rule of the symbiote, not the parasite? Parasites just take what they want until there isn't any left while giving little if anything back, then go find a new host, no?

      4. I think so I am?

        Re: Go get a grip, Mr Braben

        So publishers forgetting to pay the developers their dues when their game grosses more than $1billion is not the same. How?

    2. Giles Jones Gold badge

      Re: Go get a grip, Mr Braben

      You don't own software, you have a licence to use it.

      You buy a jumper and you have a jumper to wear, but you don't have the right to produce and sell an identical product yourself.

      1. Davidoff

        You don't own software, you have a licence to use it.

        Nonsense. That may be the case in the US of A, but here in Europe most software sales to consumers (i.e. buying a game in a shop) are sales of goods, You own the box, you own the medium, and you own this copy of the software that comes with it (you don't 'own' the copyright of course). And with that copy of the software you can do what you want (as long as it doesn't violate other laws and regulations, for example copyright laws).

        Of course the industry does a lot to make people believe that all they get is a license. Don't get fooled so easily.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Go get a grip, Mr Braben

        I don't think you understand the difference between buying a copy and RENTING a copy. If I buy a game with the license to play the game, then I have EVERY right to sell that disc with the license. I'm not renting... nor am I copying, which is not even a factor for a second hand game. I buy second hand games for my younger brother and sister because I'm not shelling out $50 for a plastic disc with a year old game. I bought about ten PS3 games for those kids for a little over $100. Almost all the sports titles were 2011 versions, so they don't get to play with the newer players. If a first person shooter game is good enough, then there should be expansion modules to sell with different scenarios or characters or settings? Microsoft, Adobe and others seem to have no problem making a slight change and then selling an newer version for more money. Why is that so difficult for the game industry to do with single player titles? I still play Civ 2 and that company didn't put out many scenarios after the initial sale. The more interesting ones came from private individuals. Civ 3 was garbage and I'm not inclined to pay another $50 for Civ 4 until I can play it to see if it's worth the cash. The model seems to be working, since I bought a new 'version' of the same software.

        1. conan

          Re: Go get a grip, Mr Braben

          I fully agree. i've bought Civ, two copies of Civ 2, Civ3, Two copies of Civ 4 and now a copy of Civ 5. I have never resold any of these, even the duplicates (bought because they included add-ons bundled and I wanted a single installer with it all on), because i like the game and want to keep playing it. You can buy Civ 4 for a tenner these days - well worth it. I still play Civ 4 and sometimes Civ 1 for a laugh.

    3. Stevie Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Go get a grip, Mr Braben

      Tailors. Heh heh.

      V. Droll.

  9. David Haworth


    how about making games that take longer to complete?

    If your concern is that people will buy the game on friday and will complete it over the evening and then sell up on saturday morning then make games with more longevity!


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