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Analysis: Will Nintendo Win the Console War by Not Killing Used Games?

If Microsoft and Sony Try to Kill Used Video Games, Does Nintendo Win?


Updated June 20, 2012

A couple of twin rumors have come out regarding the next generation consoles being developed by Microsoft and Sony. The rumors are that both consoles will implement technology to make it impossible to play used games on the machines. If true, that could be great news for Nintendo and their own upcoming console, the Wii U.

The Used-Video Game Controversy

While the anti-used-game rumors on the next Xbox lack specificity, Kotaku’s sources say the next Sony console would make players lock their games to a single Play Station Network account. After that, it would only be playable by someone who could log into that account. In theory this might mean you would be able to give a used game to a friend you trust with your log in info, but selling used games would be a thing of the past.

This might sound bizarre to anyone who hasn’t followed the debate over used games. After all, CD players and DVD players don’t prevent the playing of used games. Used products, be they books, cars, or can openers, are a part of the culture.

But for some reason, game publishers hate used games with a white-hot passion never seen before in any other industry. The claim is that used games are ruining game publishers and cutting off the funds necessary to develop great games. Somehow the game industry is different from the music or movie or auto industry; used games must be stopped, those who sell used games are as bad as software pirates. In fact, journalists who buy into the evil-used-game concept insist that gamers have a moral imperative to buy all their games new.

Some of the arguments against used games make more sense than others. It is true that movies have a chance to make money in theatres to offset a loss of profits while games do not. On the other hand, the claim that games would cost less if there were no used games could be said of any media. If there were no used CDs or DVDs then the laws of supply and demand suggest that these might become cheaper (although the laws of corporate greed suggest otherwise).

But used games are a fact of life, and guilting gamers is not going to change the fact that not everyone can afford $60 for a game, especially if you can finish it in two hours and it’s not very good, as is often the case. Because while the game industry insists gamers should pay full price for games, they fail to promise that they will get their money’s worth.

The Wii U’s Advantage

So what does this all have to do with the Wii U? Well, nothing. Because Nintendo has described used games as a "reality in the marketplace" and says they have no plans to discourage used-game sales in any way.

There are a lot of dire predictions regarding the future of the Wii U, and the most common one is this: Nintendo is putting out a console that is the graphical equivalent of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 a year or two before Microsoft and Sony will introduce something new and more powerful. The Wii U’s touchscreen controller is a cute idea, but gamers would rather have better graphics than a new gaming interface.

But gamers make decisions based on all sorts of criteria, and one point to consider for many is, what is this going to cost?

The Wii’s phenomenal success was in part driven by an ingenious controller that made gaming more intuitive, but it was also driven by price. Yes, the Wii didn’t have the graphics of the PS3, but it also didn’t cost nearly as much. High-end gamers splurged on the PS3 and 360, but many people thought they could have just as much fun with the Wii for a lot less money.

Anti-used-game technology would magnify that difference. The decision to buy the next generation of the Xbox or Playstation would be the decision to never buy a used game again, to pay full price for everything, or wait for sales (which are less frequent the more popular the game). So the question becomes, if gamers can choose between a console that forces them to spend their entire entertainment budget on pricey new games, or a console that will let them buy a few on eBay for half the price, which will they choose? Are graphics important enough that a gamer will not only pay more for the console, but commit to paying more for games forever?

Nintendo Takes the High Road by Failing to Take the Low Road

Certainly Nintendo doesn’t like used games any more than their competitors, but by not doing anything about it, they become the people’s game company, with Microsoft and Sony playing the role of greedy corporations trying to squeeze every last dime out of their customers.

Ultimately this whole argument is a bit silly, because in another ten years game stores will all be virtual and games will all be downloadable, which will effectively kill the used game industry. But for now used games are a big issue, and if the negative reaction of gamers to these rumors doesn’t stay the console makerss plans, then the Wii U is likely to reap the rewards. The biggest thing Nintendo may have going for it is the greed of its competitors.

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