New consoles have been announced, and naturally, the rumor hill has started up in response. One of the biggest rumors out there is that the next round of consoles will employ PC-like CD keys which will lock any purchased game to a particular player account or console, effectively preventing anyone from reselling a game that they have purchased and used. Naturally, console gamers are pretty upset about this possible development, but to me, it’s not particularly surprising. Video game developers have been trying to subdue the used games industry for a long time because it makes them lose money. DLC and special codes included with a game at its release are some of the tactics that have already been used, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. Another more obvious threat that this attempts to combat is piracy, which has been a problem in the gaming community for a long time. Of course, there are many implications to this feature that are both good and bad for the gaming industry, and gamers as a whole.
First and foremost, I’d like to state that I do not agree with piracy at all. I don’t know all the nitty-gritty details of piracy, so I’m not sure how much this measure would stand in the way of piracy, but I’m definitely in favor of anything that does. I think that part of the problem is the attitude towards piracy. People think it’s not a big deal because they feel like they’re screwing the big companies and the CEOs who make a big fat paycheck from the games. But piracy doesn’t hurt those people, it hurts everyone in the industry. It’s the little people – the writers, the coders, the developers – who are going to lose their jobs when the industry is forced to make cuts. It’s also horrible to have something you worked hard on stolen. A lot of people put a lot of time and energy into games, and it’s not fair to take them for free just because you don’t have enough money to buy all the games you want, or because you want to play the game, but you don’t want to support the people who made it. If that’s the case, then don’t play the game. Piracy is never right for any reason.
However, despite the blow this measure could deal to piracy, I’m far more concerned with how it will affect the used games industry. There’s a whole job sector in used games, such as stores like GameStop. These stores usually sell new games, but not at the high volumes that stores like Best Buy and online retailers like Amazon do. The majority of their sales come from used games, especially newer used games, which they can still charge a large amount for. In addition, their sales are made more lucrative by gamers coming in to exchange one new game for another, which ensures that that gamer’s business stays in their store. If games are going to be coded so their use is restricted to the original purchaser, this business is going to die fast, because new games and games made before this restriction will be all they’ll be able to sell.
Besides the obvious fact of losing jobs, another thing that greatly troubles me about this restriction is what this will do to the availability of games. Sure, it’s easy to find a new copy of a game at a reasonable price when it first comes out, but what about after that? Collecting older games is going to become a lot harder if this restriction stands, and although lots of titles are becoming available digitally, not all of them are. As someone who buys a lot of games years and years after they’ve come out (for example, I just bought a copy of Radiata Stories, which came out in 2005), I find it disturbing that a lot of games will simply stop being available because of this. In addition, how many people are going to decide that they hated a game, and since they can’t sell it back, they’ll just throw a perfectly good copy in the dumpster?
As much as I want to combat piracy, I’m torn, because I’m not sure this measure is the way to do it. It seems geared more towards shutting down the used games industry, which has always been an issue for game developers because it obviously makes them lose money. But does it make them lose enough that they’re willing to put an entire industry of people out of work and potentially damage the longtime availability of many great games that are made? We have to ask ourselves what we’re willing to do to protect our games, and whether or not protection is the only result of the actions we take, because in the long run, we might end up doing more harm than good.