Braben: “Second-hand games market is killing single-player titles”

Monday, 19 March 2012 21:17 GMT By Debabrata Nath

Kinectimals and Elite creator David Braben has once again spoken out strongly against the second-hand games market.

Braben, who is the founder of Frontier Developments, told Gamasutra that single-player only titles have become too high-risk for developers and publishers to invest their efforts in even if they’d like to.

“The real problem when you think about it brutally, if you look at just core gamer games, pre-owned has really killed core games,” he said.

“In some cases, it’s killed them dead. I know publishers who have stopped games in development because most shops won’t reorder stock after initial release, because they rely on the churn from the re-sales.

“It’s killing single player games in particular, because they will get pre-owned, and it means your day one sales are it, making them super high risk. I mean, the idea of a game selling out used to be a good thing, but nowadays, those people who buy it on day one may well finish it and return it,” he added.

Braben also said that second-hand game sales is one of the reasons why game retail prices are so high and haven’t gone down in recent years.

“People will say ‘Oh well, I paid all this money and it’s mine to do with as I will’, but the problem is that’s what’s keeping the retail price up – prices would have come down long ago if the industry was getting a share of the resells. Developers and publishers need that revenue to be able to keep doing high production value games, and so we keep seeing fewer and fewer of them.”

Frontier Developments’ The Outsider was sidelined mid-development for similar reasons, although Braben’s recently confirmed it hasn’t been entirely canned and there is still publisher interest for it.


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  1. Dragon246

    Exactly my views. As a single player gamer, I feel sad when I see the gradual decrease of long and meaty single player campaigns in games. That is why I liked the idea of new xbox not allowing use of pre-owned games (even though I am a playstation person). I know its wrong on some accounts, but if epic single player games have to make a comeback, I think its a necessary step. If it results in a price drop, then even better!
    Of course digital distribution solves this problem completely.

    #1 3 years ago
  2. Talkar

    basically, ^this.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. Sini

    old and obvious

    #3 3 years ago
  4. Dark

    Well , of course people will buy it used , when it is 6 to 8 hours long
    other than that , there is a lot of games with single-player only
    sell really well
    like , bayonetta , mass effect2 , dragn age , heavy rain , god of war , etc ..

    #4 3 years ago
  5. DSB

    Is there a lack of singleplayer titles? News to me.


    So there.

    #5 3 years ago
  6. Kabby

    Core gamers buy core games, day one, full price.

    While I understand the concerns over second hand games being too prominent at retail a lot of what he says here is just waffle.

    #6 3 years ago
  7. gamereviewgod

    He’s making the logical fallacy that a used sale means a lost sale, which is, of course, wrong.

    If you’re losing sales, it’s because people simply don’t have $60 to spend on new games. Or, when they do, they’re trading in/up to buy new. Game stores create their own economy where people can actually afford to buy said games.

    Taking away your customers options is never a good thing.

    #7 3 years ago
  8. SamaT


    Seeing as how a lot of “core gamers” buy the game day one and return it back to the store in a relatively short period of time (if the game truly is short), these games end up going on sale pre-owned for only like 5 dollars under the price of a new copy.

    The sale of that pre owned copy resulted in a lost sale of a the new copy, for 5 dollars off, with none of that money going back to the devs.

    Pre-owned could still work, if the devs got some of the cut. Why not have an economy where the devs, game stores, and customers all prosper in the end?

    #8 3 years ago
  9. viralshag

    If pre-owned games are selling so well why is GAME going down the toilet?

    #9 3 years ago
  10. triggerhappy

    @ 9: Thats exactly what im wondering…

    #10 3 years ago
  11. freedoms_stain

    @9, Over expansion is my theory. Where 1 store would be plenty Game have 3.

    #11 3 years ago
  12. absolutezero

    Game more of less has to accept any old shit that people bring in to them. So theres millions of copies of last years FIFA kicking about. Those copies all lose Game money, they either have to hand out credit or money for traded in games that no one will ever buy.

    Then no one buys new copies. They wait. Then trade in a bunch of shit no one else wants and get money off a pre-owned copy. Or they wait for a sale. Or a price drop. Or buy it online from somewhere cheaper.

    #12 3 years ago
  13. DSB

    I don’t know if I’d call it over expansion, it’s more like the market disappearing. People are going digital, and most of these chains are like Blockbuster caught in the headlights. Surprise, we have the internet now.

    Gamestop lost almost a third of a billion dollars last year.

    The notion that retailers are somehow getting rich belongs solely to the publishers who are trying to make people believe they actually have a reason for introducing online passes, in a time where bandwidth has never been cheaper.

    The notion that used game sales are making retailers rich (most of whom are losing money) is about as ridiculous as the notion that they take money from publishers (most of whom are making money).

    #13 3 years ago
  14. gamereviewgod

    @8 Because the publishers (not the devs; bear that in mind) don’t deserve the resale profits. No other entertainment industry has a precedent where the resale market has funds going to back to the owner. They all survive.

    If a consumer purchases a game, as you say for $5 less (which only happens in the earliest part of the sale rush) used, that’s the free market at work. If so many games are being traded back in that it’s actually putting a dent on the end profit, then it’s a sign of quality, nothing else. Or, when you have $60 invested in something, it’s only logical to try and recoup as much as possible if you are finished with it.

    And to say a used sale is a lost new sale is like saying a pirated copy is a lost sale. There’s no means of knowing whether said person would have purchased the game full price in the first place.

    Publishers have other avenues of revenue with the advent of DLC and other assorted items (Avatar clothing, themes, gamerpics). Those can be sold repeatedly with sold used copies. Publishers (and developers) tend not to mention that when bringing up how used sales are supposedly hurting them though.

    #14 3 years ago
  15. viralshag

    @12, Yeah I get that, I’ve done it on more than one occasion. ;)

    But even so, I really find it hard to believe that the percentage of pre-owned sales is even relatively close to new purchases. Especially to the level it would actually hurt a games sales.

    I’m not saying it doesn’t have an impact but I really get the feeling the true nature of it is made out to be worse than it is. I mean between piracy and pre-owned sales being the bane of developers and publishers for many years now, they still seem to be making money. Right?

    @14, I have to agree with you on this:

    “Publishers have other avenues of revenue with the advent of DLC and other assorted items (Avatar clothing, themes, gamerpics). Those can be sold repeatedly with sold used copies. Publishers (and developers) tend not to mention that when bringing up how used sales are supposedly hurting them though.”

    #15 3 years ago
  16. DrDamn

    If you make games people can finish quickly and return then that’s a big part of your problem there. Why should people pay full whack for that? I have some sympathies for the industry, but they also need to look at their models and ask how can we help this situation ourselves? If its a short game then price it at the value the customer will get from it or look at the level of content. Make the digital versions more realistically priced compared to retail.

    #16 3 years ago
  17. Joe Musashi

    The notion that used game sales are making retailers rich (most of whom are losing money) is about as ridiculous as the notion that they take money from publishers (most of whom are making money).

    That’s not the first time I’ve seen you declare something is either fact or not based solely on your personal view with nothing to substantiate it.

    Retailers themselves have shown just what the ratio of new game sales vs used game sales are for them. A glance at the amount of shelf-space given to used product also gives an indication. The factual data is out there if you care to look it up.

    Furthermore, bricks and mortar stores are under threat from the internet. Period. Ignoring this significant detail when arguing the relationship and performance of publishers and retailers is very shortsighted.

    As for the publishers – they have reacted to the situation and generated alternative revenue streams that they have tighter control over – along with lower overheads and increased margins. This appears to be working because as much as gamers whine about it they still hand over their money.

    One entity has responded and adapted to the changing market, one has not. It’s fairly straightfoward and needs no unsubstantiated ‘good vs evil’ spin applied to it for the sake of drama.


    #17 3 years ago
  18. gamereviewgod

    @17: “Retailers themselves have shown just what the ratio of new game sales vs used game sales are for them”

    Of course used game sales are bigger. The profit margin is likely 2 to 3 times as large. They make almost nill on new sales.

    “because as much as gamers whine about it they still hand over their money.”

    And I don’t. I avoid online passes, day 1 DLC, and other questionable consumer practices like the plague. If publishers had any actual, legitimate or real concerns, they would stop offering exclusives to the likes of GameStop, but they don’t. The used market is too beneficial to them and they know it.

    #18 3 years ago
  19. Dragon246

    @18, people like you say that publishers follow “questionable consumer practices” whereas its only “logical” for people to try and recoup (their money)as much as possible if they are finished with it.
    And used games dont have their impact on industry?
    Oh please, stop acting like consumers are a deity like entity and publishers are to blame for every thing wrong. Exclusives are offered to different retailers as its a perk that is retailers use to garner more sales from them. If 3 people happen to sale the same thing, its only logical to think that one or two of them would provide some added incentive to consumers. Its definitely not publishers fault . It happens in other industries too.
    Also many gamers ( used or pirated games user ) dont give shit if they are supporting devs/pubs or not. The argument that they will not necessarily buy a new game because they dont have money is a bogus argument. It is not anyones fault that they dont have money and they should just stop gaming if they cant afford. Its like I cant afford a Ferrari, oh well I should just steal it.
    There is also an argument that even though they dont buy the game, these so called consumers increase the no. of gamers and help game industry. Its like saying people who are stealing BMWs from showrooms are helping sales as they are increasing the no. of BMWs on road and more people can see them. Absolutely ridiculous.
    If people did not liked a game in the first place because its short or anything, they should not have brought it.
    I personally am looking forward to time when anti used games mechanism is used in full force in all next-gen consoles. People buying used or pirating games have a misleading sense of entitlement which frankly has no basis at all.Grow up people.

    #19 3 years ago
  20. DrDamn

    Buying used games is like stealing now? It’s a lot more complex than what you are portraying. The games market is intricate in it’s dependencies and balance. The people who buy, complete and trade do so based on that notion. Take away the option to trade and you will lose sales. When they trade in the game they spend that money on more games too. The prices they can currently charge are based on the current eco-system of being able to trade in and buy used. You can’t just remove that and think other parts won’t change as a result – or that it’s all gravy for devs/publishers.

    I have sympathies for the industry. It’s important to me that it survives and supports a wide range of games. I also think the balance does need addressing somewhat – but they have to also think about what they are taking away when trying to resolve this.

    #20 3 years ago
  21. viralshag

    If people don’t have a store to trade at they will find other means. Amazon and eBay are already there for people to sell their used games.

    If it’s such a problem for publishers, maybe they should all chip in some cash from their deep pockets and set up their own stores. Make it a joint venture and they could easily give themselves the most exclusive and best additional content deals on most game releases.

    If they offer decent pricing on new and used games it won’t matter, they will still get the profits of both. Sold through a mutual store and make a mutual profit where the only middle-man is their own middle-man.

    #21 3 years ago
  22. DSB

    @17 I wouldn’t think it need substantiating. The information is freely available if you want to check it out. Most publishers and big retail chains are public companies.

    The fact that it may be uncomfortable for you and your argument doesn’t serve to make it less of a fact.

    And once again, the fact that a publisher feels entitled to butt in on a resale, doesn’t serve as a justification for anything, that’s just entitlement. They’re acting like a bunch of babies throwing their toys at the market, which as always, is merely a reflection of their customers needs and desires.

    And that is something that a sound, healthy business would seek to accomodate, rather than discourage.

    Helping to blow up your bottomline by adding phoney charges doesn’t actually strengthen your business. Unless you have a real product backing it up, you’re weakening your core business and exposing yourself to risk. The banks tried this to recoup their losses, and they ended up handing most of the market to credit unions who weren’t willing to make up bullshit excuses to charge their customers extra.

    Of course, in light that, gamers generally seem a lot more naive than bank customers, but it doesn’t mean I can’t call them on their crap.

    #22 3 years ago
  23. DrDamn

    Agree with the sentiment. In recent years the ability and options for trade in have increased, and the practises of some retail changes have moved toward the dubious side too. Publishers/Devs call foul, but they need to be more intelligent about the problem as they see it and approach it the right way. If they do that they can help themselves in the process.

    They need to think about reasons why people trade and they can change that within the current framework. Thinking they can hold out to go pure digital and keep charging the same prices is not going to work out well.

    #23 3 years ago
  24. silkvg247

    Go digital, problem solved.

    #24 3 years ago
  25. DSB

    @24 True dat. I’d add a “for now” on the back of that though.

    I’m pretty sure it’ll just start the hunt for the next big bullshit charge :P

    “Piracy tax”. “DRM maintenance surcharge”. “Technical support surcharge”. “Cover art enjoyment fee”. “Entitlement benefit”.

    I should stop writing this. Someone might be reading. Joe, you keep your fucking mouth shut and don’t mention any of that to anyone.

    #25 3 years ago
  26. Maximum Payne

    @25 Just like is same price for example on Origin $60 for PC! both digital and retail which is stupid.

    #26 3 years ago
  27. Ben

    @13 – I think over-expansion could be a significant part of the problem for Game. I work for a prominant high street book chain and they are suffering much the same problem: they bought every other high-street book chain which resulted in them owning two, sometimes three, stores in any one town/city – the problem they have is that the stores which they acquired via their expansion strategy are locked into long-term rent agreements resulting in these stores being unable to be closed. I’m guessing here, but I think it’s sensible to presume that Game is in much the same situation.

    #27 3 years ago
  28. YoungZer0

    @24: Can you refund digital?

    #28 3 years ago
  29. DSB

    @27 Yeah, naturally the fact that they have so many stores is going to bite them in the ass once things go south.

    The same thing happened to EA. Their philosophy has always been one of “buy everything, everywhere” when times are good, and as soon as the market tips, they’re sent crashing on the stock markets because they have a lot of mediocre studios with no demand, having to fire thousands of people.

    But saturation is pretty important to actual retail chains. If businesses like McDonalds, 7-Eleven or Gamestop aren’t covering every nook and cranny, they are going to be left behind by more aggressive competitors.

    It’s a dangerous game, no pun intended. If they aren’t paying 100% attention to where the market is going or the level of risk they’re taking, they’re screwed.

    In Games case though, it seems to be a matter of not having a very good digital component to fall back on. The market for brick and mortar is only getting smaller.

    You snooze, you die.

    @28 Excellent question. Technically you should be able to, according to most European laws. Most digital distributors are trying to use piracy as an excuse not to refund purchases, but I think it’s merely a question of dragging them to court.

    I don’t know how it is in other European countries, but in Denmark we have a consumer ombudsman whose job it is to make sure that all businesses are complying with the law.

    It could well be a question of where the servers or company are located though.

    #29 3 years ago
  30. Ben

    @28 & 29: I would hope you can – Amazon do a 30-day refund policy for eBooks on the Kindle which I think is the way to go (assuming it’s not the case elsewhere).

    @29: You make very valid points. The thing that is biting Game (and *major high-street book retailer*) is that the capital which is locked into maintaining their oversized high-street estate means that they are unable to plough in the investment needed to offer a compelling digital offering. In a significant way, Game’s high street presence hamstrings them in the digital arena.

    #30 3 years ago
  31. freedoms_stain

    @28/29, GreenManGaming offered me a refund on Virtua Tennis 4 Digital download when I complained that it was a broken piece of shite. Sega promised a patch so I decided to hold out, as it turns out I should have taken them up on their offer

    #31 3 years ago
  32. silkvg247

    I got a refund on transformers: War for cybertron on steam; on the grounds it was unplayable (to me) since it had no key rebinding. Though they were a bit snotty about it and said they don’t usually refund.

    #32 3 years ago
  33. DSB

    @31 I had the same thing happen with GamersGate. I bought a game that was localizing itself to Russian no matter what I tried, so they gave me store credit.

    Not the same as a refund I suppose, but I felt pretty well treated.

    @32 Steam are hard as nails when it comes to that. If there’s any chance of a patch fixing your problem, they aren’t going to refund. I tried to get RAGE and Gotham City Impostors refunded, with no dice.

    They both ended up working within a reasonable standard, but they weren’t when I made the ticket.

    But hey, you can always ask Gabe himself :P

    #33 3 years ago
  34. Joe Musashi

    And once again, the fact that a publisher feels entitled to butt in on a resale, doesn’t serve as a justification for anything, that’s just entitlement. They’re acting like a bunch of babies throwing their toys at the market, which as always, is merely a reflection of their customers needs and desires.

    More unsubstantiated rhetoric. It’s only fact when you say it is and when it meets your personal view of the situation. sigh

    The only thing publishers are moving in on is online play – which they are expected to finance continually. If one game gets resold 3 times, they have 3 online accounts to support for a single sale. Hence online passes. Costs are incurred that would normally be covered at the point of sale – except those monies are being kept by the retailer for themselves. (The actual running costs are not the factor at play – it’s this behaviour firewalling of monies by the retailer in order to profit at the other party’s expense that is the key here. And, lets face it nobody here can categorically state what those costs are so there is no point arguing that detail).

    The second hand sale is between the retailer and the consumer. That is who the contract is between – so why should a party outside of that contract have any obligation? If no monies are going to the publisher then they should not be obliged to cover the ongoing costs. This point is even more pertinent when you remember those monies SHOULD be going to the holder of the rights (the publisher – they retain rights regardless as such rights NEVER change hands) but are being deliberately subverted by another party (the retailer).

    Let’s use an inappropriate comparison to illustrate the point more clearly: When you sell a car onto a new user, do you continue to cover its fuel costs?

    But of course. Consumers are helpless innocent victims and publishers are just stealing and being greedy at the expense of the rest of the world.

    This persistent view which only caters to the need of one party at the expense of all others is outwardly ignorant. If you expressly dismiss other factors at play in the relationship then you are willingly arguing a narrow view.

    Take your deep-rooted bias out of the equation, view all the pertinent details affecting ALL parties (not just the ones you sympathise with) and you’ll be closer to the reality of the situation.


    #34 3 years ago
  35. gamereviewgod

    @19 – Oh please, stop acting like consumers are a deity like entity and publishers are to blame for every thing wrong.

    Publishers don’t exist without consumers. The end consumer is the most important person in the chain.

    Exclusives are offered to different retailers as its a perk that is retailers use to garner more sales from them.

    You’ve missed the point. Publishers, if they have such a problem with used games, should stop supporting those retailers that offer used games. They don’t. It’s hypocrisy.

    It happens in other industries too.

    And without complaints over the “horror” of the used market.

    Also many gamers ( used or pirated games user ) dont give shit if they are supporting devs/pubs or not.

    It’s not our job to care. It’s our job to make sure we’re getting the best deal. Do you click on ads to support the websites you browse for free? Do you care about the design process of something like your microwave? People work hard developing those things too.

    The argument that they will not necessarily buy a new game because they dont have money is a bogus argument. It is not anyones fault that they dont have money and they should just stop gaming if they cant afford.

    Because god forbid the industry allows a variety of incomes to take part in the industry. What about the book industry and the terror libraries must push on them by giving away free product to people of any income level?

    Its like I cant afford a Ferrari, oh well I should just steal it.

    You’ve just compared used games to theft. You’ve invalidated everything you will and have said.

    If people did not liked a game in the first place because its short or anything, they should not have brought it.

    So you support rentals then? Because that’s the only way for people to truly know whether they like it or not, BUT no money goes to the pubs, right?

    People buying used or pirating games have a misleading sense of entitlement which frankly has no basis at all. Grow up people.

    Pirates? Yes. Used games? No. It’s call consumer rights. Feel free not to exercise yours. I will continue to.

    #35 3 years ago
  36. gamereviewgod

    @34 –

    The only thing publishers are moving in on is online play

    That’s not true. Online passes are restricting single player content as well. See Arkham City, Kingdoms of Amalur.

    If one game gets resold 3 times, they have 3 online accounts to support for a single sale.

    And we’re supposed to believe that costs enough to justify $10? Only one person remains online as that copy trades hands.

    Costs are incurred that would normally be covered at the point of sale

    The game still sold at retail new.

    But of course. Consumers are helpless innocent victims and publishers are just stealing and being greedy at the expense of the rest of the world.

    In one generation, we’ve moved to $60 games, day one DLC, on disc DLC, online passes, $10 map packs, $15 map packs, purchased Avatar/Gamercard accessories, paid themes, and more I haven’t thought of. At what point are we allowed to say enough without being called entitled?

    Take your deep-rooted bias out of the equation, view all the pertinent details affecting ALL parties (not just the ones you sympathise with) and you’ll be closer to the reality of the situation.

    It is none of my concern what the publishers problems are. It’s not my job to care. It’s to speak up and let them know when I feel I’m being taken advantage of. This idea that we need to “care” for publishers is where most of these problems begin, and why many support practices that erode their own consumer rights.

    #36 3 years ago
  37. DSB

    @34 No, they don’t. They still just have the one account. Provided that they still require disc authentication for games. Most of the games I have do that.

    Given that they’ve already calculated the costs of maintaining online play per-sale, the extra cost inferred to their budget is going to be exactly 0 dollars and 0 cents.

    Your analogy has nothing to do with reality. Online play has always been a service where the burden weighs far heavier on the consumer, since they arguably get a far worse deal on bandwidth, than someone leveraging a bulk business like EA.

    You’re offering fuel for free since 1995, and the consumer is still paying the lions share of the resources required to keep it running. You then choose to take it away after a resale, even though it infers no extra cost to you, since the car is in different hands, and as such hasn’t magically multipled by two.

    You’re just screwing people over to pad your revenue, by making shit up, and talking about “lost sales” that you never had in the first place. The sale belongs to the guy offhanding the car.

    The car is fully paid for, and the expense isn’t multiplied.

    You don’t sell people a Fiat with a sweet CD player, and then come to take it away as soon as the customer decides to offhand it. That’s not accepted practice in any industry. Although that’s often exactly how it goes with DLC attached to a game license.

    The expenses must obviously have been pretty negligible to offer it free of charge in the days where it cost a lot more, and you can’t sell people the notion that it has suddenly become a towering expense, in an age where storage and bandwidth costs less to maintain than it ever has.

    In a lot of cases, all EA needs to maintain is little more than a few complimentary servers (if they choose to, and at costs far less than 100 dollars a month, probably even less if they build their own farms) and some authentication servers to prevent foul play.

    I realize how eager you might be to avoid those very tangible truths. They tend to make that analogy look a bit shit.

    #37 3 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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