Industry vet Richard Browne: The “real cost” of used games sales is loss of variety, single-player

By Stephany Nunneley, Thursday, 12 April 2012 18:20 GMT

Richard Browne, former Eidos developer and former VP of Core Studios at THQ and Universal Interactive, believes “the real cost” of used games is not to the publisher, but to the consumer  as well as the direct cause of the “death of single-player gaming.”

In an editorial published on GI International, Browne said used games have “never been an issue” with publishers as they “don’t hate used games, but the practices of GameStop,” such as forcing customers to purchase a game used instead of new.

The direct result, according to Browne, is the loss of single-player games for multiplayer implementation.

“How do I stop churn? I implement multiplayer and attempt to keep my disc with my consumer playing online against their friends,” he said. “It works wonderfully for Call of Duty – no doubt it can work wonderfully for me. The problem is, at what cost? Countless millions of dollars would be the answer.”

Browne cites as an example of two single-player games which, in his opinion, had multiplayer tacked on in order “stop the game churn”: Ninja Gaiden and Uncharted 3.

“What on Earth was the point of taking the completely single-player experience of Uncharted 1 and bolting on an entirely new game to Nathan Drake’s second adventure? The multiplayer game – brilliantly executed as one would expect of the Naughty Dog team – had absolutely nothing to do with the single player experience, and from my perspective had absolutely zero interest from me as a consumer, and I’m not alone in that,” said Browne.

“Take a look at the most recent Ninja Gaiden game. Why does that multiplayer mode exist? What effect did having to build it have on the single-player experience? There is no reason for the multiplayer game to exist; it makes no sense in NG’s universe. I’m not singling out Ninja Gaiden here, as the number of games that have gone the same route over the past couple of years is substantial. But is it good for the consumer?

“Absolutely not – in general they’re getting a poorer single-player game. But again that’s the tip of the iceberg.”

Browne also pointed out, developers such as Tim Schafer don’t “stand a chance” when pitching a game to publishing executives because while he is “a genius”, in the publisher’s mind the game will “sell a few hundred thousand copies and then get endlessly churned.”

“In the end, Tim has gone on to write smaller games, digitally delivered and is now using Kickstarter to fund his latest and greatest product and I think that’s fantastic,” he said. “Do I think it’s fantastic that I’ll no longer be able to buy another Brutal Legend-style Tim Schafer game? No I don’t. Is that beneficial to the consumer? Absolutely not.”

To Browne, the true cost of used game sales is the variety in the market is dwindling as games which were successful in the past as a single-player offering, are now being “redesigned out of their element to introduce multiplayer features.”

Publishers do this, he said, so that risk is eliminated, yet, the direct result is less variety and choice, and in his mind, the anti-used system rumored for the next Xbox console would eliminate part of the problem.

“Personally I hope, and would actively encourage Microsoft and Sony, to embrace the “Nuclear Option” and put an end to this,” he concluded. “Give us no used games, give us digital access to software on the day it launches to retail.

“I don’t think we’ll see even a minor drop in sales; in fact, I think we’ll see it rise.”

Richard Browne has been part of the gaming industry for over 20 years and is currently the director of Chemical X Productions.

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