The Used Games Debate: Kingdoms of Amalur Locks Up Content

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Needless to say, the news didn’t go over well with users, prompting a massive backlash thread on the game’s official forums (pushing 144 pages and over 1,400 post to date). That got KoA developer/publisher 38 Studios bigwig Curt Schilling to throw down around page 49, writing:

… this next part is likely to piss people off, but it’s a truth and it’s how I feel. You can argue the merits and effectiveness of it, but right now it’s how it’s done and as someone that’s as invested as I am in this company, I stand by what has happened … DAY 1 DLC, to be extremely and VIVIDLY clear, is FREE, 100% totally FREE, to anyone that buys a new copy of Reckoning, ANYONE … If you don’t buy new games you buy them used, and in that case you will have to pay for the Day 1 free DLC content the new copy buyers got for free … It’s clear the intent right? To promote early adopters and MUCH MORE IMPORTANT TO ME, REWARD fans and gamers who commit to us with their time and money when it benefits the company … Every single person on the planet could wait and not buy Reckoning, the game would hit the bargain bin at some point and you could get it cheaper. 38 Studios would likely go away … That’s just how business works. We MUST make a profit to become what we want to become. THE ONLY way we do that is to make games you CANNOT WAIT TO BUY! If we do that, and you do that, we want to reward you with some cool free stuff as a thank you … You can TOTALLY disagree with this and I am sure many do, so we’ll agree to disagree. This is not 38 trying to take more of your money, or EA in this case, this is us REWARDING people for HELPING US! If you disagree due to methodology, ok, but that is our intent.

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Schilling’s post is frank and (frankly) commendable. To be fair to 38 Studios, this whole thing feels blown out of proportion — the game’s perfectly playable without the extra content, which he’s defining as a “reward,” and which I’m assuming isn’t intrinsic to the core game. But that’s the semantic trick going forward, right? What constitutes “core” versus “sideline” content? As publishers and studios attempt to add used games sale revenue to their coffers, they may try things like locking out parts of the game pending online code activation. It’s no stretch to suppose a company might drop a game’s finale behind a code-wall (online, or locking out parts of game on the physical media itself), giving it up gratis to new buyers, but ensuring they’re paid an access fee when the game hits the used circuit. That, in turn, probably impacts the buyback market — should a retailer like GameStop pay you for what amounts to only part of a game?

People resell stuff. In fact I’ll tiptoe out onto a tree-trunk-sized limb and argue people like to resell stuff. It’s why we have flea markets, consignment stores and garage sales. I routinely sell old books and movies (DVDs) I no longer want to buyback retailers, who then resell the goods through online e-tailers like Amazon. Book publishers aren’t complaining about used bookstores. Music publishers haven’t said word one about used record stores. But for some reason, game publishers appear to believe what they’re doing is different or unique.

It’s not, of course, and their position’s untenable (unless you think Stephen King deserves a cut from every used sale of 11/22/63, or that Ford should get a piece every time someone resells a Focus or F-150 on Craigslist). Publishers and studios who disagree are fighting traditions as old as human beings. Not that they won’t find ways to get around the issue: Expect more retail games to include lockout codes that force used buyers to pay up. Company’s have that right, just as we have the right to be indignant about it, mark the game down for it or protest by simply not buying it in the first place.

The long-term solution is probably the digital-only sales paradigm, which all but eliminates the used market and ensures publishers get their piece. That’s where we’re headed, for better or worse. In the meantime, it’ll help if we’re careful to raise our voices when and where it matters most. In KoA’s case, where the content’s supplementary to the core game, nonplussed gamers are probably protesting too much.

MORE: The 7 Coolest Gaming Ideas of CES 2012

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