(Note to Penn & Teller: no infringement on your popular TV show is intended by this blog's title).
You may not know who Andrew Oliver is, or why he would make such a comment, or why I am ranting about him, and that's OK. Andrew, along with his brother Philip, is the co-founder of Blitz Games Studios, a small development house from the UK which specializes in licensed titles, especially in the realm of software aimed at younger gamers. Remember all those Xbox games Burger King sold in their promtion back in 2006? BGS was responsible for them. Other licenses they've produced games for include American Idol, SpongeBob Squarepants, iCarly, Barbie, and The Fairly OddParents. They even gave us the chance to fight WOPR personally in their video game pseudosequel to the film WarGames back in 1998. Yes, it's a list of titles that would make a grown gamer absolutely cry. But in this case, it's Oliver himself who sheds the tears. Because according to him, it isn't pirates who are causing developers to lose money, it's the dreaded used game market (dun dun!).
Oliver's argument goes something like this: if four people were to purchase a brand new video game, that means that we would get paid four times. However, if one person buys a brand new video game, then sells it to one of his friends, who then sells it to one of his friends, who then sells it to one of his friends, four people have played it, but only one copy has been paid for. Therefore, because of this, our profit on the game has been cut to 1/4th of what we'd originally have made, and we should be entitled to force the three people who subsequently bought it after the original purchaser to pay us something for the use of our game. It's an elegant argument, to be certain, and it seems fair. In fact, there's really only one problem with it, which is that it is complete and total bullshit.
A small, niggling issue, I know, but one which has to be met with utterly deadly and destructive force each and every time it rears its ugly little brown-stained head. Because unless it is dealt with swiftly and severely, it will eventually manage to choke all of us to death and get us to believe that we, as consumers, don't have the rights we actually have when it comes to property. So you'll forgive me if I seem like I'm taking a rocket launcher to the proverbial barrel of fish, but there's no other way to combat this nonsense other than to tear it limb from limb.
Here's how property works: when you own a particular physical object, you are allowed to do with it as you like, up to and even including destroying it, and no one, not even the government, has the right to say that you can't unless you are using it in a manner that could cause physical harm to a non-consenting individual, or that non-consenting individual's property. Thus, one can purchase a brand new car with the intention of driving it for the next few years, or one can purchase a car with the intention of encasing it in a solid block of cement and burying it in one's own back yard. You can even purchase a car with the intention of tearing it apart and using its individual components in a dozen other cars that you own, or smashing it to pieces with a sledgehammer and recording the video for YouTube. You can also purchase the car with the intention of selling it or giving it away (transferring ownership) to another individual as long as you understand that you are transferring complete and total ownership of the product to another person. You cannot sell your car to your neighbor, then steal it back from him the next day and use the receipt of your original purchase to claim that the car still belongs to you. You also cannot buy a car, take it apart, make molds of all the parts, duplicate them all ten times, manufacture 10 cars just like it, and sell those ten cars to your neighbors or even give them to your favorite relatives. This may seem like an extreme example of what nobody on the planet would do, so let's look at it another way.
When you purchase a book, you are not, in essence, purchasing the story itself. You are instead purchasing a processed tree corpse which has been bound together in a format that allows you to read words on a page that were originally written by someone else. You are allowed to do almost whatever you want with your book, including taking it apart and rearranging the pages in a different order if you want, or even throwing it in the fireplace to burn it. You can lend it to a friend, sell it to a stranger, or donate it to a library as long as it's still in its original condition. But when you bought the book, you didn't buy the story itself: that still belongs to the author. You cannot re-type your book into a word processor, print off the resulting story, and sell it to other people. You can't even re-make the book in such a way that it corrects simple grammar or spelling errors and give that away, because you only own the book, not the words inside. However, if at any time you want to get rid of your book, you may sell it to someone else, who may then also read it and sell it to someone else. This is the way of things.
It's the same with software. You aren't buying the program code itself; that belongs to the developers. What you are buying is essentially a medium (DVD, Blu-ray, SD card, whatever) that contains the program and a license to use it yourself. You aren't buying the rights to copy the program and give it away to people. But you do retain the right to transfer your ownership of that physical medium to someone else. Once the publisher has received the money for it, it is yours to do with as you please, up to and including frying it in the microwave or letting your dog use it as a very expensive flying disc. You can also give it to your buddy when you're done with it, or sell it to a middleman who will take on the risk of attempting to find a future buyer for the product in exchange for a greater percentage of your money if they succeed in selling it. This is the role that a used game store, such as GameStop or Disc Replay serves. Much like a used car lot, which does not need to pay Honda royalties every time they take in or sell someone else's Honda, a used game store makes its money by gambling that they can make more money selling a product than they give to you to purchase it. The point is that once I have sold my copy of Bouncing Kitty Play-Fun 2 for the Nintendo DS (which someone should make, by the way), then I no longer have the ability to use it. If someone else buys it, they are not harming the developers in any way: one person is still using one copy of the product which has been paid for, ownership has been transferred, and order has been preserved. The developer has still made the money on the game that was purchased new, and that is that. The profit on that copy of the game remains 100%. Piracy, on the other hand, is never giving you the money for that sold copy in the first place and depriving you of further profits by transferring that product around to deprive you of even more potential sales.
Oliver, however, feels that this isn't the way things should work. Instead of this, Oliver would like to see penalties assigned to gamers who utilize their full and legal rights to transfer property from one person to another via third-parties like GameStop. And this...is Bullshit. In Oliver's rose-coloured world, not only every time a person bought a game, but every time a person transferred the rights to the media the game ships on, the developer would get a piece of the action. Thus, one copy of the game could potentially be sold 4 different times, generating four times the profit for that single copy. So, because Blitz Games isn't getting any more money after you already spent your initial $50 on Bratz Girls Really Rock for the Wii and decided to trade it back in because it was bollocks (the Bratz don't even take their clothes off, for goodness sakes!), they feel they should profit from the poor judgement of the next victim, when in fact we all know that they should be flogged for producing the thing in the first place, and you should probably take a few lashes yourself for encouraging them by buying it.
It's time for game developers and publishers to realize that they do not get special treatment: every other form of media, from books to music to films, has the exact same property laws defending its use and transferral as video games. The job for game developers is to understand two things: first of all, that your ideal goal is to make games that are so amazingly attractive to consumers that they will want to buy it new instead of holding out for a used copy, and second of all that it is impossible to make money from everyone who uses your product. There are people out there who read dozens of books a year and never once pay the publisher for them, but these people are not thieves: they are patrons of the local library. There are people who drive pick-up trucks all their life but who have never once given a dollar to Ford, Chevy, or Dodge. They aren't raiding other peoples' garages at night, they are patrons of their local used truck dealership which allows them to own a vehicle that someone else bought from the manufacturer at a price that they are more able to afford. There are people who buy dozens of CDs every month but never give a cent to record labels. They aren't buying on the black market, they are buying them from people on eBay or Amazon Marketplace, and spending what they feel the music is worth to them.
If publishers want to get in on a piece of the second-hand (or third-hand, or fourth-hand) video game market, they need to adapt and change the way that they do business, not start bitching, moaning, and assigning perjorative fines to people who purchase their products used. If you want to make money from the sale of your own products on the second-hand market, then offer incentives for customers to purchase them from you instead of someone else. If you are Electronic Arts, then maybe it's time to get into the buyback business yourself. Find out what GameStop is offering in trade for copies of your newest sports title, and offer to beat that if the gamer who is done with Madden 2010 sells it back to you instead (hint: offer free shipping; that seals the deal every time). Offer a 15% discount on a different new title, or trade credit that can be used in your online store to purchase other second-hand games, or give anybody who sends you any 3 previously-played titles in complete, playable condition (offer the list on your website) a free second-hand game of their choice. List the deals you have on-line so that people who want to buy competitively have a reason to avoid GameStop and instead use the EA shop, and advertise the hell out of this anywhere you think the 18-30 year olds who make up the bulk of your market will be paying attention. Take proactive action instead of reactive action, and reward gamers for being your customer instead of trying to penalize them for shopping elsewhere.
Oh, wait...that's too much of a hassle for you? It would cost too much money to run, market, advertise and deliver that service? Hmmm...that's what I thought. Well, I guess you'll just have to settle for the way things are now. Because my money is mine, it is not yours until I decide it is, and I'm quite capable of deciding for myself how much of it is worth going to you for the experience that you are offering me. Games that are worthy of my $60, like Dead Space, Dragon Age: Origins, Heavy Rain, and Borderlands, will make their way onto my system via a method that puts money in your pocket. Games that aren't will wait until I see a copy on the shelf that is worth what I'm willing to pay, either used or new, and will then find a space in my collection. Occasionally I will delay, and a title that might have been worth my $60 will not get bought until someone is selling it for $35 (to Pandemic Studios, makers of The Saboteur, I'm so very, very sorry I waited...). This is balanced out, however, for the times that I purchase a title that I felt was worth my $60 but wound up being much, much less deserving (to Bethesda Softworks, makers of WET, GRRRRRR!).
We're your customers, not criminals. And we expect to be treated with respect, just as we expect you to respect the laws and our rights. Instead, you want to shovel a bunch of garbage at us. That's fine, it's your right. Just don't be surprised when you claim we're worse than software pirates and we suddenly aren't that interested in buying your game any longer. You can blame GameStop all you want, but the simple fact is that our desire to spend our money begins and ends with you. Either take the responsibility to change your actions, or enjoy your downward slide into mediocrity and eventual oblivion. But either way, stop with all the bullshit.