Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Is buying a used game as bad as piracy?
Tycho from Penny Arcade kicked off a heavy debate with the statement that "I honestly can't figure out how buying a used game was any better than piracy." His argument is that buying an original game gives money to the creators of that game, enabling them to produce more games in the future. Buying the game second hand or pirating it both don't make money for the game developers, thus don't contribute anything to the development of the next game. Therefore for the game developer it doesn't make a difference whether you buy games second-hand or pirate them, they lose out anyway. Thus THQ saying that people who buy their games second-hand are not their customers, so he doesn't care if these second-hand buyers are upset they can't use the online features, with the online code already being used up.
Well, lets start with some legal smalltalk (IANAL): There are laws against software piracy in most countries, although the details differ. There are no laws against buying used games. In fact, in Germany the customers have a legal *right* to sell games used, any attempts by companies to make their games only run for the first owner are illegal in Germany. With one exception: Online services. Which is exactly why having single-use codes for online services included in a game is all the latest rage with game companies. Second-hand buyers either get a crippled game, or in the case of EA they have to buy DLC from EA to get the same stuff as the original buyer. Thus from a legal point of view "buying used games is piracy" is obviously nonsense.
But Tycho has an obvious point when he considers second-hand buyers not to be "customers" of the game company. It is easy to see why the game company would consider second-hand buyers to be less deserving of lets say customer support. Or online services, which *do* cost the game company money. If you never gave your money to the game company, why should the game company give you online services for free? Thus I would say that the tactic to restrict online services to original buyers is a legit one. What I wouldn't like to see is if second-hand buyers can't even play offline. I think that calling second-hand buyers "as bad as pirates" is exaggerating it, but I don't think a game company should be required to give them the same services as original buyers, because second-hand buyers really aren't customers of the game company.