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COMMENT | Videogames Are Not Sandwiches

Jonathan Lester
Om nom nom, Pre-owned games, Sandwiches, Used games

COMMENT | Videogames Are Not Sandwiches

Or: The Tastiest Pre-Owned Analogy You'll Ever Read

We're firmly of the opinion that there's nothing wrong with the pre-owned market, even as publishers can't decide whether to kill off used games with online passes or lick serious retailer rim with pre-order bonuses. The internet is awash with half-hearted analogies likening games to used cars, movies and music to prove their point (we've certainly tortured the odd metaphor ourselves) as pundits desperately wonder what on Earth to compare the evolving games industry to. With next-gen consoles and a digital-only future on the horizon, the issue of whether used games have a place in the new world order has never been a fiercer talking point.

Personally, however, I tend to abide by one simple rule. A tenet to live by, a fundamental truth that explains why, in the grand scheme of things, pre-owned games have every right to exist.

Videogames are not sandwiches.

COMMENT | Videogames Are Not Sandwiches

A sandwich, no matter how delicious it is, has to be literally consumed. You'll engage your maxillofacial muscles, reduce the moist bread and filling into bite-sized chunks, before enjoying the glorious taste sensation and calorific content. Sandwiches have little intrinsic value (beyond a particularly lovely four-level club I still fantasise about to this day), and once you've eaten it, it's gone forever.

Sandwiches therefore don't cost very much, because you have to destroy them to enjoy them. There's no pre-owned sandwich market, because such a thing would be pointless. And unhygienic. Deeply, deeply unhygienic.

COMMENT | Videogames Are Not Sandwiches

As we've already established, however, videogames are not sandwiches. They're not destroyed in the act of consumption, instead, they persist eternally as a work of art with massive intrinsic value. If you buy a boxed game, it's also a physical commodity; a tangible thing that has both real and artistic value even after you've played it. As opposed to a wrapper full of crumbs and bits of picked-out tomato. You wouldn't sell your crusts, but why shouldn't you be able to lend or sell your games to whoever you see fit?

So, sandwiches are out as a decent analogy here. As are, I'm afraid, used cars and movies. They both have their merits, but they're very different markets, and much more established than our young and ever-changing industry. However, there's one form of media that has a lot to teach the publishers of today.

Videogames are not sandwiches. But they have a lot in common with books.

COMMENT | Videogames Are Not Sandwiches

Like games, books don't spontaneously combust after you finish the final chapter, and you certainly don't have to eat them. Once you're done with a novel, you can lend it to a friend or sell it on at a boot sale without ripping out the last hundred pages until the new owner pays $10 to Penguin. Their publishers don't ask you to sign up to a subscription service, create an account or otherwise inconvenience yourself with DRM. After all, it's a work of artistic expression that will last as long as the ink remains unfaded, the same as a physical copy of a game. It's your property, yours to do with as you see fit.

Books also have a successful digital market that mirrors the digitally-downloaded games scene. If you have a Nook or Kindle (for the record, other e-Readers are available), you can pay for a digital copy of a book that's often tethered to an account. Like games, you'll pay for the convenience, and won't mind that you're not receiving a physical copy. But if you decide to buy an actual, physical book, you're buying an object that can later be sold off at a second hand bookshop... or perhaps, given to your kids years down the line. Again, they won't have to pay for an online pass to read it.

COMMENT | Videogames Are Not Sandwiches

The pre-owned market will have to adapt to many changes over the coming years, the switchover to fully-digital future chief amongst them. We're not sure whether used games as we know them actually can survive, and last year's European court ruling muddies the water yet further.

But until we actually have to start putting our games between two slices of bread and scoffing them down with a light smearing of mustard, we're not entirely sure why we shouldn't be able to sell them on. Stop grasping, dear publishers, and actually give us a reason to buy them new instead.

Gosh, but I'm so damn hungry. I should really stop writing articles at lunchtime. Stay tuned next week for "Why Videogames Are Like Brazilian All You Can Eat Steaks" [NO, go have some lunch Jon - Ed].

Add a comment10 comments
ChrisHyde  Apr. 29, 2013 at 15:22

"destroy them to enjoy them" is quite possibly the best line I have heard in a long time.

I pretty much agree with the entire stance of this article - especially the book comparison. I've been saying that for a while now, so glad you mentioned that, in between your tomato and mustard metaphors naturally. :D

Late  Apr. 29, 2013 at 15:30

Did you just eat a sandwich, leave the crust, and take a pic - all for this piece?

Edit - nevermind - just found the stock image lol.

"So, sandwiches are out as a decent analogy here. As are, I'm afraid, used cars and movies. They're both very different markets, and much more established than our young and ever-changing industry..."

Whilst I agree the used book market is a good analogy, I feel you swept aside those other comparisons without explanation, Jon.

Edit 2 - aaaaarrrggghhhhh at the way this forum doesn't like you putting a bbcode quote into the middle of a post!

Last edited by Late, Apr. 29, 2013 at 15:32
JonLester  Apr. 29, 2013 at 15:41

@Late: I didn't really want to get bogged down in minutiae in the article - partly because I wanted to stir up some discussion, but also because I STILL haven't eaten.

However, very briefly: movies sell an intangible two hour cinema experience before they come to DVD, which has no real analogue in gaming. DVD sales are a pretty decent analogy, mind. Used cars can fall apart with age and poor maintenance, and are usually bought for transportation and as a functional tool rather than a form of artistic impression (though some cars can be a work of art, absolutely). They also usually cost much more than games do, and often bought for the purpose of selling on down the line as an investment (again, yes, you could draw some more comparisons here).

I was looking for one analogy to rule them all, but the thrust of the article means that both used cars/movies do have their merits. You have bought a physical commodity. Why shouldn't you be able to sell, lend or otherwise use it as you want?

I need to eat. Back shortly.

EDIT: Cheers Chris, much appreciated!

Last edited by JonLester, Apr. 29, 2013 at 15:49
Late  Apr. 29, 2013 at 15:54

I'm laying odds on him eating a book by mistake, now...
Any takers? ;)

stevenjameshyde  Apr. 29, 2013 at 16:23

Two reasons books are a poor analogy:
- Devaluation - a book from 200 years ago is still readable today; whereas a game from even a couple of gens back is more graphically limited, more difficult to play on increasingly rare hardware, and intrinsically less valuable as a result
- Books don't generally take a team of 300 people and a budget of millions of pounds to write

stevenjameshyde  Apr. 29, 2013 at 16:59

- very few shops will do a "£1 plus a copy of The Da Vinci Code" promotion on new books
- Most second hand books are donated to charity shops for free, rather than used as a funding vehicle for new books
- People keep hold of books for longer than they do games

In short: games aren't sandwiches - definitely agree with that bit - but they aren't books, used cars or movies either. The used games market has no direct equivalent, so why shouldn't it play by a different set of rules from all other used markets?

JonLester  Apr. 29, 2013 at 17:17

@stevenjameshyde: Some good points there, and there'll always be holes in any analogy (the requirement of increasingly ancient consoles and the rental market being the major ones in this case). I agree that the main problem is that videogames are such a relatively young and dynamic market that it has no proper analogue - and that's not really a problem - but I still feel that books are a reasonable starting point when you look squarely at the consumer rights issues (as opposed to, say, the increased cost of development vs writing etc).

"The used games market has no direct equivalent, so why shouldn't it play by a different set of rules from all other used markets?"

This is a great shout, and one I thoroughly agree with. However, I just hope that we end up with a deal that's fair for everyone, and not just an excuse to cut down on our aftermarket options/increase the revenue tail.

Last edited by JonLester, Apr. 29, 2013 at 18:22
bggriffiths  Apr. 29, 2013 at 18:02

I'd be happy for online passes to stay if it meant pre-owned could continue next gen. Although I think it needs tweaking. For an FPS, for example they should follow Homefront's example. Let you play online but level cap you early (5). Then put online passcode in to carry on. Case in point, I'm only going to rent Battlefield 3, cos I probably won't want to play it online much, but it would be nice to try. More likely to go and actually buy it then.

Realhoneyman  Apr. 29, 2013 at 22:18

This article wa an interesting read and used a good analogy regarding the used games market. I don't think Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo will want it to disappear absolutely as this would hinder them more than aid them in the long term.

My worry is that publishers push for new purchases to access all the regular features of new titles which is great from their perspective/revenue stream but mistreats the customer. 'You can access the games features but only if you meet the publishers criteria' is what it feels like with some titles. Owning a console is not enough anymore and that's not a good direction to move in.

I think used games will continue to exist, they may just not continue as a profitable industry. Perhaps the games industry could shoot itself in the foot if newly released titles could not be enjoyed by a 2nd user due to DRM or other measures being utilised in the future.

Just be alright with boxed games getting new homes publishers. The more fans the better right?

Last edited by Realhoneyman, Apr. 29, 2013 at 22:19
ratatatat  May. 1, 2013 at 02:45

all bought items are perishable even games they degenerate in time and by usage/wear

really don't see the games industries issue with preowned games is any different than any other industries problem with 2nd hand products being sold

and as has been said a successfull consoles realistic lifespan is only 6 years and a good games top usage lifespan is only around 6 months to a year

it's all about quality and too many games companies are churning out crap built on the likes of a ready made graphic engine like the unreal engine or cryotek

make better games and people will buy new simple as that

churn out the same old stuff generic stuff and you will get poor sales

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