A battle is looming within the video game industry between video game developers and video game retail outlets. Over the last decade, the trading in of used video games for store credit has become an increasingly popular activity for a significant portion of the gaming world. For many gamers, trading in their old games for store credit is the only way they can afford to continue to pursue their video game hobby, while on the retail side the selling of used games has become an increasingly vital source of revenue. For example, it is estimated that used video game sales accounted for 23% of Gamestop’s revenue (one of the largest video game retail outlets in America) in 2008, for a total of $2 billion. However, in recent months many video game developers have issued some critical statements in regards to the “resale” market, arguing that the buying and selling of used games accounts for potentially billions of dollars in lost revenue.
The manner in which this dispute has taken place provides an interesting site for sociological analysis. In response to industry criticism, many retail stores have gone on the defensive, pointing out the importance of the “resale” market for many gamers, noting that the resale of games actually encourages gamers to purchase new games. On the other hand, video game developers have been experimenting with a variety of means to potentially limit the sale of previously owned games, from offering free downloadable content that only registered users can experience to blocking off the final chapter of certain games to players who purchased the game used.
From a sociological perspective, perhaps the most interesting aspect of this debate is how it touches upon the larger debate of digital rights and digital ownership. In defending their attempts to limit the resale market, many game publishers have implied that similar to other software packages, consumers who purchase games are actually only buying the license to play a game, and do not in fact physically own a copy of the game they purchased. Under this interpretation, the game publisher still retains ownership of the game and can thus legally forbid its reselling. Such a relationship is very similar to the “user license agreement” many software companies have been utilizing for years now. While such measures have not yet been taken in the gaming industry, the manner this conflict is ultimately settled may prove to have a wider societal impact than simply the reshaping of the gaming industry.