One of the largest problems facing the games industry today is used games. Publishers can’t compete with the low prices and have launched campaigns trying to persuade customers that buying used games hurt developers. This is almost certainly true but the problem is, as so often with situations like this, not used games but how games as a medium are developed and sold. Let me describe why this phenomenon exists and what developers can do to change it today.
Books and movies are more rarely sold used then games
There is a market for used books and movies, and it’s pretty large, but nowhere near as large as for games. This is because the products leave a lingering thought with the consumer that they “might want to see / read it again”. In this post I’ll call this emotional impact.
I’m not saying that games don’t have emotional impact, in fact they might have more emotional impact then traditional media, but in games it works a bit differently.
Traditional media is completely based on narrative
Narrative has always been a way for humans to interpret the things happening around us, in other words; we look for patterns that might not be there. Putting stories on events to make them understandable.
Traditional media is a way to channel this interest by offering interesting stories, that have been thought out before hand and then feeding them to the audience. We’ve been doing it since long before Shakespeare
When a movie, book or any work of fiction presents us with a narrative that we particularly like we achieve a sense of satisfaction. Known in story telling as catharsis.
Games don’t work like this
Games have two sets of narrative going on at once; the story narrative that is usually fed to the player (s) in more or less sophisticated ways. The game mechanical narrative, the story that the player build by doing things in the game: “I ran around the wall and shot that guy from behind, I’m such a ninja!“.
The first narrative is directly comparable to traditional media and is the dominant narrative in games such as the Final Fantasy series or the Metal Gear series. The emotional impact of these games are usually quite high and sure enough, you’ll find a lot less of them on the used shelves at your local Gamestop.
The second narrative however, is unique to games as a medium. It is the dominant form of narrative in games such as Battlefield or Gran Turismo. These games can be resold without much emotional impact because the main experience is already experienced. Playing the game again won’t be as interesting.
Let’s compare this to a vacation trip. The pictures from said vacation are valuable, because they let the consumer remember the experience. But going back will be different, we all know this, that’s why we don’t always travel to the same spots.
Experiencing the game mechanic again can often be more interesting by playing the sequel or a similar game. A consumer will rarely play the same game again if there aren’t new goals to reach or if similar games and sequels are noticeably different. (If your game is a shooter you’ll probably not ever get consumers to do more then one play through. If that.)
So how are we going to solve this?
From this point of view, I’ve identified three key ways of making more emotional impact and staying of the used games shelf:
- Create games that capture the emotional impact of narrative. Create games with more traditional story that can keep the players coming back.
- Create games with game mechanic lock-ins. So that they are forced to keep playing your game to get the same pleasurable mechanic. Look at fighting games for example. Fighting games seem to be generally online or party experiences, with unique fighting styles they deliver experiences that you can’t interchange easily.
- Games that are more focused on mechanic narrative, don’t release them as boxed products. Seriously. They are easily interchangeable and after one play through they are simply not very interesting. Sell them as episodic content through direct downloads or as subscription services.
This might sound a bit crude, but the games industry is not as successful per unit as other media industries and mostly I believe this is because the industry isn’t selling games as consumers want them. The games industry is just copying other mediums and then complaining about all the problems that they run into.
If you’ve read this far I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject, comment away, I answer all comments.