Using Achievements to Reduce Game Resale

Last year, I wrote about using online content (especially the user-generated variety) to discourage piracy of single-player games. Of course, this strategy could help reduce video game resale as well.

It recently occurred to me that Xbox Live has provided an easy way for developers to make a (small) dent in game resale. It just requires a simple modification to an existing feature. I am referring to Xbox 360 Achievements, which have proven to be potent motivators for hardcore gamers. What if a given copy of a game could only generate Achievements for one Xbox Live account? Consumers who purchase used copies of the game can still enjoy it (as is their legal right), but can’t score points.

I admit that this won’t make a big dent, but it’s so easy that even if it decreases game resale by just 1% it might be worth it. And there’s no doubt that a large percentage of hardcore gamers buy used games… after all, many hardcore gamers can’t necessarily afford to buy all the games they want to play! (Achievements might very well prove attractive to casual gamers over time, too. But I can say for certain that they’re appealing to many hardcore gamers right now.)

If you’re skeptical about the long-term potency of Achievements, you need only visit Pogo.com’s premium service, Club Pogo. Users of Club Pogo can win “badges” by completing gameplay challenges. (Badges are simply images with no inherent value, beyond emotional value). While few people (if any) sign up for Club Pogo just to win badges, a high percentage of Club Pogo users eventually become addicted to the pursuit of badges. This has been going on for years, and Club Pogo has added several new features that enable users to better “enjoy” and pursue badges — purely in response to the surprising potency of badges as a positive motivator.

Now, a few potential problems: this might annoy families with more than one gamer in the house, and it might frustrate people who attend “gamer parties” (i.e. only one attendee of the party can score points.) The first issue might be rectified by introducing the concept of “family” into Xbox Live. (That might be a good idea for other reasons… it seems strange that everyone in a family should pay full price for Xbox Live). The second issue is trickier, but also seems less significant to me.

Regardless, you could address both issues by linking Achievements for a given copy of a game to a specific console, rather than a specific Xbox Live account. The problem then is: what if the console dies? (That’s an unlikely event, but worth mentioning.)

I’m sure there are other issues that I haven’t thought of, but I wanted to get a discussion going, so there you are. I should also note that, as I’ve said in the past: I am not inherently against used game resale. I think it opens the market to people with limited income. So I’m trying to come up with ideas that permit consumers to enjoy used games, but that make used games just slightly less attractive to people who can afford new games but simply choose not to buy them. It’s a delicate balance. Maybe I’m onto something here. Maybe not. What do you think?  :)

223 responses to “Using Achievements to Reduce Game Resale

  1. I guess I don’t understand why you’d want to cut down on game resale. My impression has always been that the resale market enables games to be at their current price point. If you eliminated the resale market (or cut into it), the industry would have to drop the sale prices of games to compensate.

    While your proposed idea may technically cut down on resale, it seems pretty user-hostile (although it is by far the least user-hostile proposal I’ve heard). Unless game companies were dying off due to resale cannibalism (has this ever happened?), any sort of attack on resale would be a bad PR move. As it is, attacking resale just seems like yet another way to squeeze a few more drops of blood out of a stone.

  2. I’m generally not in favor of attempts to reduce or eliminate game resale. As I mentioned earlier, people with less-than-unlimited sums of money need ways to buy games, too. But it’s important to test one’s own assumptions from time to time. Nothing is black and white. :)

    Basically, I’m trying to think of ways to reduce the percentage of used game purchases that are being made by people who can afford to buy games new, but simply choose not to because a cheaper options is right in front of their face.

    Game companies aren’t dying off because of resale (as far as I know), but it’s hard to know (without doing an extensive study) exactly how much it is “hurting” the industry (vs. simply enabling people who wouldn’t have otherwise purchased those games.) But given that EB makes almost 40% of its profit from game resale, I’m guessing at least some small but significant percentage of used sales could be classified as “likely lost profit” for developers and publishers.

    But this is all short-term thinking anyway. Long term, I’m guessing that online content, services, and distribution will render this discussion moot. This was really just an attempt at stop-gap brainstorming.

  3. I see. Well, I think that such a scheme would never be implemented as a short-term solution. If it became de rigeur for any length of time, it would become the norm, and would show up on games that didn’t even need protection from “resale loss”. I guess I’m going out on a limb there, but similar things have happened. For example, CDs initially cost much more than cassettes, but the record companies explained it away by saying it was a short-term ramp-up premium, and CDs would eventually drop down to cassette prices. They never did, even though they cost an order of magnitude less to produce than cassettes ever did.

    To return to your proposal, I think that to lure people to buy the game new rather than used, you have to offer an additional value in the new package, and you have to be careful that you don’t accidentally penalize players. Your achievements idea is a good incentive (though I suppose you could always turn it around and say that used-game purchasers are deprived of this mechanic). It would be difficult to reliably distinguish new-game purchases from used purchases, because you want to allow the new-game purchasers to reinstall as many times as they like on as many computers as they like. I guess the best way would be to tie each game to a unified login system, like Steam (ugh). Then you’d get abused by people selling their accounts along with the used game, but they would have to be planning to resell the game when they initially installed it, and probably most people don’t think that far ahead.

  4. Sorry, it’s obvious from my comments that I’m not fully reading your article. I see that you already discussed some of the potential downfalls of a user login system.

  5. It seems, though, at the moment, that there isn\’t (yet) a system that can reliably distinguish between new-game purchasers, and used-game purchasers, that does so without ever penalizing a new-game purchaser. That\’s the real sticky wicket. As soon as some legitimate user gets screwed, it will be terrible PR (c.f. Starforce).

  6. Another way to do this would be to drop the retail price and sell multiplayer over Live. As an example: Gears of War would retail for $40. This price would include single-player and the single-player achievements, plus split-screen co-op. For $20 (1600 pts?) you could unlock online multiplayer and the multiplayer achievements. This reduces the profitability for the stores selling used copies, allows Epic to deal with the \’support costs\’ Mark Rein is always whining about, makes entry to the game easier, and gives the publisher a cut of resold games on the sly. Communicating this to players would probably require some re-education, and some money would be lost initially on the players that don\’t want to play online.

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