Frontier founder and creator of Elite, David Braben, has said that he thinks HMV's move into selling pre-owned games is "shocking", and that the increasing emphasis on the pre-owned market is a serious threat to the games industry.
Speaking to Eurogamer at the GameCity festival in Nottingham, Braben said: "The shops are not giving us a way of distinguishing between pre-owned and new. So the shops are essentially defrauding the industry."
Braben, in Nottingham to talk about the making of Frontier's WiiWare hit Lost Winds, acknowledges that the prevalence of pre-owned games is one factor pushing his company towards digital distribution.
"We've got a lot of retailers eating our lunch and refusing to sell full-priced games. I've been in a shop where I've tried to buy a copy of a relatively recent game, and I've taken an empty box off the shelf and they've given me a pre-owned copy. That, I think, is disgraceful," he said. "Not holding stock of new games, substituting them with pre-owned games at the same or much the same price... That is really destroying the shelf-life of our games."
On HMV's move into selling pre-owned titles - the first non-specialist retailer to do so - Braben said: "That is shocking, and I think the games industry has to do something about it soon."
"There are a lot of studies that suggest it's anywhere between 8 and 12 or 15 times a pre-owned game goes round. If you think that the industry's getting a tiny percentage of those 12 or 15 sales - typically from the sale of a GBP 40 game, the industry only gets GBP 20 anyway, in round figures. That is lost to the system," he said.
He's not a proponent of DRM - "personally, I detest DRM," he said - but understands that publishers are being forced into a corner. "Look at EA. They have been crucified for the admittedly draconian DRM on Spore, but they're in a very difficult position. They need to do something."
Instead, he argues that the games industry should move to a similar model to that used by the film industry for DVD and video sales. "They brought out rental copies, and copies not for resale or rental. That distinction is really important in the video market, and all of the chains honour it because they know it's more than their life's worth not to," he said.
"My argument is that for every game there are two versions. One is personal, not for resale and it's made abundantly clear you can't sell it. And it's made available for something like GBP 25. And a resale and rental copy, which in film is actually about GBP 80."
"The key thing is to find a way where actually we give the benefit to people who have original copies," he argued. "It's a very small step to make games distinguishable - it can be done with serial numbers. I'm not talking DRM or anything draconian, but we can give stuff to the person who has a new game, and we can start tipping the balance."
Braben also thinks that the pre-owned market, along with piracy, is pushing developers and publishers towards exclusively online gaming strategies.
"This isn't really special pleading, it's a practical point of view, because otherwise the industry will be forced to go 100 per cent online, and I also find that a shame," Braben said. "I love single-player games. Getting a beautifully crafted single player experience is something that's going to be killed if we're not careful, because the online validation of online games means that they tend to get pre-owned a lot less."
GameCity runs today, tomorrow and Saturday in venues across the centre of Nottingham. We'll bring you more from the festival in the coming days.
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