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If rumors that surfaced roughly a week ago are to be followed, the next Xbox will no longer be able…

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If rumors that surfaced roughly a week ago are to be followed, the next Xbox will no longer be able to play used games. Game discs will ship with one-time-use activation codes that will render them irrelevant to anyone else but the person who first played the game. Of course, reaction to this among those in the gaming community is predictably negative. A common theme seems to be that not many people can’t go around spending $60 on games anymore; and that they’ll be more keen on buying a game for $20 used than they will buying a brand new game for $60:

Others point to the huge market that used games has created. In particular, GameStop thrives on the sales of used games. Even though used games only account for a third of its net sales, GameStop reports that used games account for more than half of GameStop’s profits in 2012. If used games were to not exist anymore, GameStop would assuredly suffer, even collapse onto itself for biting too much on the hand that feeds.

Ignoring the debate of whether eliminating used games altogether is a good idea, is it ethical to do so? It’s a loaded question, for sure, and because there are so many perspectives to use when answering such a question, I will focus on the perspective I align myself with the most: act utilitarianism. Then, I will look at it based solely on my subjective takes of “good” and “bad.”

Just be happy

For the uninitiated, act utilitarianism states that an action is good only if its net effect produces more happiness than unhappiness. This net effect is calculated using a formula that quantifies any action before it is declared as a “good” or “bad” action. A quick example would be sitting at home all day versus volunteering at some charity. The negatives of sitting at home all day greatly outweigh the positives, thus sitting at home all day would be considered a “bad” action. Vice versa, volunteering at a charity produces more positives than negatives, thus making it a “good” action.

Here, if we are to take this rumor as fact, then Microsoft’s action would be to disallow the use of used games for its console. Using act utilitarianism, let’s weigh the pros (+) and cons (-) of such an action:

Developers get rewarded.By any stretch of the imagination, this is probably the single biggest pro. By buying a new copy of a game, the developer of the game earns money. Sure, it’s not a whole lot per game, but it all adds up. By buying a game used instead of new, no money whatsoever is sent back to the developer. Definitely a bummer for developers who actually take the time to develop a game.Your ability to get rid of a game you don’t want is taken away.When buying any video game, you should have the ability to get rid of it if you end up not liking it. Whether that means simply returning the game to the store or selling it to a friend, this happens across multiple product categories. As long as we legally purchased the game, we should be able to get rid of it, and even sell it, if we want to. Prohibiting the use of used games in a console will eliminate that, and you’ll have to take a chance every time you buy a game. No bueno.
The new games market will once again be at the forefront.As it exists right now, this is a huge problem of the used games market. You barely see any industries that sell used copies of a product right next to the new copies. In addition, for the stores that do this, they would absolutely love to sell you the used copy instead of the new. They stand the most to gain, as 100% of the profit goes to the retailer in question. As a result, which do you think people will go for: a $60 game, or the used $55 copy of the game right next to it?Used games lead to purchases of new games.For publishers, what most, if not all, probably haven’t realized is that used games help in the purchases of new games. Hell, people actually trade in games in order to buy new games. Trading in used games helps the consumer save money on buying a new game, and by buying the new game, publishers and developers stand to gain from that. Take away the ability to play used games, and you take away this potential driving force for new games sales.
Developers can take greater risks with games.As discussed earlier, every time you buy a new game, the developer of the game earns money. By prohibiting the use of used games, and by virtue, eliminating the used games market altogether, developers can take greater chances since they will make more money. Since the new games market will be at the forefront, developers won’t have to worry about losing sales to the used games market. With that extra money, developers can further innovate and take risks.Retailers might not support the new consoles in rebellion.As a result of the virtual prohibition of used games in consoles, retailers, especially GameStop, will simply refuse to sell any more consoles. The used games market is, without a doubt, a huge market, and now that it would virtually be taken away by manufacturers such as Microsoft and Sony, retailers will simply refuse to sell their consoles. In this scenario, just about everyone loses.
Quicker and more significant price drops.Since, by extension, the used games market could potentially not exist anymore, developers can earn a lot more money. As a result, we could potentially see price drops at a faster rate. Of course, people will be quick to point out Call of Duty and Halo as examples of games that maintain their value because so many people buy those games. Ignoring those juggernauts, you could see games like the recently released DmC Devil May Cry get a nice sales boost when it drops in price even sooner than usual.Goodbye, GameStop.A lot of people may hate GameStop, but let’s face it: it is a video game retail juggernaut. Many have already written off GameStop and declared its obsolescence, but never undervalue the power of retail. GameStop’s focus has always been gaming, and has become an instantly recognizable brand. With the used games market to theoretically disappear, GameStop will crumble. Other retailers will feel aftershocks, but GameStop will feel the full brunt of the impact since its model hinges on used games and used products in general.

Is it ethical?

In terms of act utilitarianism, prohibiting the use of used games in consoles would ultimately end up as ethical. Though the pros and cons carry an almost-equal amount of weight, the fact remains that developers will not earn a dime from used games sales. Not only is it the biggest pro when considering the ethics at play here, but, by itself, is already a huge factor. Combined with the rest of the pros, and they slightly outweigh the cons. As such, under act utilitarianism, prohibiting the use of used games in consoles is ethical.

My take

What is my personal take? I tend to view myself as an act utilitarian, but I acknowledge that act utilitarianism has faults. That’s why I will tend to look at the big picture and nothing else. Will jobs be lost? Yes. Are used games important in the sales of new games? In some ways, yes. However, I will argue that not rewarding the developers that worked hard on those games we all play is a travesty in and of itself. If a game doesn’t seem like it, speak with your wallet: don’t buy it. If you believe the game is worth the purchase and that it’s a great game, reward the people who actually made it by buying it new.

In terms of actually prohibiting the use of used games in your console, again, I believe that it is ethical. The product that these manufacturers are selling are products intended to be made in a certain way. If they believe that way includes blocking the use of used games, then I am completely okay with that. I don’t mind buying new games instead of used ones. If a game seems good enough, then I will happily fork over the $60 for it and reward the hard-working developers. They don’t do this for free, after all.

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