A big part of the industry’s support, such as it is, for game download services such as Steam, GamersGate et al is that it kills the second-hand/trade-in market. A sale’s a sale, a customer’s a customer, and shops don’t end up with endless dusty racks of second-hand copies of Call of Duty: World At War that only confused mothers try to buy when their kid asks for Modern Warfare 2. You can’t very well resell a game that’s bound to an account in your name, with your credit card details attached. Surely you can’t? New service Green Man Gaming thinks you can. Hmm.
Details are comically thin on the ground (the official site‘s just a cheapo holding page, but VG247 has rounded up some pertinent quotes from CEO), so for now we don’t know how it works or which services it’ll work with, but they reckon they’ll have 400 games supported at launch (sometime in Q1 2010) and 2,000 by the end of this year. It could only apply to console games (i.e. XBLA and PSN), but even if so it’s worth chewing over the concept. The idea of making some money back from a game you’re no longer playing certainly promises balm for our bruised wallets, but at the same time some of the appeal of buying something from, say, Steam is that it’s yours forever (in theory). No need to hang onto a bulky plastic box or worry about scratched CDs – you can revisit it whenever you want. With a system like this, playing the game again would mean buying it again. Not that this is a bad thing if you buy a stinker by mistake, of course, but it’s certainly upsetting this young tradition.
Most of all, though, it’s openly absurd, at least by the standards we’ve become used to over the last couple of years of DRM frenzy. How can this possibly work? Presumably, Green Man calculate the value of the game, then give some of it to you and some of it to the publisher. Some poor drone there then removes the serial number from your download account, remotely deactivating it from your games machine and then gives it to Green Man – who then advertise it for a little more than they paid for it. It seems enormously unlikely any publisher would go for this, as potentially every time such a deal is done they’re swapping the profit of a direct(ish) sale for a small kickback from Green Man. In theory, they could make a small wodge of cash they otherwise wouldn’t from people who resolutely refuse to pay full price, but the odds against it all working out seem so impossibly huge.
At the same time, I’m extremely curious see how it’s done and how it works out, presuming it’s something more substantial than a market-gap carrot to be dangled in front of venture capitalists. The trade-in market is such a fundamental part of retail gaming, so it makes sense to at least try it in this new frontier. I’m a bit worried Green Man will only encompass download services and games that no-one’s especially interested in – I can’t really see, say, Valve okaying this. Much more likely and more damning, I’d have thought, is that Green Man will simply have its own online store, with the resales applying only to games bought via that. One more set of login details, one more icon in the system tray – while it’s totally an intriguing idea, it’s going to have to be bloody extraordinary in practice to steal any ground from the already overcrowded download store market.