New digital store Robot Cache will use blockchain to let users resell games

Being able to sell used copies of digital games is an idea that gets kicked around every so often, and now it’s back with a web 3.0 digital cyberpyramid blockchain cryptocurrency twist. New digital store Robot Cache will let people resell games and receive 25% of the cash back – in cryptocurrency. Yes, of course it’s built on cryptocurrency, because everything is now. “Quick, get in on Muttoncoin while you can!” they tell me. “Clarksoncoin is going nuclear,” I’m warned. It does sound like Robot Cache are running screaming after the latest Silicon Valley fad but: 1) used digital game sales is still an interesting idea; 2) the company is co-founded by Brian Fargo, the founder of Torment: Tides of Nuemenera devs inXile Entertainment.

So! Let’s skip over the technical guts for now. Robot Cache is due to launch later this year, some time from April to June, and sell games in that digital games store way. People will be able to sell games they own, though they’ll only receive 25% of the sale back–and only in the store’s own cryptocurrency, not real money–as the rest will go to the developers and the store. They’ll then be able to spend this cybercash on other games from the store.

Robot Cache don’t name a lineup of devs whose games they will sell and that does seem a fairly vital part of whether this store is interesting or not. If no games you want are on it, who cares what you can get back for a game? Robot Cache are trying to woo devs with solid-sounding terms, letting them set their own sale and resale prices then receiving 95% of proceeds from new game sales, which is far more than most stores, and 70% on used sales.

The idea of using a blockchain to track copies of games changing hands (I assume tied to some form of DRM from the store? dunno) is an interesting one.

Let’s get very slightly technical: a blockchain is sort of a publicly-shared digital ledger which tracks ownership as cyberthings change hands. You might have heard of the tech as the foundation of digital currencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin, Ethereum Classic, Burstcoin, BlackCoin, Vertcoin, Zcash, Electroneum, Titcoin, PotCoin ZetaCoin, Coinye West, Catcoin, Feathercoin, Primecoin, Gridcoin, Emercoin, Peercoin, and Swiftcoin. This cybercash is earned essentially by spending money on your electricity bill, ‘mined’ by running intense calculations on a computer. We can now add Robot Cache’s own Iron to the ever-growing list of cryptocurrencies.

If you resell a game on Robot Cache, you’ll be paid in Iron, which can be spent on more games on Robot Cache. Or you can mine for more Iron through the client, slowly buying it with electricity.

Actually, if you want to know more about cryptocurrencies, The Guardian have a primer and they’re hardly the most intimidating technoheads.

I am pulling dismissive faces and making “Pssh!” noises because whacking cybercash on an existing idea is a hot and wholly ludicrous trend these days. Everything is Bitcoins and blockchains, even though half the people urging people to invest can’t explain what any of it is or what you can even spend it on. Bitcoin has become mired in damn nonsense and hype which mostly serves to make investors wealthier. The fad is daft enough that a drinks company saw its share prices quadruple after announcing plans to rename itself from Long Island Iced Tea Corp to Long Blockchain Corp.

Blockchain and cryptocurrency tech can be genuinely useful but it’s such early days and there’s so much nonsense that I’m wary of any company shouting “We have a cryptocurrency too!” It seems especially irresponsible considering that the Bitcoin network alone reportedly uses as much electricity as all Denmark. But I’m happy for Robot Cache to prove me wrong.

Either way, Robot Cache is still worth pointing out. The idea of digital used game sales drifts around but rarely seems to get anywhere, so here’s your update on the latest crack at it. Digital store Green Man Gaming hardheartedly tried trade-ins a few years back, before switching mostly to selling Steam keys, but Robot Cache are certainly going for it.

32 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Oakreef says:

    You had me at resale, you lost me at cryptocurrency.

  2. HiroTheProtagonist says:

    Can someone please explain the draw of “used digital games”? I mean sure, the price would arguably be cheaper than new (though the distinction seems incredibly arbitrary, especially when digital games are easier to pirate and the creation of “new” copies negates manufacturing), but I can’t see how this would seriously outpace the normal pricing structure of most digital storefronts in existence, that already drop prices within months or even weeks of launch.

    Not only that, but they mention that the client can be used for mining, but wouldn’t that mean you’d have to negate some of your PC’s performance to mine Iron/wouldn’t that simply lead to hardware degradation within a few years?

    • blur says:

      Personally, the draw of “used digital games” is that for a lot of things (vehicles, furniture, sports equipment, etc), something I may no longer want can hold value for somebody else. It’s weirder in the digital space, sure, but there’s no reason why this same paradigm couldn’t extend there. If I’m done extracting value from something, why shouldn’t I be able to pass it along to another consumer, who themselves can get value from it?

      Since software typically works with license agreements (EULAs) rather than actual ownership, I think it’s completely reasonable that I should be able to sell my own “right” to play a game that I’ve purchased to another individual. Of course, craigslist or similar allows me to set my own price, which may get stripped out by using this particular storefront.

      But yeah, I tend to agree with you WRT allowing users to mine the currency. As with today’s cryptocurrency, I imagine it’ll just serve to concentrate the power.

      • WoodGuyThreepBrush says:

        In what condition would you sell a “used” digital download of a video game though? ‘Used’ to me implies towards the item’s condition, IE slightly worn, or as new, or new.

        If you buy a “used” video game, are you essentially buying a “new” one, where the developers don’t get their cut? Might this hurt the industry?

    • Premium User Badge

      DuncUK says:

      In general I honestly think second hand digital games resale would be a bad thing for the games industry and ultimately for gamers. Put simply, it would be another way for gamers to obtain games in a way that doesn’t benefit developers. It would be especially bad for single player games as many people buy these on release, complete them in a matter of weeks and would then sell them on.

      Second hand markets work because the second hand version of something are generally degraded in some way. Developers and publishers hate second hand disc resales because until discs become too scratched to play, the resold product isn’t really that inferior. Digital games don’t degrade at all so the second hand game would have as much value to the end user as a first hand one, with the caveat that the reseller can ask as little as they like.

      Put simply, it would just push initial game prices up as developers had to redistribute the expected cost of sales lost to reselling across all early purchasers.

  3. Halk says:

    What’s the point if it only works with their store? They could simply reassign the game to a different account. Absolutely no need to document the transaction in a public blockchain.

    Also, why the hell should they get any money? If I resell a game I own, I should get 100%, just like with physical copies.

    Now legally reselling DRM-free games using a blockchain-based smart contract that enforces that the seller must delete all his copies would make sense. The blockchain would allow making the resale completely independent of the original store. Of course that would require that even the original sale is a transaction that took place using a smart contract. But that’s just a nice idea, I don’t see how it could be implemented in practice (just like I cannot imagine any other actually useful use for smart contracts).

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      “Also, why the hell should they get any money? If I resell a game I own, I should get 100%, just like with physical copies.”
      If you sell it directly yourself, sure, but the biggest secondhand market used to be through games stores who would buy cheap from you and then add a markup before selling it on. This part isn’t so different from that.

      • Halk says:

        OK, I see your point.

        Not sure why anyone would agree to that either, but then there are people who sell used cars to dealerships instead of privately selling them, so I guess there are people willing to participate in a scheme like this.

        In any case not a solution to the general problem of ownership rights for digital goods. Because if these ownership right were properly in place you could sell privately and at 100% (possibly minus a small transaction fee if the transaction requires the use of someone else’s infrastructure).

        • Sin Vega says:

          Not sure why anyone would agree to that either

          I knew a guy once who sold a console and dozens of games within about two months of buying them (because one of his friends said, out loud, that said brand of console was… and I have not enough cringe in my body for this… ‘teh suck’).

          At a conservative estimate, he’d paid about £900 for them. He sold them back to the same shop for £400 worth of other goods, and showed off because they also gave him £100 in cash, and therefore he came out on top.

          Never underestimate idiocy.

        • April March says:

          If you sell to someone else instead of to a company, you get more money, but you need to advertise it yourself, go after the person, and make sure that they pay you properly. If you sell to a company you get less money but walk out with it and if something goes wrong the company’ll probably be at that same address. So selling to an intermediary is essentially selling with a convenience tax, and if there’s something I love is convenience.

          Edit: That said, for the 75% tax that they’ll apparently charge I’d want that, the moment I express a desire to sell my game, I find that it has already been sold and there is a complementary lunch served near me to me and my girlfriend, who was not present a moment ago. Instead, it’s even less convenient than selling to Gamestop.

          • malkav11 says:

            Pretty much. Private sales is significant effort that I’m typically unwilling to invest. If I can score back a meaningful fraction of my initial investment without that effort, I’m more than happy to do it. For my purposes most of the time I’m just trying to get rid of stuff and I’d rather it go to someone who’ll actually use it than into a dumpster. Only rarely do I want to dispose of something with substantial value.

            Also, salespeople are professionals who’ve trained in this stuff, tend to be naturally social, and have a whole business model around sales. Whereas I’m just some dude who bought a thing once. They’ll get more out of it than I will. Ideally this means some sort of equitable exchange between us (as opposed to the hilariously cutthroat pricing at your Gamestop or one of the many chains they killed) but sometimes you just want whatever you can get fast.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      There’s no way to “enforce that the seller must delete all his copies”

      – you can only prevent an online-only game to be used

      (and even so, only as long as there are no “pirate servers” available, which the will be, as long as the game is popular enough…
      and would likely be straightforward to create since such a smart contract likely implies the whole game to be open source?)

  4. napoleonic says:

    Clicked to say that this is the best tooltip ever.

  5. Ghostwise says:

    Now let’s all wonder why we can’t tell which cryptocurrency names are real and which were made up by Alice.

  6. LewdPenguin says:

    It’s an interesting concept for sure, but even ignoring the huge hurdle they face of getting developers/publishers on board the fact that I, as a notional seller, would only get 25% of a price that I can’t even set pretty much kills this immediately as a workable idea for me. Yes I know they need to wave cash under the noses of those developers and publishers to have any chance of them signing up, but such a low return that also comes tied to their platform seems near worthless for jumping through the hoops, and if you’re someone that buys and churns through enough games fast enough that you’d actually be getting a notable amount back you probably have enough disposable income to not care anyway.

  7. Cut says:

    So when they say “Cryptocurrency“, they really mean “Store Credit“.

    When they say “Blockchain“, they actually mean “Private company records“.

    And when they say “Now you can resell digital games!“, a more accurate description would be “Your purchase now comes with an optional future discount which we will have baked into the original price anyway“…

    Ok.

    • MrBehemoth says:

      this, this and this

    • April March says:

      That was what I was thinking. What is the difference between this ‘cryptocurrency’ and Steam credit if I can’t get it off the store?

  8. Someoldguy says:

    It’s an interesting idea, but i can’t see it getting much traction in the current marketplace if it doesn’t include other platforms, particularly Steam. Should it ever gain traction, Valve could probably crush it flat in seconds by implementing a Steam alternative.

    • Premium User Badge

      ooshp says:

      Yes, a Gabencoin will crush pretty much anything flat in seconds.

  9. Don Reba says:

    Best effort answer to the question of how we could possibly apply the blockchain to games. Like the posters above, I am not convinced.

  10. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    Wow. Despite the shonky sounding plan, determining who owns a particular bit of data at a particular time is one of the things a blockchain is actually good for and good at. Applying it to game keys is a nifty idea. What a shame the rest of the plan is to build a new online storefront, a plan which should be greeted with the same skepticism as a plan to wrest the MMO market from World of Warcraft’s deathless grip.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      No, this is not YouTube where a blockchain-based competitor might bring something worthwhile :
      link to forbes.com
      link to torrentfreak.com

      This proposal, however, doesn’t seem to bring anything worthwhile (it’s unenforceable without draconian DRM).

      The best path forward for games would instead to be rid of centralized “stores” altogether – sadly, we would need to have first the feature that made Steam popular : a third-party software update system embedded in the OS !

      This is not going to happen to Windows, because Microsoft wants to get rid of it anyway…
      (and replace it by Tiles, which *has* a centralized update system, but the issue is that Microsoft also wants it to have a Microsoft-controlled “Store”, and nobody wants Tiles anyway, because it sucks…)

      And (some) Linux(es) had a third-party update system for years, but hardly anyone wants to abandon Windows for it either…

  11. racccoon says:

    Those that have bittycoin should really consider they had a good great run, a mass of cryptos are coming..means your investments will tumble to new low so keep an eye out for your own sake if you bought high.
    Back on topic: I don’t see the point as crypto currencies change way to quickly in seconds to a up or a down.PLus second hand games will be like 10 – 20p just like cryto’s will be.. lol

    • Michael Anson says:

      Actually, the current BitCoin bubble is due to the huge number of new cryptocurrencies. The new coins use BitCoin as their base, so as each new currency becomes subject to speculation, BitCoin also gets an increase in value.

      BitCoin is currently undergoing a bit of a correction, but the introduction of new currencies are not the reason why. If you want to get technical, the real reason BitCoin is so unstable is because it’s still not widely accepted, so it doesn’t have anything to tie value to. That makes it extremely susceptible to speculative investment, which is the only thing that gives it value at the moment and which is subject to crazy highs and lows.

  12. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    Whenever someone announces a bitcoin related thing now I am reminded of the reports (as mentioned above) that the energy consumption of coin mining is already equal to a medium-sized country and increasing. Even if it were not an obvious bubble guaranteed to pop sooner or later, this seems insane in the context of, well, the world and humanity continuing to live in it.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      That’s mostly BitCoin, and it’s “temporary” :
      – the miner rewards regularly get halved (every ~4 years)
      link to bitcoinblockhalf.com
      – the price cannot keep exponentially growing forever
      so eventually the only money the miners will receive is going to be transaction fees (which seem to be fairly small in comparison)

      and since the power cost is a huge part of miner costs, the total power consumed by the miners is going to follow the same trend

      now, there’s no guarantee whatsoever that bitcoin won’t be overtaken by another cryptocurrency…

  13. virgopunk says:

    Their mascot looks like Clank!

  14. Aspirant_Fool says:

    If I could ‘trade in’ games on Steam, even if it was just for 10% of their purchase price in Steam-only money, my library would be a whole lot smaller.

    If you’re renting and not paying the electric bill – hey, nearly free games! Just pay in the wear and tear mining will inflict on your hardware.

  15. Yglorba says:

    Using blockchains for this seems like a gimmick, though. Steam could totally allow people to trade away used games if they wanted to. Worse, you’re still dependent on these people’s centralized service to respect the fact that the blockchain says you own the game actually means something, so you’re not getting anything but pointless overhead and complexity. Similarly, the “in-house cryptocurrency” is a stupid gimmick, since, again, you’re totally at the mercy of their willingness to respect it – it’s no better than Steam Wallet, just more complicated.