I recently bought a PS3, as you can tell by the fact that I’ve written several posts about PS3 games. One thing that sucks about owning a new console is not having any games for it. The PS3 has been around for a couple of years now, so many of the games that I wanted to own for the system are difficult to find new. This led me to buying a used copy of Valkyria Chronicles at a local EB Games and I was up-sold on the discount card (it practically paid for itself through the discount on the used game I was buying).

Every so often I’ll pass by an EB Games or GameStop just to see what’s there, to see if they’ve got something that I really badly want to add to my collection. It is through this small ritual of mine that I’ve realized that the business of used games at these stores is truly sinister.

Firstly, let’s look at the price of used games to the end customer. If you look at a relatively recent title (one released in the past couple of weeks), you are saving maybe $3-5 off a new game. The used product tends to be in relatively new condition so that you almost can’t tell the difference (PROTIP: look for yellow tags). If you don’t think about it too much it’s actually a pretty sweet deal. Save a couple of dollars here, a couple of dollars there, and it adds up to big savings eventually. With the discount card, you can even get 10% off of used games.

I recently grabbed a used copy of “Tomb Raider Underworld” for about $10 (oh Lara, how far you have fallen). At that time, I got handed a little flyer with the store’s most wanted list. This was a list of games that EB Games and GameStop locations would pay top dollar for, where by “top dollar” they mean roughly a third of what you paid to grab it when it was brand new and just released, maybe even less. I even vaguely remember getting a phone call from an EB Games location after picking up a copy of Samurai Warriors 3 I’d pre-ordered to tell me about some trade-in offer. Really guys? I just bought the damn game! And I usually don’t buy something unless I intend to keep it for a long time. After all, there’s such a thing as game rentals. I’ve rented a couple of PS3 titles by mail with GameAccess. Why buy something that I don’t want to keep?

And let’s not forget that when it does come to new product, the stores have created a culture that pressures you into pre-ordering by selling only pre-ordered copies on the launch days. There have been many episodes of people walking into a store and seeing a copy of a game sitting right on the shelf but being told they can’t have it because somebody put down $5 (possibly less) about six months ago. That’s their copy sitting there, taunting you for daring to walk in on launch day without a pre-order.

So let’s connect the dots shall we? The stores are encouraging you to trade in games that were released merely days ago to give you a pittance (in comparison) of store credit towards other games, and they can sell those games that you give them at almost new prices. Combine that with the Cult of the Pre-order and you’ve got a clever business model: buy as few copies of new games from the manufacturer as you could possibly get away with, encourage people to trade those copies back in, which you buy from them for considerably less than the unit price you initially got them for. Then, sell those back to other gamers at “almost new” prices.

It’s an perpetual profit machine that is powered by repeated undercutting of new product. That being said, I don’t consider these practices to be unethical; it’s actually incredibly smart business that I just happen to strongly disagree with because when I truly love a game, I want to vote with my dollar. That means making sure that my dollars go to the people that matter, not into an infinite profit loop for large video game store chains. And even if I’m not the first one to say it, I think it’s worth saying again: if you truly want to show your love for the developers and publishers of the games you collect, buy them new and/or online so that the people who brought them to you are getting their cut. Used games aren’t bad for the industry, but their low prices might cause us to forget for a moment where those dollars are actually going and who truly profits off of those lower prices.