So here is the question. Creators depend on game disc sales to make a living. Bearing that in mind, is it ethical to buy and sell used games? And, along those lines, is it ethical to buy a used CD? Or buy from a used bookstore? Or check out a book from the library? In all of these cases, you are enjoying the works of creators without putting money in their pockets. So are libraries OK?
That I went straight to the library thing kind of telegraphs where I am going with this. Because, hey, let's look at books for a second. I love books. I really want authors to make a good living doing what they do. And, by the way, I had my first book published not too long ago, so I actually have a stake in this. Buying new books (and thus putting money in the pockets of authors) is a Good Thing.
And yet, I often buy used books, AND I get books out of the library. And yet, at night, I sleep like a baby. And when someperson buys a used copy of one of my book, I'm cool with that. I'm not going to chase him or her down the street waving a stick or anything.
My games and book are sold used, so I have a personal stake in this, but I'm still for used sales. Because there are other, equally important principles in play here.
Information Is Not Free, But It Should Travel Freely
How can I reconcile these two seemingly contradictory viewpoints? It's not hard. See, there is a principle involved in wanting money to go to authors. But there are also principles involved in being able to give away and sell them.
First, it is a long-established principle of law that books (like CDs and game disks) are objects. When you buy an object, you can then give it away or sell it or whatever. It's yours. This is a right you have, and you don't have to apologize for using it. (This right can be waived by explicitly agreeing to an EULA that prevents resale, but this doesn't apply to console games. If you're interested in the legal fiddly bits here, you should read about the First-Sale Doctrine.)
Second, books are works of art and media for transmitting ideas. Art and ideas are good things, and we as a society want them to move around freely. This helps us to have, you know, a culture. Not to mention the free flow of competing ideas that is necessary for a healthy republic. And, if you take video games seriously as works of art and human expression, as I know the Penny Arcade guys do, you should want a similar freedom to apply to them.
(By the way, when I wrote not long ago about times when piracy is OK, many people told me that they pirated games when they were young because they had no money. In the world of books, this simple fact is understood. That is why libraries exist. As much as the publishing industry might not want them too.)
I often buy books new. I see it as part of my duty to support that industry. Someone has to do it, or there will be far fewer new books. But, at the same time, libraries and used bookstores are Good Things. I bet if you went to Gabe and Tycho and told them it was immoral to go to a library, they would think you were an idiot and throw poo on you. But here they are taking this exact point of view for video games. Which are also works of art and media for distributing ideas. Honestly not sure what they are thinking here.
Oh, and one quote from Tycho:
"I traded in games for a long time, there's probably comics somewhere in the archive about it - you can imagine how quickly my cohort and I consume these things. It was sort of like Free Money, and we should have understood from the outset that no such thing exists. You meet one person who creates games for a living, just one, and it becomes very difficult to maintain this virtuous fiction."
Um, no. It's not difficult at all. I will look anyone in the eye and tell them that the trade in used games is both legal and ethical. And then they, if they want, can look me in the eye and tell me that buying used copies of my book and used CDs of my games is OK too. Living in a country where people have rights and ideas freely circulate is a good thing.
There are more principles at stake here than just how many dollars goes to this or that guy.
On the Other Hand
Publishers have recently experimented in programs to give extra features to those who buy games new. This is totally cool and legal and, in come cases, a practical necessity.
For example, some games now come with a key that you need to enter to play in online multiplayer. Buy the game used and you have to pay a small fee to get multiplayer.
This is fair. Why? Because the publisher is paying the ongoing costs to maintain the servers. If I give my old copy of The Stand to a friend, it doesn't directly harm the publisher. The publisher doesn't know that I exist. But if I give a copy of Halo 3 to a friend and he goes online, his presence on the servers costs a (small) amount of money. In return for providing the online service, the publisher is allowed to ask for money. If you don't like that, you don't need to buy that game used.
Publishers can legally and ethically hobble used games. They're certainly heading in that direction. They can do it, but it's not wise. People get really smart when it comes to their money. When someone buys a car or house, they pay attention to resale value. It goes the same for video games. If resale is no longer an option, the $60 for that disk suddenly becomes a lot more expensive. If publishers think that crippling used sales is going to suddenly make angels drop piles of cash on their heads, I think they are due for a crushing disappointment.
But if I've learned anything in the last few years, it is to never underestimate the death-wish of either the music industry or gaming companies.