Should we be allowed to sell “used” digital games?

Steam Games

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With the news that a German consumer rights group is planning to sue Valve over the fact that it won't allow European gamers to sell on their used games, the debate has resurfaced over whether when you buy a game through a service like Steam, do you really own it?

A ruling was passed in Europe last year that said “an author of software cannot oppose the resale of his 'used' licenses allowing the use of his programs downloaded from the internet.” Essentially, he was making is to that the exclusive right to distribution was exhausted after the first sale, making it completely legal for a consumer to sell on a second hand digital game.

Despite this ruling, Valve said it had no plans of changing policy and wouldn't make it so users could do so.

Now I'm a big fan of Steam, but I think it's almost missing out on an opportunity here. While Steam is great for buying new games – as you can download them and get playing straight away – as the time goes on after a game is released, it's prices rarely if ever drop. Apart from sales, you can find Steam games years after release still at nearly full price.

This puts off buyers, who are much more likely to pick up a physical copy of a game for $10 or less than they are to buy from Steam.

However, if Valve were to allow for used games sales, perhaps with fixed pricing for a second hand title – how about 50% of current price? - and they take a 10% cut, they would make a killing.

Of course to avoid people completing games and then immediately selling them on, Valve may need to prevent resale of games for a limited time after its initial release, or perhaps delay it to a certain time period after the initial purchase.

These days Valve makes more money from taking a cut from its players selling each other Team Fortress 2 hats and guns than it does anything else, so why wouldn't it get into this incredibly lucrative market? At a time when every major console manufacturers and game developer is working on ways to help destroy the second hand industry, Steam has the potential to become the bastion of it.

Think about it. The next-gen consoles are exciting sure, but the PC has had a big resurgence in popularity lately and with its potential to move into the living room thanks to the upcoming Steam box machines, giving them used game capacity could take it through the roof.

Not only then would Valve be making money from its new releases, but it could start making money from everything it's already sold.

You might think that Valve would look like a ass for charging people to sell their games “second hand,” but in reality it could say it's to offset the extra downloads used or the account migration that would need to take place. Perhaps Valve will need to incorporate new server and security features in order to make it possible. These can be paid for and publicity wise, easily offset.

Of course none of these games are “used” at all, so there's no real reason that their price should be reduced, other than the fact that they aren't brand new anymore. It would simply be a transferring of ownership of the game. Sort of like Valve already has when you can gift games you've bought that you already own.

The only real reason I can guess at why Valve isn't already doing this, is because publishers would kick off. They don't like used games, wherever they are. But this is where Valve needs to continue to show it has balls. Stand up to them and continue being the badass company we all believe it to be.

What do you guys think?

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