Gaming & Technology

Increased restrictions on used games make them less of a bargain

Gaming can be an expensive hobby. New consoles cost $200 to $600. New games are $60 a pop. The cost of buying extra controllers, peripherals and online subscriptions can be mighty prohibitive, too.

Never mind the cost of a high- definition TV and a decent sound system. Sure, you can play games without those things, just not in all their glory.

Yes, serious gaming burns money like nobody's business. But there is a way to mitigate some of that cost: buying and selling used games.

Finished with Halo but can't afford Halo 2? Trade in Halo at GameStop or sell it on eBay, and you can easily make a few bucks to put toward the sequel. You might not get much money for the used game, but a few bucks saved is a few bucks earned.

This centralized economy has worked in gamers' favor for years, but, if rumors are to be believed, it might not work much longer. Speculation is swirling that the follow-ups to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 will restrict the ability to play used games.

It's important to note that neither Microsoft nor Sony has announced their next-generation consoles, which might be hitting the market next year. However, that hasn't stopped video game Web sites from publishing rumored processing specs, features and release dates of the consoles from tips allegedly told to them by unnamed, insider sources.

I typically don't pay attention to speculation, but whispers about used-game restriction seem likely to be true. We're already seeing it in its infancy with "online passes."

An online pass is a code printed on a card included with many new games. The game prompts you to input the code the first time you try to access online features, such as multiplayer or leaderboards. If someone else has registered the code, the game's online features will not work unless you pay $10 to download another online pass.

My first experience with online passes occurred when I bought a used copy of Resistance 3 for $55 at GameStop. Sure, a new copy would have cost just $5 more, but five bucks is five bucks.

I took the game home, put the disc in my PlayStation 3 and tried to access the game's multiplayer. Sadly, the person who owned the game before me had used the code, meaning I had to pay an extra $10 if I wanted to play online. Let me do the math for you: $60 for a new game, or $65 for the used game, which I bought to save money, plus the online pass.

Of course, I didn't buy the pass, and GameStop graciously gave me a full refund for my trouble.

Do note, though, that a $5 discount is the low end of the spectrum. The discount for buying used can increase to $20 or $30 as demand for a title dies down.

And don't let publishers' language fool you. While online passes might grant you access to "the full suite of online features" included with a game, they came into existence only a couple years ago as publishers began thinking of new ways to nickle-and-dime consumers who played games online.

Online passes don't let you do anything you couldn't do for free in 2010.

Used games have long been a thorn in the sides of publishers and developers, which didn't see a dime from the their sale. However, publishers seem to be under the mistaken belief that if gamers can't buy used games at a discount, they'll pay full price for new games.

This belief is flawed at best, especially for students, frugal parents or low-wage workers who depend on selling used games to afford new releases.

While not all publishers use online passes now, it could become easier for them. If rumors are to be believed, software that would restrict used games would be built in by Sony and Microsoft in their next consoles.

It's unclear how the restrictions would work, but video game news sites have reported that even single-player content — content that historically wouldn't require the player to be connected to the Internet — could be restricted. That probably would require gamers to register all games online, bad news for people who don't have a high-speed Internet connection. Other sources have suggested games will ship on a new type of media, which would be erased after the game is installed on the console's hard drive.

Exaggeration runs rampant in the lead-up to new consoles, but used-game restriction is quickly becoming a fact of life. Frugal gamers take note: Our hobby is about to get even more expensive.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader