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Beta Impressions: Green Man Gaming

23. January 2010

A press release announcing the as-of-yet unlaunched Green Man Gaming service hit the internet earlier this week. The site, whose name reminds me strangely of Good Old Games, proposes allowing customers to resell or trade-in their digitally distributed software, not unlike a certain brick-and-mortar store. Unlike that store, however, GMG promises to pay “significant royalties” to the publishers responsible for the traded entertainment.

I have mixed feelings about the service. On the one hand, they promise to bring a new aspect to digital distribution, a chaotic beast that has been much-appreciated, much-maligned, and finally tamed into the creature we currently have. Many people like physical discs, not just because of the collector’s aspect of special editions, but also because of how fluid they are; goods are easier to transfer than a service. Having more options for the digital distribution model can only help its propagation in the long run.

However, there are also some misgivings I have about this. Despite the continued existence of GameStop, reselling games to earn profit is not good for the industry. While the store itself earns money for each used game sold, the publisher is only seeing numbers from the total number of unique discs sold; basically, they only get revenue the first time a new game sells. This doesn’t only affect the “Big Brother” publishers, but also the individuals who crafted the game: the programmers and design artists take a hit as well. It isn’t just about money either; if a particular game only sells half as well as expected (despite any hype and admiration the game gets online and in-store), do you think the publisher is going to be excited about approaching that particular studio to do another game in the near future? Clover, the studio responsible for Viewtiful Joe, Okami, and Killer7, fell victim to this (albeit not necessarily to reselling). Therefore, you must understand why I’m wary of what is essentially a digital GameStop clone.

Now, yes, you’ll point out I’m forgetting that which I quoted above: GMG does plan to pay royalties to the publisher for games resold “in perpetuity.” This is the part of the service I’m giving a big shrug to: the reality of it all. Apart from the financial aspect of the service, having to manage what publisher gets what percentage of whatever they charge to buy “used” digital games, think about the mess of trading the licenses. After all, we’re not trading the bytes themselves, but the license you buy from the source to begin with. This is where the model changes from buying a fluid good (something that can be traded hands with cash that also is easily traded hands), to a service with a paper trail. Look at Blizzard and gold sellers, at Microsoft and strict licenses of games tied to gamertags, and at people hacking and selling Steam accounts (well, WoW accounts and Live accounts too). These companies would rather meet challenges with a ban rather than sympathy, and now you expect them to play nice when you’re micromanaging their services with microtransactions?

I don’t mean to be ultra-conservative and say “IT CANNOT BE DONE,” but it certainly is a lot of new technology and policies currently unknown to the business model. I had the same feelings toward Steam at launch: it was more work then as a digital rights management software than it was worth. However, Steam has since evolved to prove itself as a viable frontend for selling PC games and fostering the community around them. The staff at Green Man Games has a lot of work cut out for them if they are to succeed, but if they do, I believe it can only help to prove digital distribution as a practical complement to physical discs.
[Press Release via BigDownload]

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