/ Shopping, Technology

Are pre-owned game sales only good for retailers?

Store front of Game

Both Asda and Tesco are moving into the lucrative pre-owned video games market, letting us exchange our second-hand games to go toward the cost of new ones. It looks like good news for us, but for how long?

Have you ever traded in a second-hand DVD or CD in a high street store? No? How about a video game? I’m sure there are quite a few nods coming back. Pre-owned game sales are a million pound business and many of us rely on them to get a decent deal.

Sure, when it comes to online sites like eBay, sales of second-hand DVDs and the like are a thriving business, but it’s not something that’s been copied by the high street. That’s unless you pop into a charity shop for a second-hand book.

Supermarkets want a piece of the pie

But video games are different. Perhaps because of their high retail price, or maybe because we get bored of them easily. Whatever the case, it’s an attractive business since all used game profits go to the stores that sell them. Almost a quarter of retailer Game’s revenue is from pre-owned game sales and it’s apparently going from strength-to-strength.

And now two of the biggest supermarkets are entering the fray. Asda has announced that it’ll begin selling pre-owned games in 235 of its 377 stores this week. Its new service (Buy, Play, Trade) will let consumers trade unwanted games to either help fund new ones, or get money off other products in store. Tesco’s also lining up to trade used games in 60 of its stores.

This will certainly give us a greater choice over what we do with the games we don’t want to play any more. But what about the developers that make them? At the moment they don’t get any money from pre-owned game sales and it looks like this may be impacting the industry itself. Many game studios have folded under their failure to sell in large enough volumes.

The games industry is fighting back

Game publishers are fighting back by introducing initiatives that are meant to stop us from buying used games. Electronic Arts has added an ‘online pass’ to games like Tiger Woods and Fifa – these require a code to access their online features. A free code comes with the game, but once it’s used, it’s gone for good. Buying a used copy means buying a new code.

Whether this extra money actually gets to the developers, or simply lines the pockets of the publisher, is unknown. But what we do know is that, according to Game, these initiatives have yet to impact second-hand sales. Whatever the case, don’t you think the people who make the games should also get something in return? Otherwise the industry might collapse under the pressure of pre-owned sales.

Being able to trade our games in supermarkets is certainly an interesting development. I’m all for it, but it’s not clear that we’ll actually get a good deal for what we trade in, or whether we’ll get a good price for the used games we buy.

Something tells me that the supermarkets will try their hardest to maximise profits and you’ll be better off looking online.


The high value of games compared to dvds/books is why there is a second hand market – and many people use the high resale/trade in value of games to fund a more diverse series of purchases. In effect the games only cost about 30% of their value once traded in for credit in another game. This allows a higher number of purchases and therefore could be seen to support the industry. Of course the publishers may take a different view to this but the basic maths is compelling.

Now lets talk about the publishers implementing measures to take so extra cash from second hand purchases – do we see this with books? or DVDs – No – it is interesting to see an industry where the publishers want to extract even more cash out of their customers – especially when the sales may well be supported in the first place by the possibility of realising value from the sale of the media once finished with.

Now of course the retailers have pushed my argument but they are far from guilty and should have not made such large margins on second hand goods.

However, possibly of greater damage to the industry is the selling below cost of titles by the supermarkets. selling Fifa 11 for 25 quid when an independent seller is only able to buy for 36 is blatant market manipulation and will lead to less competition in the long term. Of course from the consumer’s perspective you will buy from the cheapest location (and trade in where you can get the best rates) However in the long term supermarkets have not maintained good pricing on DVDs since they have killed off pretty much all the high street specialist retailers other than HMV – who are quite sickly.

As an aside – I am not in game retailing or the industry as a whole just an interested participant (and mainly a PC gamer – which is basically digital delivery these days)


Now of course the retailers have pushed my argument but they are far from guilty and should have not made such large margins on second hand goods.

should of course have been

Now of course the retailers have pushed my argument but they are far from innocent and should have not made such large margins on second hand goods.

/reminds self to read before psoting

By the time I finish with a game, the next O/S is out and the old game won’t run on the new platform
same same with Playstation2 and WII

I suppose the itchy never sit still hyperactive teenagers might find this interesting with their short attention span – but its not an issue in my family.

I’m not a games fan – Except Flight Simulator – If I had seen this game at my local games shop or super market at substantially below Ebay new prices – I’d have bought it.

Jeremy says:
14 October 2010

I guess in a short-term sort of way it benefits consumers too, since it allows them to flex a little more spending power.

I don’t really see any appreciable way in which it helps the creators of games, and I think they’re well within their rights to devise ways to minimize the amount of revenue that goes to other people on the secondhand market. Digital distribution, EA’s Project $10, single-use codes for online play, etc… Consumers should brace for the tide of “creative” ways in which publishers attempt to affect after-market sales, because they definitely feel threatened.

the second hand motor trade doesn’t give a cut of the profits to ford, saab, citroen etc so what’s the difference ?
saying that though, i wouldn’t mind a small percentage going to the original game makers but quite often its possible to buy brand new games on-line cheaper than 2nd hand on the high street.

Sean Brady says:
20 October 2010

I can’t remember the last time I bought a game new. I have the patience to wait until a game becomes available second hand in the shop, or request it as a Xmas/Birthday present. HMV fairly recently took to selling games this way but I prefere Game, Gamestation and cex. The latter usually has the better and wider selection, along with DVDs (retro to me now!), Blu Ray (the way forward and my choice now), plus other electronics such as phones and PC equipment.

In response to your initial question: no, I’ve never traded in a game. My OCD kicks in and doesn’t like parting with games you’ve spent many hours slaving away on, finally completing it.

In addition: as a collector of records, CDs and everything related for many years, I buy most of my things in this department second hand also. I’ve spent many a time in Record And Tape Exchange (now Music and Video Exchange) thumbing through the vinyl in search of something rare.