Buying New Games No Sure Way To Support Developers, Either

Over the past 10 days, we've discussed the question of used games and how revenue is divided. One of the few points that both GameStop and game developers agree on is that buying a used game doesn't directly benefit the publisher or developer in any way, though there's reason to think that a strong secondary market boosts gaming sales in general. Given how often people quote wanting to help developers as a reason to buy a title new, you might think the lesson is clear.

Evidence suggests it isn't. Blogger and game developer Simon Roth recently published a list of nearly 150 games published by now-defunct studios. Roth says this list is merely representative of the hundreds of additional titles created by development houses that no longer exist. Game publishers tend to prefer a work-for-hire model rather than a royalty system, while royalties owed to a development studio may go unpaid if the studio was closed or folded. The issue is put in stark terms if you cross-reference Kotaku's list of game publishers that've closed in the past 6 years. 98 studios, or an average of more than 16 per year, have shut down.

Zork I had better graphics than this.

No one will shed tears for any unpaid royalties owed to the creators of Extreme Paintbrawl -- easily one of the worst games of all time, but LA Noire and Blur were critical hits. Ion Storm's Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War might be ancient, but Steam sold both games at discounted prices as part of the buzz around Deus Ex: Human Revolution earlier this year. None of the money generated from those sales went to the folks that worked on the games in question. In contrast, if you go buy a boxed set of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien's estate gets a royalty. Ditto if you pick up a Beatles CD.

At the first annual Extreme Paintbrawl championships, 72 gamers gnawed off their mouse hands rather than complete a marathon session. None had girlfriends. All were right-handed.

The current compensation system made sense back when a game had a clear 2-3 year shelf life and titles created for a console only lasted for the life of that system. Digital distribution changes this; Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft are all investing in bringing older titles back to new consoles. On the PC side of the equation, services like Steam and GoG (Good Ol' Games) have substantial back catalogs of titles.

It's easy to say we want to support studios, but studios are made up of individuals -- and the individuals working in comparative creative fields are often compensated for their work on a royalty basis. We're not suggesting that the industry leap wholesale from one model to the other, but royalties would help gamers fund the projects they care about the most while simultaneously ensuring that the creators of a great title are fairly paid whenever the game is sold. To return to our first example, Deus Ex was a great game in 2000, and it's still a great game today. The people who worked on it deserve a portion of the dollars spent, regardless of when the expenditure occurs.