Used games. Any gamer worth their salt has traded in, purchased or sold at least one game. Chances are you got fleeced on the trade-in or sale and probably on the price you paid for a new game too. It’s a huge industry, how huge, though?

Estimates are that the overall used game market in the U.S. is about $2 billion, at about $20.00 per game on average and about 100 million games traded in or resold each year. That works out roughly to about to 1/3 of all games sold annually.  So, with a third of games sold every year traded back, the games publisher doesn’t get a cent when a game is resold. As you can probably guess, this doesn’t sit well with some of the publishing houses.  Logically, they have started trying out new strategies to combat the used game sales, or at the very least, get in on the action. Pre-order bonuses, DLC and limited edition packaging all have their pros and cons, but there’s a special kind of dread that can only come from knowing that content for a used game you purchased requires an online code.

If you picked up any number of recent FPS titles used, you may have run into this net, – Battlefield 3 being one that springs to mind. The used game is fine in the campaign mode but when trying to access the online multiplayer (and let’s face it, who buys an FPS for anything else) you are prompted to buy an ‘online access code’ for around 800 Microsoft Points ($10).  Overall, it’s an effective strategy, hit the consumer where it matters and at about ten bucks, it’s not a huge knife in the back. I don’t particularly like the idea, but whatever.

“…when the game is bought used we get cheated,”

What I really don’t like, is the way THQ has decided to approach the market. In 2010 THQ creative director Cory Ledesma said in an interview that “…when the game’s bought used we get cheated,” and further declared that “[THQ] didn’t really care whether used game buyers are upset because new game buyers get everything. So if used game buyers are upset – I don’t really have much sympathy for them.”

Wow. Tell us how you really feel there, Cory. Way to slap your customer base across the face. Automobiles are the most recycled thing ever produced. Is a car maker ‘cheated’ by used car sales? Obviously no, they aren’t. There is still a market for parts, accessories and maintenance. I mean it’s not like the used game buyer doesn’t still want to shell out for the DLC and other goodies if you are clever enough to make something worth it.  So with that said, let’s look at another, more personal situation for me.

Last week I purchased a new copy of the ‘Platinum Edition’ of Homefront from my local Wal-Mart. I am a budget gamer and I will rarely if ever spend $50.00 or $60.00 bucks on a game.  So since this was supposedly written by the author of the original “Red Dawn,” (this seems to be a matter of debate with some online sources claiming he had little to do with anything but the overall concept) it seemed like a nominal sequel and worthy of $20.00.  Much to my dismay, I got the game home and found that it required a ‘battle code’ to fully unlock online multiplayer. I searched the case and the manual and to no avail. There was no code to be found and I was prompted to shell out the additional cash for the online code even though the game was new. Without the code you cannot advance your character past level 5. Now, more than a little bit irked, I contacted customer service via the THQ website and filled out a support ticket thinking it would be a pretty quick resolution. After another day or two, I contacted support via Twitter multiple times and so far, I have received no reply from support at all. It has now been over a week, and aside from the generated confirmation email you get when filling out the support form, I have still had no contact from THQ whatsoever.

So, since you can’t usually return opened media, I now will run what I like to call a Kansas City Shuffle. That means taking the game back to the vendor, claiming it didn’t load correctly and exchange it for another, unopened copy. I will then take that unopened copy to a different location and exchange it as a ‘gift’ for another game. Whether this action takes money from the pocket of Wal-Mart or THQ, I can’t be sure of. What I can be sure of is Wal-Mart can afford it and THQ deserves it and this has ended any relationship as a consumer I would have had with THQ. I will not be buying any more of their games or DLC. I will also be discouraging members of my household, friends and anyone else that asks me to shun them as well.

Do I think they are a pack of greedy, shady con-men that have little or no regard for their customers? If the development kit fits.

Shame on you THQ, this sort of behavior is unacceptable.

One Comment on “Held Hostage: THQ’s DRM Metagame”

  1. I would like to add that after submitting this article to THQ for their comments, I was contacted by a support team member (finally) and given the Battle Code. The story was that an entire batch went out without it by mistake and they were inundated with support requests. I consider that a satisfactory resolution.

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