The used video game market represents a huge portion of retail game sales. It's the only avenue in which most people can afford to buy AAA games. But game publishers aren't exactly big fans of used game sales, since they only benefit from gamers buying new ones. GameStop and Best Buy are huge corporate interests, so EA and the rest of the big publishers out there have not been able to push them around on the issue of used game sales... so far.
Last weekend, a mother of two from the aptly named city of Cumming, Georgia may have become the greatest champion of the publishers' cause yet. She didn't deliver a firebrand speech or bring any kind of lawsuit... at least not yet. But what she did do was purchase the wrong used game. Specifically, a preowned copy of Mario & Sonic at the Winter Olympics for the Nintendo Wii, which happened to have some *ahem* inappropriate cartoons doodled inside from the previous owner.
Judging by the quality of the drawings shown in the WSB-TV news clip, this was likely the work of some local trollish teenagers. Surprisingly, the mother has not expressed any interest in suing GameStop, but she did say that from now on she will only buy new games to avoid confronting a similar situation in the future.
Not the reaction you expected? Me neither.
There are many, many lawsuits filed over much sillier things. She could argue that GameStop should have looked at the inside of the case and found the drawings or that they were peddling pornography, which could possibly get a jury on her side. Instead, she's using her moment in the spotlight to talk about purchasing new games only.
Which is why this story, if it's true as reported, is great news for AAA game publishers. If parents are scared that their young children will find pictures of penises and other human anatomy inside their used games, more of them will buy new, paying higher prices and funneling more money into the hands of publishers.
But it's unclear yet as to whether this story has legs or is even real. Either way, it's a useful lens for looking at the problem that used games pose for game retailers and publishers. Both are being forced to fight harder than ever to stay alive in the face of recession, an uprising of indie games, and digital distribution, all of which can cut into their profits. The battle over precious new game dollars will probably only get more intense as those conditions intensify.