The major third-party publishers have yet to decide their strategy on pre-owned games – but Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot has a hunch little will change.
Last week Microsoft put an end to weeks of speculation about Xbox One being ‘against’ second-hand games, by confirming a new structure for game ownership on the device, which means it is up to publishers if ‘second user fees’ are applied to second-hand game sales.
But Guillemot says that Microsoft Game Studios’ decision to not apply this on first-party games is a sign of what will really happen.
Which is to say: the pre-owned market won’t change much.
"Mirosoft has said they won’t take money from stores – and there is a good chance we will have the same situation as before," he told MCV and other European press in an E3 briefing yesterday.
He admitted that, like other third parties, Ubisoft has yet to firmly decide its strategy. Many publishers didn’t find out what Microsoft’s plan official was until last week, and they are waiting to see what other format-holders do also.
Guillemot said: "We don’t know for sure yet – we don’t know what Sony will do or if Nintendo will change to a new model also or continue on. After that we will exactly decide our position."
But he reiterated that Microsoft has likely set a precedent by explicitly saying its console and its first-party games would not move against second hand games.
"The step Microsoft took in not taking any money from stores is showing that we are in a situation close to what we have now."
For the trade, much of the debate around Microsoft’s new licensing model for game ownership and its ‘always on’ games console has focused on pre-owned titles.
But Guillemot stressed that these new ways of selling games are part of industry evolution – not a desire to curtail existing business models.
He said: "Consoles have to adapt to where the business is going in the long-term, and adapt to how we are connected to our consumers.
"It takes time and we need products to prove that works."
So new Ubisoft games announced today, including The Crew and a new Tom Clancy title, are ways to offer that and prove the new model for persistent online content works. Always online, he said, is a way to "allow you to download a game and play it immediately" not stopping preowned.
Guillemot pointed out that consumers already accept digital licensing ownership on other platforms.
"It worked on Steam, and it worked on other machines. Steam products are totally online and there were no questions raised.
"But now the games come in boxes and digitally too – so for the next few years we will have a different experience."
"So Steam exists and Apple exists – you download games from them."
And there was no outcry when apps were tied to iTunes accounts, after all.
The difference now, he said, is that new digital ownership is being mixed with physical reselling – a model Guillemot says still matters to the games industry.
"Now people can still buy a game and resell it. Pre-owned is good for the industry. It allows people to buy a game at one point of the year and sell it on later – it puts more money into the industry so we can take risks. So whatever happens we will have to make sure we find a system that will allow gamers to play a lot of different games."
The industry can get around the challenges that come with explaining the purported benefits of the new ownership model provided the games that make use of them are decent.
"We have no challenge if the experience are good," he said. "But if the games are no good then we are in trouble. Gamers will end up going for some games that are connected and some games that are not and that they can play how they want or if they have a connection or not."
One route to widening gamers’ chance to buy and try games is aadding more flexible pricing on console like with Steam flash sales.
"There will be more games accessible for free on consoles and with more kinds of monetisation," Guillemot explained.
"We’ll also have a mechanism where you can keep playing during a demo – right now on console we launch a demo and then you have to buy a new game again when you play properly.
"Flexible pricing will come with time on console too – eventually. Obviously at the moment we will have two systems, a digital one and selling in-store, so we’ve still got to make sure we can sell through retail.
"But when a machine is totally online you can play with pricing – for instance we have cut game prices by 75 per cent during E3 for some of our games. More opportunities to add price promotions to games sold digitally via consoles is good – it helps us to try more things."