Digital Resell, 2019 edition
In doing some research on my last article about digital reselling, I found this article talking about Robot Cache, a new storefront coming out in roundabout competition with Steam and Epic. The primary selling point of this store is… reselling. Specifically, you can resell digital games you purchase and get 25% of the cost back.
The gist of Robot Cache is that it’s a new store that uses a blockchain certificate as a form of DRM. That certificate allows the store to track individual copies of a game so they can be resold. The price is the same as a new copy—you’re really just selling a license to a digital good, so it’s never really “used”—and you get a 25 percent cut put on your credit card, while the publisher gets 70 percent and the store takes 5 percent.
“Used” copies up for sale are put into a queue alongside brand new ones and the sales alternate between new and used copies, so on some sales publishers will get 95%, and on others 70%, as long as there are players selling their games back. Crucially, Jacobson says, you can’t sell a game back in the first 90 days after release, when publishers make the most money.
The “used game sold at retail price” thing kind of threw me for a loop at first, but… no, actually, I’m still looped. I understand the concept that used goods are generally cheaper to account for diminished value, which is not entirely relevant with a digital game. I can also appreciate the obfuscation going on insofar as you never really buy explicitly “used” games on this new store, as the keys will be mixed together with new ones.
But it’s difficult to grok how all this works in practice. Is the resell basically guaranteed then? Or will it sit in a queue until enough licenses have been sold/resold? Are there mechanisms in place for banning users instead of revoking licenses? What happens when you go to resell and there’s a sale on the base game? Hell, that 90-day stipulation all but guarantees that the base game will be at a lower MSRP by the time you’d be eligible to sell your own copy.
What I do enjoy though, is the candor:
While Jacobson said Robot Cache’s goal isn’t to compete with Epic or Steam, it’s notably not a reseller like Humble or GreenmanGaming, selling Steam keys at reduced prices. To some extent it has to compete, because its games will be sold elsewhere, too, sometimes with superior features like the Steam Workshop’s mod support. But it does seem like out of the gate, Robot Cache will actually be more fully featured than Epic’s store with an SDK meant to replicate most of Steamworks’ major features, from multiplayer to chat to cloud saves.
I do not expect Robot Cache to succeed as a storefront. But I am hopeful that it will be enough of an agitator to possibly move the needle on digital resells in some small way.
Posted on June 14, 2019, in Miscellany and tagged Consumer Surplus, Resell, Robot Cache, Storefront, Used Games. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.
Only way this possibly works is if the prices are lower, which it doesn’t sound like they are. That combined with the fact that they aren’t selling Steam keys, so any game you buy there is disconnected from the primary PC gaming hub, and yea, I don’t see it.
Plus many games today are linked to accounts, with pre-order bonuses and such. How are they handling that? What about consumables or anything multiplayer?
They are likely removing the base game license and reselling just that, so you’ll have pre-order bonuses sitting on your account without a game to apply them to; nobody today expects pre-order bonuses from used games. But otherwise, yeah, it’s a pickle. Don’t most game bans do so on the license key level? Perhaps there will be fine print that says “getting key banned will prevent you from reselling this game.”
Aside from that though, there are two things to like here. First, that game reselling is a thing at all. And secondly? Technically any game you buy on that storefront will be 25% off (or so) permanently. Assuming you don’t actually have to wait for a buyer to resell your key, that is. Buy a $60 game, finish it, and sell it for $15, making the total outlay $45 instead. Even if the MSRP drops to $40 by the time you can resell it (after 90 days), you’ll still have gotten $10 back, meaning you received ~16% discount. Or, you know, wait until the MSRP hit $40 to begin with, and get it for effectively $30.
Overall, I am much, much happier with this sort of real competition rather than Epic’s exclusive shenanigans. And it seems as though they are actually implementing all the standard sort of features, like cloud saves and the like.
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Selling the used license as new and giving the publisher a cut is an attempt to get a win-win out of this. Previously used games were actively bad for the publisher as they could conflict with new sales.
The question I have is what are you getting 25% of? I buy Doom or whatever at $60 new and sell it 3 years later when it retails for $30. Do I get $15 or $7.50?