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Yesterday, it was revealed through a GameSpot story that Wal-Mart will be getting into the used games business. I know what you're thinking: "Why now; used games are a thing of the past; who buys discs at all let alone refurbished ones; are there still people who aren’t getting every game for like a dollar on Steam," I know. But there’s something funny about Wal-Mart’s entry into the market, and it’s not just the fact that it's entering now--it’s the retail juggernaut’s attitude about it.
Of course, Wal-Mart wouldn’t choose to make a foray into the second-hand games market without believing it has something that sets it apart. The main differentiator--as Wal-Mart merchandising chief Duncan Mac Naughton explained--is the value of Wal-Mart store credit. Competitors like GameStop will offer store credit for game trade-ins, with the option of cash at a reduced rate. Wal-Mart, on the other hand, only offers store credit. But, see, Wal-Mart store credit is worth far more than GameStop store credit, because Wal-Mart sells everything. Food, clothes, appliances, you name it. Video games, even. GameStop just sells games. So, basically, trading in your games at Wal-Mart gets you cash, but not at GameStop’s reduced cash rate.
Did you know that, until 2008, Wal-Mart paid employees in its Mexico locations in Wal-Mart store credit?
Just to reiterate: Until 2008, Wal-Mart paid employees in its Mexico locations with Wal-Mart store credit exclusively.
The Mexican Supreme Court had to stop that practice. In 2008.
But I digress. My point: Wal-Mart is entirely delusional about this business. Thinking it can roll in and “shake up” the game, as Naughton claims, exemplifies just how deluded (and cynical) it is about the second-hand market, and its relative advantages in the market. Not only is the used games business clearly on the way out for those established, well-tread reasons; for Wal-Mart specifically, this clearly cannot be a long-lasting endeavor.
To counter that idea, GameSpot also points out that used game retailers are doing well enough, so the writing may not be on the wall for used games just yet. Wal-Mart also plans to pay out more money per game than competitors, with Naughton citing a specific figure of around $35 per title. That number doesn’t sound entirely unreasonable for customers, and it certainly adds value to the practice when compared to GameStop and the like. But, given the rapid depreciation of game values, it’s likely unrealistic to expect those kinds of returns on games that are more than a few weeks old.
Who knows; maybe Wal-Mart will provide a good value for game trade-ins, as GameStop and other retailers have failed to do. I’m not optimistic about that, but If I’m being honest, I think this story really only gets to me because the idea of trading games for food feels vaguely sad. And you know, Wal-Mart doesn't seem like the greatest company to get behind. In any case, it’s not something that you or I will have to think about for very long, because you, me, and the rest of the forward-thinking world will continue to happily download all of our games from here on out.