Sunday, August 29, 2010

Defective Products

There has been quite a bit of talk lately about consumerism and videogames, mostly centered around the economics and ethics of the used game market. The discussion has prompted a ripple effect, with many tangential columns, posts, and twitter conversations cropping up regarding other aspects of the conversation. Among the more high-profile and interesting of these was Leigh Alexander's Kotaku column "Are Games Just Soap?" The piece quickly transitioned from its odd title to a look at the consumerist attitude that many gamers appear perfectly happy to adopt when talking about their passion.

Just this morning, Leigh posted a tip detailing a method for circumventing return-policys in order to return a DVD or game for a refund. The tip was actually written by author Phil Villarreal from his book Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel.

The challenge with returning any sort of digital media (DVD, CD, Videogame) is that most stores make it policy that they won't take returns on opened items. Villarreal's work-around involves returning the game/movie as "defective," obtaining an unopened replacement copy, then returning that unopened copy for a refund.

It's shady, it's slick, and yep, I bet it'd work. And in a sense, it's not even dishonest, since as Villarreal points out:
Now that I’ve backed into the juicy stuff for a couple hundred words, here are the goods: Tell the man behind your desk that your disc is “defective” and “doesn’t work,” which is the whole truth in the metaphorical sense in the case of, say, Kung Pow! because it’s a defectively conceived film and the humor just doesn’t work. Any reputable business will swap out your opened DVD for a fresh, unopened number directly off the rack.
That raises an interesting question for me. (Insert obligatory disclaimer about how I'm sure this has been discussed before.) What exactly does make for a "defective" game? Obviously, if the disc is scratched or won't play, the game is defective. But what if the game engine is buggy? What if it crashes constantly or erases save-games? What if the framerate dips and loading breaks are so distracting that the game experience is inferior to another console version or the camera is so wonky that it induces motion-sickness? What if overzealous censorship has reduced the game to a pathetic shadow of its former self?

Couldn't PS3 owners of Bayonetta or recent purchasers of Naughty Bear return their games as defective? What about Australian Left 4 Dead 2 buyers? By just about any measure, the products those folks bought didn't really work properly.

I think that everyone can agree that game discs must work. But in a significantly different way than with a CD or a DVD, games themselves must also work. Which raises the question: are poorly-designed, buggy, or "broken" games defective products worthy of a refund?

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