Is Bethesda's Copyright Crack Down a Good Thing?

Some interesting news came about in August 2018, when someone who was trying to sell a copy of The Evil Within 2 on Amazon got a big of a nastygram from Bethesda’s legal representation. This person, and several others, were trying to sell, as individuals, copies of Bethesda games listed as “new.” In the specific case that made the news, this person had purchased the game personally, but never removed it from the shrink wrap before opting to get rid of it. Bethesda asked them to take the listing down or face legal action. The story blew up, with the narrative that Bethesda was attacking used games, secondhand sales, and consumers. But is that really true? It Pete Hines a criminal mastermind? Well, no, not really.

This news popped like, right at the tail end of QuakeCon 2018, when Bethesda’s top brass were busy as hell with things like revealing DOOM Eternal to the world. Pete Hines, SVP of global marketing and communications at Bethesda, was on Twitter talking to random people and issuing clarifications in the middle of the day. Essentially, by Bethesda’s logic, sellers who aren’t officially affiliated with the company need to be careful about the language they use when selling, otherwise the sale could become a liability.


The issue wasn’t ever about someone selling a game second hand. It was about the language used by the sellers in their specific listings. Sure, if you bought a game and never opened it, it may be a natural inclination to turn is around as “new.” After all, that’s what the shrink wrap means, right? Well, in business and legal terms, “new” doesn’t just mean shrink wrap. It means what’s inside that wrap. It means integrity, and customer satisfaction. It also means customer service. One of the first rules of buying goods online is to be careful and pay attention to what you’re buying. But of course, not everyone follows that rule.

There’s no way to know, from Bethesda’s perspective or the prospective customer buying a secondhand game, if a game listed as “new” truly is new or not. For all anyone knows, the shrink wrap could very well be a “re-wrap,” which is totally a thing. There’s no way to verify, if the game comes fom an unauthorized seller, if the game contains a pristine disc, and all the contents, especially something like DLC codes. Yet, since the sale was listed as “new,” Bethesda could technically be held accountable for it. Or someone could at least make the attempt to hold the company accountable if something was wrong.

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If the sellers listed their games as “used,” or “pre-owned,” there wouldn’t have been an issue. Of course, the problem therein lies in depreciation. If a game has been used, there’s no longer an expectation for the game to be in good shape, or have all the extras as applicable. Therefore, the listing must go down in price. If you haven’t even opened the game since buying it from a store, you may feel entitled to a bit more. Unfortunately, that’s not really Bethesda’s problem. Dealing with someone’s uninformed parent who is convinced they bought a game “new” when it really wasn’t, definitely is Bethesda’s problem.

I’m no corporate apologist, but at the same time, words matter. Language is important, and word choice is meaningful, especially when it comes to the world of legality and business. Part of the onus is on people posting these listings to protect themselves from situations like this. Perhaps some sort of further examination is in order, to alter language use in the secondhand market, in order to foster more diversity in value based on integrity of a secondhand product. Or, if a game has been purchased for such a period of time that is no longer beholden to things like warranties, perhaps sellers shouldn’t be trying to suck more money from people than their item is worth on the market. There’s a lot of questions this situation raises, but I don’t believe any of them lead to Bethesda being a jerk in this case.

Lucas White
Lucas White

Writing Team Lead
Date: 08/17/2018

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