In simpler times, video games and all that they had to offer were fully contained within a gray plastic cartridge. As a result, buying a used game required very little due diligence beyond a quick glance at the visible circuitry and making sure the game wasn't terrible.
The used gaming market of today is much more fraught, as John Farley learned the hard way. A couple of years ago, he bought a copy of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit for Xbox at a New Jersey GameStop only to discover that he had not been provided with the single-use serial code, which comes standard with new games, that unlocks the game's bonus features and online content. He wound up paying another $10 or $15 to get the special code, bringing his total outlay to a couple of bucks more than he would have spent on a new game.
Frustrating, no doubt, but material for a lawsuit? Farley thought so. In 2010, he sued Grapevine-based GameStop for deceptive trade practices and was soon joined by two fellow New Jerseyans, Jamar McGhee and Hakana Ozdincer, each of whom wound up paying a whopping $.05 more on a used game plus downloadable content than they would have on a new version.
But Farley & Co. aren't merely seeking a refund and apology. They've applied for class status, meaning they seek damages on behalf of every gamer in New Jersey who's been similarly disappointed with their purchase. In court documents, the company itself estimates that their potential liability tops $5 million.
GameStop asked a federal judge to toss the suit but, in an opinion released late last week, he refused. U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler writes that Farley and the others had reason to believe based on the company's claims that the used games they were getting were complete. Thus, their claims of unjust enrichment and deceptive advertising are plausible enough to allow the suit to continue.
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Of course, the company faces more existential problems as console makers rely increasingly on downloadable content. Microsoft recently backed off on plans that would have effectively prevented games from being resold, but the urge to do so won't go away, suggesting that one day there will be no used games for GameStop to sell.