About a year ago, I told you about a court ruling that (maybe) makes selling software you no longer use illegal. It’s going to take years for that issue to resolve, and when it does you can bet that some attorneys will find a way to claim that certain kinds of “software” aren’t software at all—while others will take the opposite tack.

Let’s assume, just for argument’s sake, that video games are software.

Despite video games having become so big a business that by some measures they’ve surpassed movies, I don’t write about them very often. I enjoyed telling you about business change by the makers of Angry Birds, was horrified when StarCraft became a college-level home economics course, and pointed out that Disney Studios didn’t understand what the business change issues were in Epic Mickey, but mostly, video games have been a back-burner issue here at Answer Guy Central.

Since its release last week, my sons have been spending way too many hours playing Batman: Arkham City. The reviews of Arkham City have been universally great, and from what I’ve seen kids who play video games for hours on end have plenty to keep them really engaged in this week’s BEST GAME EVER!!!. For me, though, the fascinating item is the business change.

As this piece at Wired/GameLife points out, Batman: Arkham City has addressed the problem of video games being re-sold or rented in a way that could make real business change in video games. Unless you bought the game new, there are parts of Batman: Arkham City that you can’t use.

Let’s be explicit. The issue for video game companies is that even if they can defeat piracy (and unlike movie and music publishers, they pretty much have), they have a problem when games get re-sold or rented. Video game companies want their $60 per title from each kid that plays, and while it may be legal to sell your used games or rent out the discs on which games are distributed, those two circumstances cost video game distributors lots of money.

In Batman: Arkham City, your ability to play as Catwoman instead of Batman (and I presume make certain story arcs unfold) goes away unless you have the one-time-use code that only first-time users of each serialized game disc receive.

That’s business change. Sure, you can rent a copy of the game or buy a used copy, but if you do, the whole game won’t be there.

How come movie studios haven’t been able to come up with a similar mechanism to discourage piracy? Why have music publishers, despite having invented clever tricks like “three sided albums” several decades back not figured out a solution to their problems? Batman: Arkham City is brilliant business change.

Need help plotting your company’s next business-changing strategy? Contact me here.

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