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The used-game situation on the Xbox One is unclear, but it sounds bad (UPDATE: Microsoft says it’s all lies)

By John Teti • May 21, 2013

ANOTHER UPDATE AT 8:30, THE LAST ONE, BECAUSE I’M ALREADY SO VERY TIRED OF THIS NONSENSE: By way of its Xbox division mascot, Larry Hryb, Microsoft further clarified (by which I mean the exact opposite of that) its position. “While there have been many potential scenarios discussed, today we have only confirmed that we designed Xbox One to enable our customers to trade in and resell games at retail,” says this character from an Orwell novel. So there you have it: Xbox One players will be “enabled” to “trade in at retail” which means…? It definitely does not mean what it sounds like it means—that players will be able to sell their old games for full price and pocket the proceeds—and thus we are left to wonder. So, to sum up this whole deal, today Microsoft announced that you will be required to install games from disc onto your Xbox One’s hard drive, after which the disc will not be needed, and they were not prepared to acknowledge the obvious consequences of that. THE END FOR NOW.

UPDATE 5:30 p.m. Eastern: Microsoft has responded on Twitter to the Wired story cited below, claiming that it is inaccurate and that there will be no fees for used games. This seems like good news, but in fact everything makes even less sense than it did before. The fact that you must install games on your hard drive still necessitates some way of duplicating or transferring ownership if players are going to be able to sell their games. Microsoft says there won’t be a fee, okay. What will there be, then? Nobody’s saying. Which makes this less of a “news” story and more of a “Who knows?” story.

ORIGINAL STORY: The question of whether you’ll be able to play Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One has been asked and answered. (“No.”) The other burning question—at least among those philistines who did not immediately buy into Microsoft’s revolutionary vision of a revolution in entertainment revolutions—is whether we’ll be able to buy, sell, and play used Xbox One games. And here we’ve got a case of “reply hazy, try again later.” But what we do know sounds bad. Wired has the lowdown. From Chris Kohler’s story:

[E]ach [game] disc would have to be tied to a unique Xbox Live account, else you could take a single disc and pass it between everyone you know and copy the game over and over. Since this is clearly not going to happen, each disc must then only install for a single owner.

Microsoft did say that if a disc was used with a second account, that owner would be given the option to pay a fee and install the game from the disc, which would then mean that the new account would also own the game and could play it without the disc.

But what if a second person simply wanted to put the disc in and play the game without installing—and without paying extra? In other words, what happens to our traditional concept of a “used game”? This is a question for which Microsoft did not yet have an answer.

In other words, welcome to yet another complicated, confusing system of copy protection. You can almost picture the exasperated support-board posts now. The Xbox One would give rise to legions of players who pay the fee and find that their used disc still doesn’t work, and legitimate buyers whose console rejects their brand-new disc—and other permutations of Kafka-esque digital bureaucracy horror.

I support the existence of a used-game market because it lowers the barrier of entry to video games and thereby stimulates the cultural conversation around this art. But I also believe that if you’re going to put the kibosh on used games, just tear the band-aid off already and deal with what may come. This half-assed “Sure, your buddy can buy your game, but we get a fee, and it has to be authorized, and sign this waiver in triplicate, and we’ll need your long-form birth certificate” system would only exacerbate the pain of a creative industry in transition.

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78 Responses to “The used-game situation on the Xbox One is unclear, but it sounds bad (UPDATE: Microsoft says it’s all lies)”

  1. ChicaneryTheYounger says:

    I think I’ll go for Sorny’s Playstation 4 this time. By which I mean, 3 years from now.

  2. Xyvir says:

    Kafka-esque is the only and most accurate way to describe this terrible idea. USED GAMES MARKET FOREVER! POWER TO THE PEOPLE!

    • GM_Balmer says:

      And even if we don’t consider the used game market, this kills the idea of bringing a game over to a buddy’s house to play.  Which is just incredibly stupid.

  3. Andy Tuttle says:

    This news is like getting kicked in the gut.

  4. indy2003 says:

    If this is the direction things are headed, I have to admit that I’ll probably end up being less adventurous when it comes to my game purchases. In the past, there have been a number of occasions where I’ve taken a chance on a game I was unsure about, knowing that if I wound up hating it I could always put it on Ebay and get back a large portion of what I paid for it. With that option gone, I’m probably going to be doing more research before tossing down $20-$60 for something which looks promising at a glance.

    • The_Misanthrope says:

      I’m the opposite way when it comes to buying games (at least in the last few console generations); I rarely buy something at launch.  When I do, it’s usually after I’ve read many, many reviews.  Thus, I have never really resold any of my games.  I do enjoy looking for used games, though, for my money, pawn shops usually have better deals than Gamestop does.  I expect to see they are printing out unique “Not Preowned” stickers to deal with this mess.

    • Girard says:

      I suspect that, as with PC gaming where reselling and renting has never been a thing (though the dollar rental place in my hometown rented out CD-ROMs in the 90s…), and downloading is becoming more and more prevalent, console game buyers could end up adopting the same sort of “Steam sale” culture prevalent on PCs, not picking up a lot of things at release, and waiting for them to be deeply discounted down the line to make up for not being able to fully own or resell the product.

  5. Sorry to hijack comment, but:

    >And my personal favourite
    >And my personal favourite
    >And my personal favourite
    >And my personal favourite
    >And my personal favourite
    >And my personal favourite

    Why do Microsoft employees keep talking about “>And my personal favourite”? I’ve heard this line for the 12th time now. Should we care if a show is their personal favourite? Why do MS employees keep saying it?

    Everything seems so scripted. At least Reggie and Kaz does improv

    • John Teti says:

      I had not noticed that, but you’re right, that’s definitely weird. I guess it’s their ham-fisted way of personalizing the message. “We’re human beings, too!” The fact that they have to make such a concerted effort speaks to the pervasive, off-putting corporate-ness of the event.

      • Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle says:

        It also means that they all think Sussudio is “a great, great song.”

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      I experienced the same thing at Macaroni Grill last night.  It’s definitely a scripted sales tactic to “identify with our fellow humans”.

      “Oh yes, the baked feta is delicious.  My girlfriend and I get it whenever we come here.
      “Oh yes, I love the mushroom soup, even though, like your wife, I don’t usually like mushrooms.”
      “Penne Rustica?  That’s my absolute favorite, excellent choice!  Would you like some free wine with that, and maybe a back rub?  I’ll wash your car windshield while you eat!”

      • Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle says:

        Tell me more about this baked feta.

        • ChicaneryTheYounger says:

          Wouldn’t that, and I’m just spit-balling here, dry all the oil out of it?

        • Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle says:

          @ChicaneryTheYounger:disqus Not necessarily, if you lightly brushed it with some olive oil and added some herbs the feta itself should retain it’s moisturey goodness if you don’t bake it too long. Crisp on the outside, soft yet not gooey on the inside. I am intrigued.

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          Yeah, actually that’s pretty much what they do.  Marinate it in olive oil and herbs, and serve it with mini toast and olives.  It was pretty tasty!  Not super-salty like regular feta.

        • ChicaneryTheYounger says:

          I can’t say I’m a fan of feta, so I probably won’t do that.

        • Merve says:

          @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus: Yeah, that’s my problem with regular feta. With 30% less salt, feta would pretty much be the perfect cheese.

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          Then try Mexican cotija cheese…it’s very similar to less salty Feta, and I love it.

    • Citric says:

      The Xbox One is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful game console I’ve ever known in my life.

  6. Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

    I’m just copy-pasting my comment from the liveblog article here, because this is more relevant: 

    Yeah, I’m really not looking forward to this next generation of consoles. physical ownership of games was the only thing that consoles had over just gaming on a pc for me, and they just threw that out the window. I like Valve as a company (and i hate capitalism and all that jazz!) so I’m alright with using Steam. But Microsoft and Sony having total control over everything is a huge red flag to me. I’ll probably end up getting a WiiU for the exclusives and then stick to a PC for everything else. gg, videogames.

  7. Electric Dragon says:

    It’s going to be interesting to see if this meshes with EU law, which says that you can’t prevent or restrict resale of digital licences (requiring an additional fee could certainly be interpreted as a restriction).

    • Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle says:

      He he, Microsoft complying with laws. Run along, @google-6108c5611fbc5b86af5df565c4b4b048:disqus , you scamp.

      • Girard says:

        OR….just as Euro-Windows users didn’t have to have shitty Internet Explorer irrevocably force-installed on all of their machines, maybe Euro-XBONErs will also get a sweeter deal than us gullible American chumps. (You know, they don’t pay to receive cell phone calls over there, either, right? We’re such a bunch of suckers when it comes to technology…)

  8. sirslud says:

    Forget used games … what about just bringing a game you own over to your friends’ place or to work for lunch time gaming? The more ‘social’ these platforms get, the less social they seem to me.

    • mobvok says:

      I think the implication is it’s account tied, so after it’s installed on the second machine the idea would be you can log out/in of your Xbox Live account on your friends’ machine to play for free.

      I don’t own a 360, but I assume you can swap accounts on the same machine.

      • George_Liquor says:

        You can download your profile to another console. It’s a little more involved (and irritating) process than simply signing in to Live under a different user name.

        • GM_Balmer says:

          Oh good, as long as they’ve made it more complicated and irritating than it needs to be!

  9. zebbart says:

    Fucking glad I am not going to be a 10 year old getting my first console next year. Nothing was more fun in 1989 than taking my Ikari Warriors cartridge to school to trade for my friend’s Super Mario 2 for a couple weeks, and then another trade, and then another, so that between the lot of us we had a library of 5 times as many games as any of us could afford.

    • John Teti says:

      You are so right and you have just made me so wistful.

      • George_Liquor says:

        I’ll be willing to bet that used game stores end up with some method of de-registering the used Xbox Uno games they buy, possibly for an additional fee which gets passed on to the next person who buys the game. That would work out pretty great for MS, the games’ developers, the used game stores… pretty much everyone except the customer.

      • Eco1970 says:

        On the subject of trading games with friends in school, i have a shameful admission to make. When I was 12, I had a ZX Spectrum 48k and my best friend had a C64. We were lucky enough to be best friends and have dual access to both formats, so we avoided the stupid rivalry between owners of either that was common at the time. Instead, we both hated the kid across the road from me, whose parents were rich (comparitively) and who had both systems! He was also kind of a twat, to be honest. He didn’t know we hated him, because we pretended to be his friend in order to swap games with him.

        In those days, Spectrum and C64 games came on audio tapes, and you loaded them with a tape deck. You could pirate games by simply using a tape-to-tape and a fresh C90 audio cassete. You could copy mutliple games onto one.

        The kid across the road would get the new releases, abd copy them for us, and we’d make a copy of something old, and then delete the last second of it. Then we’d meet snd swap. His worked great, we had liads of fun, but ours – he’d start it loading and hear 5 minutes of screeching data only to see his screen go blank as the thing failed to load (of course).

        “Oh, really? That’s weird, it works on mine!” we’d say, all innocent. And then next week it would happen again.

        That was decades ago, of course. Last I heard, he’d moved to Germany.

        • zebbart says:

          I wonder what ever happened to little Adolph, and if that experience scarred him in any way.

    • NakedSnake says:

       SMB2 for Ikari Warriors? I’ll take that trade any day of the week!

  10. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    This news combined with having found a really fantastic leather upholstered office chair on the curb by our car this weekend clinches it.  I’m just going to have to maintain a decent gaming pc.

  11. The_Misanthrope says:

    Dear Microsoft,

    I get that the only thing that keeps your shareholder meetings from descending into riots is the scapegoating of the used-game market, but unless the fee is a pittance (somewhere in the 99 cents to 5 dollar range), this whole thing is ass.  If we must use it, though, can we put a limiter on how long this goes?  For an example, let’s use the life span of the 360 as a framework.  It has been going 8 years now and given your anti-backwards-compatibility statement, it’ll probably be running in the One’s shadow for some time until you kick them off the Xbox Live servers.  8 years is enough time for that cute puppy you bought to become a dog of advanced years.  Suppose this system were in effect for the 360.  My friend comes over and sees a copy of the all-but-forgotten-except-by-Rare launch title Kameo:  Elements of Power sitting on my shelf and is intrigued by the captivating cover and the bullet points on the back (“Turn into one of four different forms!  Multiplayer!  Menu Screen!”).  I tell he can go ahead and borrow it if he wants to try it out.  He gets home and after the system takes forever to recognize it, he gets hit with a paywall telling he must pay money to play this ancient game, which he then will be the legal owner of.  Does this not seem faintly ridiculous to anyone?  I suppose your friend could “borrow” your account, but is that really a practice you want to encourage?

    Here’s the thing to remember:  people want to have fun with game.  I know the word “fun” is nowhere to be found in the myriad clauses of your EULA, but you are in the business of making game machines, right?  So unless you plan on dialing back the base-price of games or building a used-game structure into your own market, this scheme will just suck the fun out of games.  Every possible new game purchase will be much more weighted (although to be honest, I’m in favor of less impulsive entertainment consumer behavior) and every used-game purchase becomes a hassle. I see no way that this comes out good for you. Then again, maybe you aren’t aiming for this generation of gamers; Instead, you’re training the new generation to become used to this shit.

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      “What, you want your games to be FUN?  That’s so 2005 of you!  Don’t you know that games are now just skinner boxes that interrupt your button clicking to ask your friends to play too?”

  12. NakedSnake says:

    My first observation is that this obviously sucks. Microsoft is trying to change the definition of ownership of a game. What used to be a ‘game collection’ will now be ‘games that Microsoft lets you play’. They are trying to artificially restrict the market and disempower the consumer. That said, the used game market is really pretty weak at this point. Used games are often only marginally cheaper than new games. Game prices fall naturally as consumers flock to The Next Big Game. One might even say that used games are often not worth it, given the wear and tear that disks encounter. What’s more, the whole used game market takes money away from the game developers. I hate the idea that Gamestop profits while the developer gets nothing. This is a step backwards for consumers, but it is not a disaster. Particularly if – and this is my hope – the “one game for one console” system allows Microsoft to abandon its “always on” ambitions.

    • NakedSnake says:

       All of that said, there’s still no way I’m going to buy an XBox One under these appalling conditions.

    • The_Misanthrope says:

      I’d be in favor of digital distribution supplanting the used-game market if they can make it more attractive price-wise.  If you just move it all to digital and keep the same pricing scheme, it isn’t an attractive market to buy games, because you’re getting less value for the same price.  There’s no supply-and-demand in a digital market, so you have to fake it a bit to make it work right.  Steam probably is a good model how to do it right; If you don’t buy a high-end title on launch, there’s a reasonable expectation that the price will drop in much the same way it would in a physical market.

      • NakedSnake says:

        Yea, agreed. I actually think that the price for old titles is more likely to fall in digital distribution networks than it is with physical markets. It seems a little counter-intuitive, because without shelf space, it seems like the seller could wait indefinitely for people to buy it at the price they set. But the lack of overhead actually encourages high volume of sales over high prices because it is basically the perfect economy of scale. The actual cost of selling each unit is so marginal that you can afford to play the long game. The vendor basically gets a chance to sell to each level of price consciousness in turn. The people who think the title is worth $60 buy it when it comes out. The people who think it is worth $30 buy it a year later. And the people who were not inclined to buy it at all just might buy it if it hits $5. It’s the same principle as coupons: it’s all about convincing the high-rollers to buy a product at full price, and then finding ways to subtly cut the price to sell the product to people who don’t think it’s worth that. For the vendor, after the full price people are done with it, it’s all free money!

        • The_Misanthrope says:

          Yeah, that makes sense, but I’m worried that Microsoft hasn’t quite figured. They are close to it, as I have started to see them run more deep-discount sales lately, but that likely has more to the fact that they are trying to make a bunch of money before the focus shifts to One. They seem to be getting it, but then again, you also have clear signs that they aren’t quite there:

          • NakedSnake says:

            Haha, good one. Yea, I guess I was talking about a rational actor. Right now, Microsoft seems intent on demonstrating that they don’t understand this business at all. One interesting thing I did hear, though, was that they are instituting all these crazy changes in order to make themselves the platform of choice for publishers. Publishers will be a whole lot more likely to give them exclusives (which do play a big role in console selection), if they are the console that doesn’t allow used games and demands always-on DRM.

            But I have no idea who they are trying to appeal to with the notion that the Kinect, which will be constantly connected to the internet, will be always watching and listening to you, regardless of whether the console is on or off.

  13. mizerock says:

    They get around the fee problem (illegal in Europe?) by bundling each disc with a one-time use code. Now, after you install game, the disc becomes worthless. You can’t lend it out, or sell it. Just throw it away.

    OK, I’m making that up. I can’t imagine what they are really planning to do. Here I was thinking their studies showed the same thing that EA discovered: selling games at $60 is much easier if your customer knows that they can resell the disc later. But surely they aren’t going to release DRM-free discs that don’t need to be in the drive to play the game. What WILL they do?

    • NakedSnake says:

      If they’re going to get rid of used disks, what the companies should do is offer buy-backs for credit. You can trade in last year’s Call of Duty license for $10 off of this year’s version. That will free them from having to maintain so many servers for old games.

  14. ChicaneryTheYounger says:

    Another update from Kotaku:

    Apparently it’s going to be an online only pre-owned service, so we’re talking fixed prices set by Microsoft, and they’ll probably take the revenue. Physical pre-owned is going to be impossible, gutting that market. You will not be able to share games between machines.

    • DrKumAndGo says:

      If that’s true, it’s amazing.

      I dumped my 360 and bought a PS3 because, even though the 360 is undoubtedly a better machine, every single interaction with Microsoft felt like they were trying to screw me. “Want access to your own Netflix account, which we have nothing to do with? Fuck you, pay me.” “The core UI of your xbox is now primarily to be used for advertisements, with the actual game-playing functionality as an afterthought. Fuck you, pay me.”, etc.

      I mean, Sony is NOT a great company, but it’s hard to match Microsoft for brazen anti-customer behavior. It at least made sense when they were a market-controlling monopoly 15 years ago, but I don’t understand how they expect this to work when Sony offering a virtually identical product without the inexplicably punitive restrictions.


    fucking hell


    thank God I converted to PC gaming

    • Mr. Glitch says:

      Right, where it’s easier than ever to buy and sell used games…

      • Girard says:

        It seems like if consoles are going to go this route, then they need to do what Steam did for PC gaming and make buying unsharable DRM-ridden games so cheap and easy that you have no misgivings about it. With the odd exception, people aren’t going to pony up $60 for a game they don’t get to wholly own.

        • Mr. Glitch says:

          Unless you happen to catch them on sale, games downloaded from Steam are no cheaper than their physical media counterparts. In this regard, video games seem to follow the e-book paradigm, in that their content is much, much more valuable than their medium.

        • Girard says:

          But Steam sales are more frequent, and their discounts much steeper, than sales for any console games I’ve come across (apart from, say, used shovelware). I have a standing rule that I don’t pay more than $10 for anything one Steam, and even so I have a pretty big library with a number of pretty big-name games that I would have never gotten for that price on console (even used!).

        • Mr. Glitch says:

          I don’t know about that. I picked up the new Tomb Raider game for 50% off from PSN recently, and that included Quantum Conundrum as well as some some Tomb Raider DLC crap for free. 

        • Girard says:

          So basically, consoles are already starting to do that, rather than it being something they should do in the future.

        • mizerock says:

          They also have deals on Steam that allow you to buy a steeply discounted pack of similar games, and pass on the code to a friend if you already own one or more of the games in the pack. I’ve also seen really cheap “buy a four pack of the same game” specials, letting you pass around the other 3 copies.

          It reads to me that the XBone COULD have similar deals. Will they? Maybe! I strongly prefer to have physical copies of a game, and yet I’ve found myself buying a number of games from the PS Store over the past year or two. Why? Because sometimes they have great deals, especially for PS Plus member. Almost always on older titles, but that’s a fine model as far as I’m concerned. If you have to play it on day 1, you’re paying $60. If you can wait, you’ll get a deal, eventually. I can’t think of many games at all have gone out of print and disappeared [Rock Band 3 for PS], 99% of the time there’s no economic reason not to wait.

        • mizerock says:

          Yes, the “it gets cheaper over time” model is pretty firmly accepted by all by now. But will MS let you buy extra copies and pass them on to your friends, like Steam does? Almost certainly not.
          The used game transfer method sounds horrible but actually better than the options Steam that offers [= none?]. Which is another reason why the prices charged by MS are likely to be higher than they are on Steam. If you can sell your used game “license” [really, why even have the disc? for people that have to download over DSL?], even if MS keeps a chunk of the transfer price, that’s worse than the current system [minus games that came with one-use online codes] but better than what Steam offers.

  17. Citric says:

    So what’s the point of a physical copy then? A free coaster with every game purchase?

    • John Teti says:

      I also wondered about that. I guess it’s for people with slower internet connections, or a sop to the still-powerful retailers, or both. Probably both.

      • Mr. Glitch says:

        I work in the industry, and I think most people operate under the impression that digital distribution is extraordinarily cheaper than physical media because no tangible product is created. That’s just not the case. I’ll give you an example: Minus the cost of the computer itself, one terabyte of disk storage costs the average consumer about 65 bucks. That same amount of storage in an enterprise environment like Live or PSN would use costs about $500 a month for slow tier-3 sata disk running on a low-end array like an EMC Clariion or VNX. Bump up to tier-2 15k SAS disks in an EMC VMax or IBM DS8000 and the cost balloons to about $7,000 per TB per month. Fast, tier-1 storage on SSD in those same disk arrays could easily cost anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 per TB per month, and that’s a conservative estimate that ignores minutiae like service contracts, IT staff pay, SAN infrastructure, power, cooling, co-location/backups/DR, etc.

        Microsoft didn’t buy more servers than Space:1999 because they anticipated demand; they bought that equipment in response to demand. Imagine, then, the demand on Xbox Live’s infrastructure if every single Blu Ray-sized videogame for the Xbox One had to be downloaded from their equipment!

        • Citric says:

          I’m more thinking that it’s just incredibly strange to require all games to have a full install that renders the disc useless. Is that even all that useful for consumers? Call me crazy, but isn’t part of the reason you might want to use disc-based media is so you can save space and don’t have to install the full data? I’m thinking that if we start seeing games that use the full BR storage capacity, we’re going to see hard drives at capacity pretty quickly.

    • Girard says:

      Well, we’ve just got this endless supply of petroleum that desperately needs to be wasted as quickly as possible, and there’s certainly no better use for the stuff than creating mountains of useless plastic!

  18. So can I assume they saw the fallout from this and thought about what a stupid idea it was. Not that they needed huge backlash to convince themselves it wouldn’t work, after maintaining a hope they could get away with something that would bag them more cash. Of course I wouldn’t be accusing Microsoft of doing that at all…

    EDIT: Okay it isn’t clear at all what is going on. You’d think it would be incredibly easy to clear up wouldn’t you. Like incredibly fucking easy.

  19. TuckerThaTruckr says:

    Props to John Teti for actually digging into the various answers that have been given. My favorite non-answer so far is the tweet from MSsupport, saying there is no fee to install the game on a different system, while blatantly ignoring the question of is there a fee to play the darn thing. Reading what some of the other gaming sites take at face value makes me doubt their reading comprehension. Can we lend the game to a friend without them paying to play it or not Microsoft?

    • HilariousNPC says:

       Well, they clarified that fee question today.

      Yes. There is a fee. And the fee is the full retail price.

      • mizerock says:

        Which really means that, no, you can’t sell your old copy. Because for the same price (full retail for the 1st copy + full retail to transfer it), you and your friend could both own the game at the same time.

        OR do they mean, you can sell it, but only if you find someone willing to pay you full retail price, and MS keeps (say) 20% of the money. Because otherwise, this plan makes literally no sense. Literally.

  20. HilariousNPC says:

    Uh, some clarification to Larry’s stall:

    “Speaking to CVG this afternoon, the corporate VP confirmed that Xbox One
    players who activate a pre-owned retail disc will need to pay the same
    price as the original buyer in order to access its content.”

  21. mizerock says:

    Wired has a new interview up with Microsoft VP Phil Harrison, which somehow manages to clarify very little while seeming on the surface to give simple straight-forward answers to most of the questions. It’s just amazing how just about every answer seems to be given in a careful phrased way that makes it so clear that it’s technically accurate while intentionally covering up just how unfriendly the terms are. Like Satan purchasing a soul, where he explains afterwards how you misunderstood what you thought you were getting.

  22. Red Flame Fox says:

    PlayStation console as always ;)