I have a confession. I HATE brand new video games.
That’s not because they are naturally worse than retro games. In fact, in some ways it feels like games now are as good or better than many of the classics. Seriously, have you tried playing stuff other people grew up on but you didn’t? Nostalgia goggles are a real thing.
No, my disdain for newly released games comes from a few different directions, most of which I’ve only come to realize in the past few years. First and foremost…
New Games Are Expensive
As each generation has gone by, games have become increasingly more expensive to make. The size of the team needed to make Grand Theft Auto V rivals or eclipses that of many major motion picture releases. Compare that to the 4 measly programmers that worked on the original Pokemon games and you’re looking at a budget in the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars. Think GTAV is an outlier? Take a peek at the development cost of any AAA-title released in the past 5 years and you’ll discover this is the norm nowadays. Especially with regards to building MMORPGs like Star Wars: The Old Republic and DC Universe Online, the costs are sky-high compared to games of old.
In order to balance out that price tag to publishers, brand-new console games are sold at a premium. $60 + tax for a new release is quite the punch to the wallet, at least for the everyday Joe and Jane, and the more systems you have, the more potential titles there are to suck away your hard-earned bucks. Bottom-line is that if you’re committed to buying new games as they’re released, expect to be eating a lot of ramen. And not the delicious kind with chashu pork and bamboo shoots. The kind that tastes like college nights and crushed dreams.
New Games Can Suck
With the rise in costs to produce a game, we’ve seen a burgeoning industry of how to fund a game. More specifically, I’m referring to preorders and Kickstarters.
Preorders are extremely important to publishers for a number of reasons. First and most obviously, it provides a return on a publisher’s investment in a game way before the investment “matures.” When they greenlight a game, they’re accepting that $X millions of dollars is a sunk cost for the next Y years. To get, say, 50,000 preorders @ $60 each, that’s $3 million back (ignoring what goes to the video game sellers and recouping potential preorder bonus costs).
Secondly, preorders generate hype. Any business knows that to succeed, you have to first gain attention. This is why a significant chunk of the budgeting for video game production includes advertising costs. You can only get so far if you make an amazing game but don’t market it anywhere. So if a game is available for preorder, it means more publicity, more notoriety, and thusly, more chance of a successful launch.
Finally, in the case of developers who don’t have the support of publishers behind them, the Kickstarter Method has proven anyone with an idea could potentially find funding. Games like Star Citizen or Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night have raised unprecedented amounts of money, straight from the pockets of fans, to help support a concept that may not have been greenlit by a publisher otherwise. This release method has been used not just by smaller, first-time developers, but by pedigreed veterans in the industry (see: Shenmue 3, Mighty No. 9, and Bloodstained). Like it or not, crowdfunding is the real deal and can potentially make a concept come to life.
However preorders are not always sunshine and rainbows for the consumer. There have been numerous instances in the past handful of years of preorders becoming either vaporware (that is, never seeing release) or, perhaps even worse, complete flops. Most disappointingly, this can happen even when a well-known director or team is behind the project. Just uttering the name “Mighty No. 9” can cause the average gamer to shudder in disgust and shed a tear, knowing what could have been. Mention “No Man’s Sky” or “Fallout 76” and you’ll see a whole range of emotions, from anger at broken promises to a sigh of resignation, wishing we could return to the good old days. As the creator of Nintendo‘s most popular franchises, Shigeru Miyamoto, once famously said…
“A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.“
New Games Are Overrated
When a new title is released, sometimes the community will begin to buzz with delight, proclaiming it “best of the year” or “a revolutionary new title”. Memes will begin aplenty, screenshots with captions flowing freely across Reddit, 4chan, Discord, and elsewhere. And this will continue for weeks, sometimes even over a month. But once the hype train pulls into the station, this is when gamers are more easily able to critically analyze the game. Without the peer pressure to enjoy this obviously and objectively AMAZING game, we can start to see flaws, decide for ourselves if they’re acceptable or not, and not feel like an ostracized leper if we disagree with the mob mentality.
A good example of this for me is Dark Souls. Even to this day, the game is heralded as this God amongst games, known for its punishing but fair difficulty, unique style of storytelling, and overall character design. Now that the game has been out for many years, having a differing opinion is much more acceptable than in the early days of release. You shouldn’t be made to feel bad just because you don’t appreciate games in the same way others do. It just takes some time to pass first if you don’t want to be dodging pitchforks and torches.
Introducing Patient Gaming!
Now you may be thinking “Well Chris, these are all valid concerns and arguments, but what’s the solution you offer?” To which I would happily respond with “Uhh, how about just not buying brand new games?”
Check this out. We live in an era now where events like “Steam Sales” or “PSN Flash Sales” are known far and wide for being the prime time to pick up games. Why is this? Because the amount of titles on sale can reach into the thousands, and the discounts are oftentimes so deep, you’ll see a AAA-title go from $40 to $7. Even just waiting one year after release, you can score a game for a fraction of the original cost. Monster Hunter: World for the PS4 and Xbox One was originally $60 when it released in January of 2018. December of 2018, not 12 months later, saw its price drop as low as $15 for those same systems.
Had any of us not preordered or bought No Man’s Sky right out the gates, we could have avoided the mega disappointment that was. Now, two and a half years later, the game has seen many free updates from developer Hello Games, such that the fanbase has grown to genuinely like the game despite its initial misgivings. Features that were missing on launch have been added in at no cost to the consumer, fulfilling those broken promises to the fans who’d been hyped since the first trailer dropped.
Game of the Year editions for uber-cheap (Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor). DLC-complete titles with all the content they will ever have (Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove). A passionate, defined modding community that’s vastly improved the original beyond any of our wildest dreams (The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim) . All of these are prime examples of why exercising some restraint with your purchasing power serves to benefit you in a huge way.
And by not preordering, you make it clear to the publishers that we should not be supporting a game before release. The dangers of unfulfilled features, vaporware, and just generally low quality releases are there. Beyond those, the concept of preorder exclusives have become more prevalent as a means of enticing you to buy a game ahead of release. This is the idea that only the early adopters deserve access to special content, and whoever is late to the game is out of luck. Or you may even encounter bonuses specific to WHERE you preorder (Amazon, Best Buy, Gamestop being the Big Three). When you choose not to preorder, you cast a vote saying these are messed up business practices and you want access to all the content you deserve. Your money is the most powerful tool in your arsenal against these big companies.
Here are the core tenets to Patient Gaming. Buying games after release means you…
1. Spend less money
2. Avoid duds
3. End up with a better overall gaming experience
4. Help shape future game releases
That’s not to say this is without its share of problems. Even patient gaming is not an exception to the rule of there always being downsides. In this case, we see 3 major issues.
First, the hype train goes choo-choo, whether you’re riding it or not. Some people get swept up in the excitement of a new release so much that that can be as fun if not moreso than the game itself! Take a visit to 4chan’s /v/ board (video games) and you’ll see the degree to which people vehemently express their feelings about new titles. All the memes and inside jokes, while sometimes clever, help inspire a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) in gamers who can’t or don’t pick up the freshest version of Devil May Cry, Halo, or Assassin’s Creed.
Secondly, closely related to the first issue, there is the problem of spoilers. If you’re a fan (or even if you aren’t) of a popular game, TV series, or movie, you have probably had to navigate a sea of spoilers online. Be it who dies in Telltale’s The Walking Dead or how it all ends in Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts 3, a patient gamer will struggle avoiding plot secrets like the plague.
Finally, and perhaps most commonly, there is the double-edged sword of Steam Sales. See, people LOVE getting a good deal on anything. Americans literally trample over each other annually in the hopes of a discounted TV or blender. When it comes to video games, Steam Sales are a heaven send because of the reasons already stated. However, they are also the bane to every wallet out there. It’s so easy to justify purchasing twelve $5 games than one $60 game. That’s SO much content! So many worlds to enjoy, so many hours of entertainment, why wouldn’t you want to give in to dropping that much money?
So we come to the issue of backlogs. Many of us, the LAG team included, have fallen victim to Steam Sales, PSN Flash Sales, and other mega deals such that we have amassed a backlog of dozens, if not hundreds of video games. In fact, this is how the Life’s a Game project all began! Now there is the added pressure of roughly a bajillion games you could choose from, triggering what’s known as “choice paralysis.” You could go play Cave Story, but then you also always wanted to try out Red Dead Redemption. Though then you’d have to dust off the old Xbox, and if you’re gonna do that, maybe it’s better to finish off the Mass Effect trilogy? Although that one is probably going to take about 60 hours to complete and you’re more hankering for a smaller release… And so the cycle goes, on and on, forevermore, until you settle on…. another game of League of Legends. Another dungeon in Diablo III. Another run in your Battle Royale of choice. Games that have no end, delaying your backlog even further, and putting those precious dollars you just handed GabeN to waste.
In The End
The bottom line is that it’s up to you to decide if the benefits of Patient Gaming outweigh the cons. I can only speak for myself, but by (unconsciously) joining this growing movement, I’ve saved myself thousands of dollars not keeping up with the latest games. I’ve finally beaten games I’ve meant to play for ages, like Super Metroid, Metal Gear Solid, and Horizon: Zero Dawn. I am proud of myself for not having purchased a junky, disappointing game since I was a derpy high school kid. And the fact that I’ve also helped shape the gaming industry is a pretty sweet benefit to boot. The Patient Gaming lifestyle may not be for everyone, but it could very well be your new home. Join us on the next Life’s A Game Podcast and let’s get play some awesome games together!