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Bob Muir avatar 8:00 PM on 12.02.2007  (server time)
Rantoid: Buy more special editions

Necros Says: Who knew that but a week after my last Friday Rantoid, the week of my front-page debut, I'd miss my update this week. Oh well, at least I told you about it in Saturday morning's Illustrated Review, which is directly related to today's topic. Nevertheless, today's post proves that calling it Friday Rantoid is just weird if I should have to delay it a day or two, so from now on, it's just Rantoid, updated every Friday unless I get mauled by wild bears.

As previously mentioned, I'm a consumer whore. Throw me something related to video games and I'll hand over my bank account, just for a few freebies. This behavior is in stark contrast to my normal spending habits, in which I'll order the cheapest thing on the menu and hope someone else picks up the tab for me. Still, there's some hidden allure in video games that will make me buy things I'll never need.

At the same time, I've always been envious of Japan's game releases. Unlike most of America's game releases, it seemed that Japanese gamers always got some bonus just for buying the game. Not preorder bonuses, but long-term special editions. I've always been jealous of the finely-crafted statues, the included soundtracks, the licensed playing cards, and the life-size Kasumi hump-pillows. Well, maybe not so much the last one. I wondered why Japan got all the cool stuff - er, besides all the games that never make it out over here. Apparently I'm not alone, because a lot of gamers were looking towards Japan with envious eyes.

Somewhere along the line, game publishers figured out that gamers like me would pay more money for a "premium" version, similar to the success the DVD market has had with such a line. I believe the explanation for the idea runs somewhere between actually wanting more content and wanting to feel superior to owners of the regular edition. Halo 2 was the first major test of such a format beyond the usual golden-cartridge first-run in the Zelda series. The Halo 2 "Limited Collector's Edition" was in actuality the equivalent of a collector's edition DVD, complete with a snazzy tin case and a bonus DVD, and was far from limited. Copies were readily available new for years, some still surviving unopened on store shelves to this year.

However, these were more mimics of the US DVD market than they were mimics of the Japanese game market. True game bonuses wouldn't take off until more recently, with actually limited edition versions of games containing genuine bonuses beyond the usual "making-of" DVD and a nice tin case (exception: Assassin's Creed's tin case). Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence offered a highly-limited version with the game cinematics reedited into a full movie. Resident Evil 4 included a laser-etched cel of main character Leon Kennedy. .hack//G.U. included a high-quality plastic figurine of Haseo and an interactive information DVD that would unlock over the remainder of the series, an amazing bonus for .hack fans trying to make sense of a convoluted storyline.

What has finally pushed the US "bonus market" more into step with the Japanese market, though, is the rise of preorder bonuses. Even if most of these bonuses are put through Gamestop because of a stronger guarantee of sales, we're finally starting to see some goodies on par with Japan, even if we don't have any disgusting hump pillows yet. A quick survey of some games released this fall: Guitar Hero III had a free poster, Assassin's Creed gave a superb art book, Super Mario Galaxy had a commemorative launch coin, Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles gave an 8-bit Simon Belmont figurine, and Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations had a keychain plush. Okay, so maybe we're not quite at the same level as Japan's bonuses yet, but we're getting there.

So why is it that, all of a sudden, people are complaining about the pervasiveness of special editions? We're finally getting bonuses, people! We should be celebrating! Instead, I hear constant complaints about having to preorder games in order to get freebies, and how special editions are just an extra making-of DVD. Keep in mind that, at this point, preorder bonuses are the most reliable way to give a reason for handing out freebies. And as for special editions: the making-of DVD is going to be standard for a while because that's what really took off with the DVD market: showing lots of behind-the-scenes footage and talking about the development. Getting good stuff is still a work in progress, and even then, it's suddenly evolving much faster than the DVD special editions did. Remember how long it took before DVDs got past the stage of calling one trailer a bonus feature? Most games have included their trailer as their demo mode for years.

So where am I going with this? I suppose that we should be supporting publishers who provide preorder bonuses, special editions, and other assorted swag. The Bioshock special edition only got made because of intense fan support, and 2K was nice enough to get the community involved with the actual production of it, resulting in an awesome version that I was more than happy to fork over an additional $10 for. If you know you want a game, go preorder it and get yourself a freebie. Publishers will hopefully get the message and start improving preorder bonuses and special editions.

And maybe one day, in the near future, we'll get our very own hump pillow.

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