Frugal. Miserly. A man of generic brands and packed lunches. Of 2-for-1 deals and 10% tips. Someone who feels a twinge of regret over every cent that leaves their bank account.
Naturally, my penny pinching methodology extends to my gaming habits. I am an unabashed bargain bin gamer. When I patronize one of my three dozen local GameStops, I stride past the shiny new releases and go straight for the pre-owned racks. I even peruse that sad row of misbegotten titles stacked along the floor, where unlovable shovelware and old editions of Madden
are banished to languish forever.
Hell, I admit to actively warranting GameStop, an act that in and of itself is a declaration that I'm willing to throw my scruples to the wind if it means saving a few dollars on someone’s chewed-up copy of Mass Effect 3
But while I acknowledge some trepidation whenever I opt for the sad sack of knockoff Honey Nut Cheerios over the real deal, I'm perfectly at peace with never spending $60 on a new videogame ever again. In fact, I’d argue that being a gamer on the cheap is not only pragmatic, but a lifestyle the entire community should be embracing.
That’s right. I’m about to get preachy
on all y’all. Obnoxious vegan friend
First and foremost, we can all agree that the monetary value of videogames depreciate at an alarmingly fast rate. The only thing that loses value quicker than a $60 videogame is my stock with women once they find out I look nothing like my JDate profile picture. I won’t pretend to understand the economics behind how videogames are priced, but what I do know is that I could have picked up Tomb Raider
on Steam last weekend – a game which came out a little more than two months
ago – for a full $35 cheaper than if I had purchased the grungy Lara Croft reboot on its release date.
What incentives, then, did I have to buy Tomb Raider
before its price crashed harder than a boat full of adventurous multiethnic archetypes? Those who pre-ordered had the Sophie's Choice
of deciding between a snazzy in-game bomber jacket
, a throwaway challenge dungeon
, and the option to make Lara Croft look even more like Andy Dufresne after he crawled through a river of shit, minus the redemptive rain storm.
I'm not sure any one of those is worth $35 and 60-some days free of the traumatic experience of having to kill my first innocent deer.
In addition to underwhelming pre-order incentives, there's also the increasing sense that the red-blooded consumers who are happy to pay full price for a brand new videogame are spending their money on incomplete products. The debate over downloadable content will rage for millenia, but there's no denying the now common money-grubbing tactic of releasing “Game of the Year” editions is beginning to diminish the base worth of today's popular releases.
From a business standpoint, there’s an understandable need for companies to wring a few extra dollars out of an aging property by dressing it up in a tantalizingly more robust package. “Game of the Year” editions – or “Legendary,” “Prepare to Die,” “Ultimate,”
or “Overzealous Superlative of Your Choosing” editions – offer an opportunity to pick up any straggling customers who have been holding out for a sweeter deal. But by releasing a definitive version a year or two down the line, loyal early adopters are being forced to put together their games piecemeal while the jerks who have waited for companies to come crawling to them bearing tribute are the ones being catered to.
For instance, this past month I picked up Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
. I had been waiting for the original game's price to drop and, lo and behold, during that time Capcom announced they’d be releasing an updated version loaded with extra content and a number of technical improvements, all at a respectable $40. What's more is that the expansion would only be available as a standalone retail disc, meaning those players who had helped make the IP a surprise hit in the first place would have to essentially buy the game twice if they wanted to experience any of the new content.
What would I have gained from buying the game at full price when it was first released? The satisfaction of knowing I had bought an inferior Dark Souls
with a menu layout more complicated than Building Stories
? That warm feeling you get when you know you contributed in some small way to the marble counter tops on a Japanese business man’s luxurious dirigible? The chance to once again enable a company who has turned shameless rereleases into a business model?
No, I would have felt like that schnook who buys his groceries right before the 10,000th customer. The one stuck with a bottle of hand lotion and a stack of Lean Cuisines without an oversized novelty check to show for it.
Besides the obvious quantifiable benefits, there’s the intangible upside of gaining a greater appreciation of games that are cheap by nature. Those who subsist off a diet entirely of triple-A titles may disregard the indie scene as the work of a bunch of art house elitists with severe emotional issues – which, sometimes
– but it’s astounding what smaller developers have accomplished with products they’re going to sell for, at most, $15 and, at least, two ha’pennies as a part of some bundle.
Many of my favorite games of this current generation have been cooked up by a handful of intrepid DIYers. Fez
, Shadow Complex
, Super Meat Boy
, Binding of Isaac
, World of Goo
– I spent more on the standard indie gamer turtleneck and scarf than I spent on all those games combined.
But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one niggling downside. As someone who only buys games months after their release, I’m constantly falling out of conversation with the gaming community at large. I would have loved to offer an opinion on why BioShock Infinite was or wasn’t a face-grinding assault on good taste.
I would have loved to offer any opinion on BioShock Infinite
, seeing as how it apparently touched on every topic from racism to quantum physics to the unappreciated genius of Cyndi Lauper.
But nobody is going to care what I have to say when the game’s price is slashed six months from now and I finally find out what all the ludonarrative think pieces
are about. I’m in a perpetual state of being that guy at the office who only just watched The Wire
and is trying to explain the “king stay the king”
speech to everyone.
I'm aware that money is an expansive and multifaceted subject in videogames. Not everyone is coming from my income situation. There are those who can comfortably afford the latest releases, along with the jewel-encrusted chalices from which I assume they sup the tears of the impoverished. Idealistically, we should allow games to stand on their own merits, never factoring their price tag into how we engage with them. And, yes, I know buying used is not helping matters, as companies are now scrambling to find a way to make the most out of their initial sales.
But with evolving technology and bloated budgets and the advent of DLC, games are only growing more expensive. And with those rising prices comes an equally rising tide of bullshit. We live in an age where we have to honestly ask ourselves if we should expect videogames to be playable at launch.
Where games that ship more than 3.5 million units are considered colossal failures.
Where mom and pop developers are creating imaginative and indelible gaming experiences for a fraction of what it costs a major studio to stamp out another generic Assassin’s Creed
or Call of Duty
These are the reasons I preach bargain gaming. It’s pure. It’s liberating. It frees you from the toxic expectations you attach to a game you've devoted a sizable chunk of your paycheck to. It allows you to combat the rampant consumer abuse perpetuated by companies who view their customers as rubes to be swindled. A bargain gamer is a better, happier gamer.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a chewed-up copy of Mass Effect 3
to finish. And you won’t see me complaining about the original ending, because I now have like twenty different DLC conclusions to choose from, and one of them has to end in the Shephard and Wrex dream wedding I’ve always wanted.
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