Game Collectors: A Relic of the Past

[Over in the CBlogs, Wry Guy shared his thoughts on video game collecting, what he enjoys about it, and how he believes the advent of digital downloads has changed the collecting scene. — JRo]

Videogames are becoming more and more mainstream. This in itself is a wonderful thing, but it’s a sad age to be a video game collector. Anyone who’s collected anything understands there’s a certain appeal to being familiar with the lesser known. You know, the joy of hunting down something obscure or hard to find to add to your collection. It’s fun to discover something difficult to obtain, hunt it down, and make it yours. There’s a sense of accomplishment to it. Is it justified? Not necessarily; at least not nowadays. These days you just need to search for something on eBay and throw money at it. Thanks to our modern digital age I don’t really feel special just for owning a game. Instead, I find a sense of accomplishment in the research phase.

When I get in the mood I will spend countless hours learning about new games. I get some weird sense of enjoyment in connecting the dots and strengthening my gaming knowledge. A really good example is my discovery of Dynamite Cop for the Dreamcast. I’d never once seen the arcade unit and reviewers slammed the game really hard. After doing some research, I learned some things. I learned it was a first party Sega game, and I happen to love Sega games. I also learned it’s the sequel to Die Hard Arcade for the Sega Saturn and it’s crazy. The graphics for the game are terrible by Dreamcast standards and the controls seem stiff at first, but after a while the game reveals its depth to you. The combat system has a lot of hidden intricacies and nothing beats using a pepper shaker to stun enemies. It’s one of the best beat ’em ups I’ve ever played. People complained that the game was too short and lacked replay value but I’ve already played it about ten times and I’ll be saving it for some two player fun the next time I have a guest over. As a huge fan of my Dreamcast I was super happy to find another game to add to the collection.

The modern digital age makes researching games much more productive than it would have been in the past but I suspect it’s also going to be the death of video game collectors as well. What I mean is that I believe collectible games in general are going to start disappearing from the market. That’s the theory anyway; let’s use Dynamite Cop as an example of how a game becomes collectible in the first place. We’re going to be talking in pure hypothetical for a second. This is going to be a bit long.

Dynamite Cop, as it stands, is a total hidden gem. Barely anybody knew about it because the graphics were unimpressive, the game was short, and, most importantly, it didn’t have any publicity. Sadly, very few people are aware of it and the game is worth dirt. Complete used copies of Die Hard Arcade, on the other hand, are worth a solid 30 dollars as of this writing. For a game that’s nearly 15 years old, that’s pretty impressive. People know about Die Hard Arcade because of its connection to the Die Hard movies, if nothing else. The reality of the situation is that Die Hard Arcade was originally called Dynamite Deka in Japan and had nothing to do with the Die Hard movies, but because the game had a similar action movie vibe to it all Sega had to do was change the name and it worked. Even though the game really has nothing to do with the movie, back in the day movie adaptations were rarely accurate. The fact that the game was ridiculous and off the wall didn’t make anybody suspicious thanks to that. Die Hard Arcade thus has three things going on for it that make people aware of the game: It has a connection to a popular American movie series, it’s made by a reputable video game company that has a lot of fans, and it’s got an interesting bit of trivia behind it what with the title change. Even though the game’s been around for over a decade, eventually somebody is going to be curious about it and try to buy it.

Now, I mentioned that Dynamite Cop is the sequel to Die Hard Arcade. The game’s original name is Dynamite Deka 2, but because Sega lost the license they stuck with the original title. Right now I’m browsing eBay and can see brand new copies of Dynamite Cop as low as 13 dollars. That’s really pathetic. Most people don’t even realize that Dynamite Cop has a connection to Die Hard Arcade because of the different names. Hell, I didn’t even realize the game was made by Sega. Nobody has any reason to pay attention to the game or want to buy it. If it became public knowledge that Dynamite Cop was one of the long lost first party Dreamcast games, the game’s value would likely increase very quickly. The Dreamcast has a very dedicated fanbase that could easily buy the entire existing supply if enough people realized the game was fun, and this game is most certainly fun. What can I say? “Tuna-slinging, hair-spray aiming killer commandos to the rescue!”

In theory, anything that could put Dynamite Cop in the public eye has the potential to increase its value. In the event that this game actually became rare I would have the satisfaction of saying, “I paid less for this game because I found out about it early.” It’s a rare but awesome thing, and it’s an example of how a video game could (potentially) rise in value. For the most part public curiosity gives a game the chance to become rare. People not wanting to sell their copies of the game gives the chance to stay rare. If you want to buy something but nobody wants to sell it, you just have to keep offering more money until eventually someone gives in and lets you have it. Final Fantasy VII was a textbook example. Nobody wanted to sell the game and therefore it used to be worth a lot of money (100+ dollars for an original pressing.) The PlayStation Network release of the game shot the value down dramatically because you didn’t have to buy the game off anybody to play it anymore. It’s still worth a decent chunk of cash, though; hardcore collectors want a physical copy of the game no matter what.

These are the sorts of resale trends I think will become rarer as gaming continues to evolve, and it makes me sad. The fun of hunting down a cool new game I’d never heard about before won’t disappear, but I think it will become much less common. As gaming moves forward, I don’t think games will actually become rare or collectible. Why? Because I think the hidden gems of gaming will largely migrate to the Downloadable Content sector. Gaming companies don’t want hidden gems to exist. Mainstream gaming needs to push the limits of the medium in order to impress the public, and that costs a lot of money. Developers want blockbusters that sell like crazy and turn a profit. For the most part collectible games don’t do this. They fly under the radar and get discovered later on. Collectible games are largely collectible because they rarely sell well, and thus their supply is limited.

Most often the collectible games are the interesting ones. Games that do something quirky or interesting but aren’t necessarily impressive to the public. It’s not always true, but very often a game becomes rare because it offers something unique and gains a certain feeling of being irreplaceable. To me discovering quirky games is the biggest perk of being a video game collector, but I suspect that all the unique, interesting, risky games will stop seeing physical releases as time goes on. The Downloadable Market offers a lower-risk environment thanks to lower development costs. Like I said, gaming companies don’t want games that don’t sell well. I can’t really blame them either considering a flop can outright kill a gaming company.

Despite the good business sense involved in gaming companies jumping onto the Downloadable Market I really admire the evolution of a game from hidden gem to cult classic. It’s a little disheartening the way things normally go. Most average people buy their games, play them, let those games sit in a closet for a few years, then try to sell those games only to find they’re all worthless. Most mainstream games become outdated as newer and better games of their kind come out. There’s a constant cycle of “Play latest and greatest game, get over latest and greatest game, sell it and buy another latest and greatest game.” Is that a bad thing in itself? Not really; it’s actually a good thing that gaming continually attempts to push the envelope and pour more and more polish into its games. The fact that even slightly old games can seem unimpressive compared to modern games is just a testament to how quickly the medium is advancing. In a sense it’s almost admirable the way the games industry always has an ambition to continually impress the public, but either way it’s still sad to see anything you love become worthless to the public. Some games you can’t even give away; nobody gives a fuck about them anymore.

The fact that it’s so disheartening to own a game that everyone’s played, gotten over, and couldn’t care less about anymore is probably why I find the search for hidden gems so interesting. Very often those gems sold poorly and got overlooked. It’s nice to be able to at least give those games the sort of appreciation they deserved in the aftermarket. I don’t imagine the company who made that hidden gem is happy either way, though. A game that sold poorly is a game that sold poorly. The average game developer probably wouldn’t be happy unless their game helped put food on the table. Whether or not their creation has a cult following doesn’t help feed your kids. The gaming market is a cutthroat business where a commercial flop can destroy lives.

In recent years we’ve seen a good number of game companies sink into the abyss and close down, and the DLC market is becoming a refuge for newer companies who don’t want to suffer the same fate. On one hand I’m going to be sad to see physical games go more and more mainstream. Collectors love having a physical object to actually collect, so if things go the way I think they are a certain aspect of video game collecting is very likely to disappear. People might find this strange, but I’m predicting that the last wave of rare and valuable games will likely crop up on the Wii. The Nintendo Wii Shop Channel isn’t as fleshed out or popular as XBox Live, Steam, or the PlayStation Network. Most noteworthy Wii games still go retail. The trends are all there and collectors will probably be spending years re-discovering the Wii’s gaming library long after it’s left the market. People hate on the system now, but it’s going to become a fondly remembered thing of the past in a decade or so. Even so, I think eventually collectible games are going to become a thing of the past.

As much as I really hate the idea of not being able to own and collect a physical copy of some hidden gaming gem, I actually wish gaming companies could have jumped on the DLC wagon sooner. Several companies that I love might not have had to suffer or disappear had a market like the XBox Live Arcade existed sooner. SNK in particular is one of my favorite gaming companies. After their bankruptcy the company might have been able to carve a brighter future for itself through downloadable gaming. You never know. As of right now I plan to buy three XBox Live Arcade games for every one current generation title I buy at retail. As much as it drives me crazy to not have a physical copy of a game, I’m still happy that quirky gaming has a chance to live on with fewer consequences. I think I’m willing to give up some of my collector’s compulsions if it means I can play Hydro Thunder Hurricane and King of Fighters 2002 Unlimited Match without being afraid that they’ll bankrupt a company.

Many gaming collectors are looking at downloadable games as a plague, but I suspect they aren’t looking at the big picture. In general I think gaming is going in a good direction and everyone should help to support it. If nothing else retro collecting isn’t going anywhere. Dynamite Cop has totally put me in the mood to bulk up my Dreamcast collection.