I haven’t posted anything for a while, at the moment I seem to have a few things on the go, and nothing particularly interesting has happened to give me any inspiration. But it was my birthday recently, and as a treat to myself, I decided to buy the Gears of War 3: Epic Edition off the Gamestation website. As part of their Christmas deals it was “only” £39.99, for one day only. Now the reason I put only in quotes is because, to me, £40 for a game is quite a lot; I usually wait a little while to buy all but my most anticipated games. As most games drop like a stone in price after little more than a month on the shelves, I rarely pay more than £20 for one. The only ones that seem to hold their value are Call of Duty games and first-party Nintendo titles (Mario, Zelda etc.).
I do have a bit of a weak spot for collector’s editions (or special editions or limited editions, or whatever someone has decided to call them) though, and have purchased some on launch day, at full price. I actually bought the hugely expensive Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 “Prestige Edition” which came with some night vision goggles. It set me back £120! I think I regret buying it now. Although I actually regret buying the Call of Duty: World at War collector’s edition more, even though it was less than half the price at £55. It came in a nice tin with a World at War branded hip flask, but what I didn’t find out until it arrived was that the hip flask was actually glued shut, and even had a sticker on it saying it was for “Display purposes only”! What’s the point of that!? I do remember buying one collector’s edition at launch which I didn’t end up regretting in some way: the Fallout 3 collector’s edition. It came in a metal lunch box style tin, with a Vault Boy bobble-head. It was quite cheep at £50, and as the normal edition would have been £35 or so, I don’t think it was a bad deal.
The thing is though, despite their collector’s edition moniker, these versions of games still drop in price rapidly. As well as my recent Gears of War 3 purchase I’ve also picked up some other collector’s editions cheap. I got a Splinter Cell: Conviction one, which included a plastic Sam Fisher statue, for just £8! An Alan Wake one, which came in a nice box shaped like a hardback book, and which actually had a book inside it, for £20. A Mafia II one, which had a soundtrack CD and an art book, for £16. And I got a Halo: Reach one for £24. That in particular was a very nice package, coming in a very smart box shaped like something out of the game, and including a book designed to look like one of the character’s notebooks, complete with the odd loose bit, slid between the pages for safekeeping. I think I’d have been quite happy to pay twice what I did for it, because it’s a nicely made thing.
I quite like collector’s editions in a way; I like the extra stuff as I like having something tangible to show for my money, rather than just a disc with some data on it. The only thing the last few (regular edition) games I’ve bought have come with is a thin instruction manual containing just a couple of pages, most of which are taken up with legal mumbo-jumbo about copy-write and age ratings. I remember having Microsoft’s Combat Flight Simulator years and years ago, and it came with an instruction manual as thick a book which was basically a textbook on how to fly a WWII-era plane. Such a hefty tome wouldn’t come with a game today, even in a collector’s edition. It’s a sad fact, but since games moved to DVD style packaging, at the start the last console generation, the instruction manual has been neglected. Some collector’s editions do evoke memories of the days of thick manuals though, with art books and maps and similar things.
Having said that though, I’m not sure if collector’s edition are worth the extra money. If they held their value better than the regular versions then perhaps they would be, but by and large, they don’t. And I doubt their value will rise in the future. Fifty years from now I doubt anyone will want my Gears of War 3: Epic Edition, I won’t even be able to give it away to my grandchildren. They won’t even know who Marcus Fenix is! Lucky them. But I suppose for video game collectables the future is pretty much unknown, as it is still a relatively new medium. I think the problem may be that in the future no one will have a working console on which the play any games on, a problem someone who collects vinyl records, for example, wouldn’t have, because you can still buy a brand new turntable relatively easily. But you can’t just buy a brand new SNES or Sega Mega Drive, and in a few years you won’t be able to walk into a shop and pick up a new Xbox 360 or PS3 either.
Backwards compatibility sort of helps with this problem, but it’s rarely perfect, some games may not be fully supported, and some may not work at all. But even without these problems, the inevitable progress of technology means that including backwards compatibility eventually becomes infeasible, such as when Nintendo (and Sega) moved from using carts to discs. It’s a problem that affects PC games too, there are some games that only run on early versions of Windows, or even only on DOS, but, as those operating systems are incompatible with modern PCs, you can only get them to work on old hardware. Although thinking about it, I own a few vinyl records, but I don’t have a turntable, so maybe people do collect things they can’t play. Actually, thinking about it some more, my vinyl copy of In Rainbows, which is part of the special box set I bought, is one of the few things I’ve ever purchased which has actually increased in value since.
Anyway, I digress. I suppose the conclusion I have reached is that I like some of the extra stuff that comes with collector’s editions, but I don’t like paying for it. That’s not really a conclusion is it? Person likes getting more for less, shocking. The question is, will today’s collector’s editions increase in value over time? Which I think is a decent question to ask of anything which calls itself a collectable. And, for that to be true, I think the first thing that needs to be addressed is that the game itself actually has to be good. Very good even. Say someone released a super-limited edition Justin Bieber CD, and sold it for some stupid amount. Ten years later, when all his fans have hopefully grown up and realised they were pumping the musical equivalent of raw sewage into their ears, it would only be worth whatever scrap value it had. And I think the same would be true if someone did the same with Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing, the proud holder of a Metacritic rating of 8, the lowest ever (so far).
But as well as the game actually being good, I think a collector’s edition also needs some sort of rarity value. As some of the deals I’ve mentioned earlier highlight, supply usually outstrips demand, which is the wrong way round. I’m sure I’ve seen some video game collector’s editions in the past that the publisher has said will be limited to just x units, but then when all x are sold, they just make more! In fact it’s very rare for the actual number of units produced to be disclosed; with too many “limited editions” the limit in question is however many they can sell. I think I’d be much more inclined to pre-order a collector’s edition if I knew it was only going to be produced in small numbers. If I’d bought a Gears of War 3: Epic Edition at launch, for its launch price of £100, with the understanding that it was a limited edition item, then I would be very miffed to see Gamestation selling the same thing for less than half what I paid, after just a couple of months. The way it is at the moment the loyal fans who’ve pre-ordered are getting shafted.
So there’s another conclusion, for a collector’s edition to be collectable, I think the game itself needs to be good, and the collector’s edition has to be produced in relatively small numbers, so it has a rarity value. I think what’s actually in the collector’s edition is secondary to those two requirements, because if a game is good it will have a lot of fans, and if a collector’s edition represents an investment because only a small number are being produced, then quite a few of those fans will be willing to pay more for it, regardless of what “it” actually is. Well, as long as “it” isn’t a free copy of Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing.