What Makes a Game Worth Buying at Launch?

Midnight launch

By Chris Pereira 1UP.com

Gaming can be an expensive hobby, particularly if you’re keen on picking up games as they are released. With your typical console game going for $60 at launch and there being no shortage of quality titles to play, those costs can quickly add up, making it difficult to keep up with the latest releases. But there are more factors than merely price which can make gamers hesitant to buy games when they first come out including a perceived lack of value, eventual complete/Game of the Year edition releases, and patches which make games into better experiences for those who opt against rushing out to a midnight launch.

1UP readers on Facebook and our boards responding to a question about purchasing games at launch offered up a wide variety of reasons for why they are not keen on always being early adopters. While there were those who do still buy games as soon as they are made available, a high percentage of answers indicated there are only a limited numbers of exceptions where they are willing to do so.

Money was a commonly cited reason to wait, and rightfully so. No one has an unlimited supply of disposable income to spend on games, and as Snuggets noted, the cost of living and increasing gas prices make it difficult to drop $60 on a single game. Getting older also makes it hard to spend as much money on games, both because moving away from home can be expensive and because adult responsibilities don’t leave as much time for gaming.

That cost becomes even more difficult to justify when games routinely go on sale soon after they are released. Mass Effect 3 is a good example of this. After being released on March 6, it was available on Amazon for $30 on April 24. It was only a one-day sale, and you can blame whatever reason you want for that, but it doesn’t change the fact that a AAA release was available for half price in less than two months. It’s a similar situation to Black Friday; games released in the weeks prior to it can be had for incredibly low prices, like getting Battlefield 3 and Batman: Arkham City for $28 as Anthony Feliciano said he did. Those deals may require more effort to take advantage of than the usual sale you see in the Sunday flyers, yet knowing a game released in October or early November could potentially be had for $20 or $30 cheaper in late November may be more than enough to delay an immediate purchase. The same can be said for the inevitable price drops that seem to come sooner than ever before. In the case of PC games, things like Steam sales and indie bundles seem to be devaluing games and feeding into consumers’ desire to wait for a deal rather than paying the initial asking price.

There will always be fans willing to pay extra to get a game they care about as soon as possible, but price cuts and sales as steep as ME3’s are not helping to incentivize the purchase of games at launch. And developers and publishers most certainly do want you handing your money over at launch (if not sooner).

One way retailers are able to attract some gamers is by doing something to mitigate the cost. OhJTBehaaave brings up pre-order deals that can’t be passed up, such as Amazon offering a $20 credit toward a future purchase. “For instance there’s a $10 pre-order credit on Max Payne 3 that I might jump on because I really want to play that game on its release,” he said. “Otherwise I totally have enough of a game backlog to wait for games to reduce in price… which happens rather quickly these days.”

Although he said he would be buying Diablo III on May 15 even if he knew it would be available for cheaper soon after, EmperorCesar brought up a good point in mentioning how some companies’ games hold their value better than others. Blizzard is a good example of this, and Call of Duty games also tend to stay at their original price longer than most. But Nintendo with its evergreen titles may be the best example of all: New Super Mario Bros. for DS, released way back in May 2006 for $35, continues to be sold for that price at GameStop. Mario Party 8, released in May 2007, is $45 (used!) at GameStop and $48.84 on Amazon despite a sequel being released in March. If there’s a Nintendo game you want, sales aside, you’re unlikely to get it for cheaper unless you’re willing to wait a very long time.

UltramanJ mentions special deals helping to persuade him to splurge on a game at launch from time to time. To get gamers to put their money down early, stores will offer pre-order bonuses like physical items or in-game content, the desired implication being that they are only obtainable by pre-ordering. While that might be true of the physical items, it’s becoming more and more well known that in-game pre-order bonuses will be sold as downloadable content at some point down the line. Mortal Kombat‘s “klassic” character skins and fatalities come to mind as one example. Because these were spread out to different retailers, obtaining them all was initially an expensive proposition. Some turned to eBay to obtain them, with some auctions going for as much as $100. This happened before it was announced all of the bonuses would be sold in a DLC bundle for only $4.99. Knowing that a free pre-order bonus will only be available for an extra fee at a later date might convince some to put $5 down at GameStop ahead of a game’s release. But others see that DLC price as an acceptable cost because six months down the line they’ll still be coming out ahead as a result of the game itself costing much less.

Pre-order bonuses were one of three reasons vakthoth said he could see for wanting to buy a game at launch. The second was the game in question being an especially anticipated one; Portal 2 and Skyward Sword were noted as the only games he bought at launch last year. The third reason is if you’re the type to be very social about your games where you like to discuss the latest and greatest with friends. Time_Prophet said that’s what prompted him to buy games at launch as a kid. Nowadays the hot topic online changes rapidly — Mass Effect 3 and its ending, for example, were quickly devoured and dissected, and people have since moved on. That’s not to say no one is still talking about it, but by and large the conversation has run its course.

Part of that is due to the frequency of noteworthy releases. The past three months alone have seen Vita and its launch games, Mass Effect 3, The Witcher 2 for Xbox 360, Prototype 2, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, Ninja Gaiden 3, Silent Hill: Downpour, Yakuza Dead Souls, Street Fighter X Tekken, SSX, Syndicate, Asura’s Wrath, Twisted Metal, Resident Evil: Revelations, The Darkness II, and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning released — among others. And this isn’t even the busy part of the year; each fall the number of big releases seems to grow and it becomes an impossible task to keep up with them all. For those who want to be social about their games or are only interested in what’s hot at the moment, that means certain titles that might otherwise be day-one purchases get left behind.

“If I want a game, I buy it when it comes out. If I don’t buy a game within the first week or so, I’m likely to never get it at all because I just really don’t want it that much and have something else to play,” Dub_Z said. “Even if they were everyone else’s AAA GotY 1-2 years ago, by the time I’m in the mood for something new to play, and see them cheaper… they seem kind of outdated and even less ‘must have’ than they were when they were the cutting-edge game-of-the-week. Nowadays, I’d rather use the money to get DLC for a game I play on a regular basis, or for a $10-20 downloadable game that I want to play on day/week one and doesn’t require as much rationalizing, budgeting, or impulse control.”

Batman Arkham City Collector's EditionThe availability of collector’s editions is one thing that CloudStrife_ca said he can find difficult to resist as he doesn’t want to risk having one he is interested in become rare (and therefore more expensive) if he doesn’t buy it. Of course, this is a gamble in and of itself as anyone who has wandered into a store that sells games has likely stumbled across a pile of limited/collector’s editions of games that did not sell as expected and have now been heavily discounted.

Although I personally don’t like the idea of a game’s value being determined by the amount of content it contains, there were several people who noted game length and replayability play a significant role in deciding what is worth purchasing for $60. “If they are worth their launch price… so no, not very often,” tyfighter80 said in response to the question of whether he still buys games at launch. “All the AAA shooters and adventure games I most often rent from GameFly and buy them cheap if I think I’ll replay them a few times.” Luminaire28 said he expects to get “50 or more hours of playtime even if the developer goes out of business” if he’s going to spend $60 (but, like seemingly everyone else, he has exceptions to that rule; in his case, BioShock Infinite).

“There are very few games I buy at all anymore, let alone day-one purchases,” sdwoodchuck said. “For me, that shift has less to do with rapidly dropping prices and increased content packaged with the game down the line, and more to do with the fact that most games now aren’t the sort I can spend a lot of time with. You look at your average blockbuster release, and what you’ve typically got is a 10-15 hour single-player campaign and frequently a basic competitive multiplayer mode. While the latter does add replay for a lot of folks, it’s not something I typically get into, so I don’t feel as though I get my money’s worth when I spend release day prices on a game that I only spend a couple days with.”

On the other hand, multiplayer is one reason Anthony Feliciano said he will pick up a game at launch, presumably because that is when the online community will be most active. He also pointed to games where spoilers can be an issue, specifically mentioning Mass Effect 3 as one he purchased because it seemed as if details of its ending were everywhere. Back on the subject of multiplayer, between this example and the people saying they expect a lot of value from their games, you can begin to see why publishers are frequently insisting that developers find a way to incorporate multiplayer into their games.

Xenoblade ChroniclesSeveral people, including San_Andreas and JC_Lately, said niche games are the sort they will pick up right away. This is because these games can become difficult to find in stores after launch, something which is not at all the case with AAA games. On somewhat of a similar note, PoliticalGamer said he will go out of his way to buy games at launch that he considers a “miracle to have been released,” citing Tatsunoko vs. Capcom as one such instance where he did that. I imagine it’s a similar sentiment which drove many people to purchase Xenoblade Chronicles upon its release in North America.

Considering this is all a matter of how people decide to spend their hard-earned money, it’s hard to say anyone’s rationale is invalid or wrong. But two reasons that ring truer than many others were brought up by zachwor. “Many games have been adding downloadable content, season passes, and multiplayer to games that wouldn’t otherwise have it, in order to combat used game sales,” he wrote. “Why would I spend $60 for a new game [and] spend an additional $30 to $40 for more content when I can wait six months to a year to get the ‘full experience’ in a game of the year package that costs $40 to $50?” And it’s a very valid point — Capcom in particular has demonstrated numerous times it will put out a game and then release a more complete edition at a later time, Super Street Fighter IV and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 being two examples. Other companies, like Bethesda or Rockstar, will package a game with its DLC and re-release it under the guise of being a ‘Game of the Year Edition,’ either at the original $60 price or sometimes for less.

The second point zachwor made had to do with patches. “Especially with developers and publishers emphasizing release windows over polish, why would I want to buy a game that NEEDS two patches in order to play properly?” he asked. “If anything, people are being punished for buying day one with a worse experience than someone who picks up the game six months later, after developers have pushed out necessary patches fixing stuff that shouldn’t have been broken in the first place.” Those who purchased Skyrim on PlayStation 3 know this all too well. The PS3 lag issues aside, it’s also now a better game — updates have improved the game and added new features, such as Kinect support on Xbox 360 and the Steam Workshop on PC. Skyrim is hardly the only instance of this happening; Konami recently announced Silent Hill Downpour and the Silent Hill HD Collection have patches in the works to correct issues with framerate, audio sync, and auto-saves.

Considering how negative an experience it sounds like it is to buy a game at launch, one would hope developers and publishers would strive to do things differently, such as not rushing games out the door. Even if more gamers decide to wait until after launch to pick up the latest games, what companies are unfortunately more likely to do is find new ways to extract additional money out of those who are willing to put up with the many downsides of purchasing a game at launch.

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About jedionston

Gavin "Dirk" Jedionston the "N" in "In N Out"

Posted on May 10, 2012, in LATEST ARTICLES and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Spot on with this write-up, I actually believe that this site needs a lot more attention. I’ll probably be back again to read through more, thanks for the information!

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