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Depreciation and Video Games: Why $5 is Too Much for a Classic

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Would anyone scoff at paying $5 for an enhanced version or collector's edition of Citizen Kane on DVD? If a piece of Shakespeare were released in a special hardbound cover with outstanding cover art, would $10 be too pricey? The likely answer is ‘that's a bargain.’ Both represent the upper echelon of the two mediums.

What happened to video games then?

While the comparison to literary and film classics may be dubious to some, why does the gaming community look down upon updated releases of historical gaming titles such as Defender? What caused the depreciation of what it undoubtedly one of the greats of the industry?

We posed this question to the forum members of Digital Press, a classic video game website that catalogs and tracks down obscure games in the best interest of collectors. Surprisingly, there was no debate on the positive aspects of these re-releases, with the thread particularly focusing on a recent Xbox Live Arcade release of Defender.

The re-issuing of the Midway title included updated graphics, online play for two players, leaderboards to compare high scores from everywhere in the world for around $5 in Microsoft Points.

Forum member DaBargainHunta made a point that "…grumbling over a $5 charge does seem a bit silly."

He was quick to point out that even with the extra features, many retro gamers already own these games, sometimes in multiple forms. Another $5 could lead to picking up a game they never played from a garage sale or flea market.

The next hurdle is the explosion of emulation. As of today, all of the classic releases to the Xbox Live Arcade are available for free and easily downloaded to your PC. While hardly legal, this puts the games in the same area as illegal music downloads. A recent study conducted by Toronto-based Solutions Research Group showed that only 38% of people found downloading a copyrighted song for free as a serious offense.

The gaming industry struggles in the same way, with both retro and current titles. Digital Press member T2Kfreeker made the obvious point that seems to hold true for piracy of any kind.

"Why would you want to pay for it when you can get it for free, right?"

The extra work spent to update these games is not enough to counter the free versions available elsewhere, apparently.

The final hurdle, which many members pointed out, is that these games are not on any kind of physical media.

Imstarryeyed said, "I think there is a level of tangibility that is present when you actually buy a game versus downloading one from these pay services."

From the standpoint a collector whose walls are lined with games from eras long past, this response is not surprising. Site moderator Lady Jaye took a different perspective.

"The thing is, the $5 downloadable games aren't targeted at hardcore retro gamers, but rather at the adult casual gamer who hasn't played those games for years and might not even be aware of emulation." She continued with, "Under that perspective, $5 isn't a lot to pay for a game like SMB, even if for us, it's an easily found game in the wild."

Lady Jaye also took note of the music industry with issue of physical media.

"As for the whole physical versus virtual argument… most people nowadays don't mind using MP3s without ever having the physical CD. Same thing here."

Other forum posters attributed the decline in value as a change in standards. Current video games are generally panned if they fail to last 10 hours, winding through a variety of locations and complex storylines. Older games were far simpler, confined to a few screens with the goal being nothing more than a high score.

"For some dumb reason, people measure a game's ‘value’ by how many hours it take to beat it. They believe since a typical Defender game only last 30 minutes, tops, it has less value than a game that last 40 hours," said veronica_marsfan.

He would go on to say that graphics play a role, with the simple, pixilated graphics of old having trouble keeping up with today's 3-D visuals created by processes even the hardcore sector has trouble understanding.

Could it also be the social stigma? Kaedesdisciple brought this to the discussion.

"Film is considered art in the mainstream. Video games are not (yet) considered art in the same way, so people wouldn't pay as much for a reproduction of what is, in the eyes of some, simply a nostalgic toy."

Regardless of the reasons, the response was universal. Paying $5 for Defender or Super Mario Bothers is unacceptable in today's gaming market. It's not that the game's fail to entertain or create excitement through their play. The majority of the games still hold up as intended when they were first released.

As Poofta! Would reply, "… these games sucked out countless quarters and hours from us before."

For many, apparently, that may be the last time they ever spend money on these classics.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
  • http://www.breakingwindows.com/ Ken Edwards

    I just wish Nintendo would do the same thing with the Virtual Console that Microsoft is doing with XBLA. It would be able to play Mario Kart 64 over the Internet.

  • Dynamo of Eternia

    Well, I do think that $2 or $3 would be a much more reasonable price for a game like Defender or SMB than $5.

    The problem is that you really can’t compare movies to games in any real accurate way.

    Though, I do think that the amount of time that it takes to play a game and the depth of a game should be a factor to some degree.

    I mean, people don’t scoff at paying about the same price for a newer or older movie… but in general, most movies have the average 1 1/2 to 2 hours from running time (sans a few exceptions) regardless of what era they are from. I mean, if a movie were released that was a ‘classic’ but is only 10 or 20 minutes long, would you still want to pay the same price as you would for a 2 hour movie as a general rule? I don’t think most people would take to kindly to that.

    Also, we have to consider the fact that many compliation discs of classic games have been released in recent years for modern systems. Usually these discs cost around $20 and in some cases can include 10, 20, or even 30 games. (The recent Sega Genesis Collection for PS2 and the Midway Arcade Treasure releases come to mind).

    Then there are ones like the Sonic Mega Collection for Gamecube, PS2 and Xbox.

    I think the Gamecube one was initially $30 and then went down to $20. It included all 4 primary Sonic games from Genesis (1, 2, 3, and Sonic & Knuckles), and Dr. Robotnick’s Mean Bean Machine, Sonic Spinball, and a few other unlockable extras including other classic (non-Sonic) Genesis games. Not to mention other extra features like art gallaries, etc.

    Then it was later released on PS2 and Xbox with the subtitle of ‘Plus’ added to it, containing pretty much everything that the Gamecube version had, plus also having several of the Game Gear Sonic games on it. I believe these editions cost $20 from the get-go.

    So, you are getting quite a bit of Sonic action for $20. Compare that to having to download only the original Sonic game from Genesis to your Wii Virtual Console for $5 to $8 (I forget which price they charge for the Genesis games on the Wii VC). That doesn’t seem like too much of a deal by comparison, now does it?

    Depending on how everything would be released and at what price, to get all of the games from that Sonic Mega Collection (assuming they all eventually become available), you’d probably be looking at paying $50 or possibly a lot more… and you probably still wouldn’t even have the other various extras (like art galleries, videos, etc) that come on the collection disc.

    I think we’ve just become used to how these compilation collections work that the idea of paying $5 for a single one of the games doesn’t sound too appealing.

    Also, then there’s the issue of the games being data on the system rather than on a disc. Maybe some people like the idea of that, but I don’t.

    Now, I don’t have a problem with music in data form and buying MP3’s from a legit pay service site. But the thing is that you can then download them to your computer, use them on your I-pod or other MP3 player, burn a CD to use in a regular CD player, etc. There’s a great deal of longevity and portability that you get out of that. And since you can easily copy it and back it up, if you hard drive crashes or something like that, you could still easily have the file stores elsewhere.

    However, with the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console and Xbox 360 Live Arcade downloads, when you download them, they save to your Console memory/hard drive and can only run on YOUR console. In the case of the Wii, you can copy it to one of those SD cards for storage, but it will still only run on your console. And the 360 is a bit more complicated… you have to hook it up to your computer in order to burn a disc copy of the info on the hard drive, and even then the Live Arcade games will only work on your specific console.

    So, you don’t really get the same degree of usability out of these games. And if your system breaks or crashes or something, then you have to go through whatever process of redownloading the games from the respective services (supposedly they keep records of what you are downloading so if that ever happens, you don’t have to repay). So, the problem there is that you HAVE to redownload them becasue your previous copies would only work on the system that died. But, at least in the case of the Xbox 360 Live Arcade, there have been some cases where some games stop being available, which pretty much means you are screwed.

    I understand that they don’t want these downloads to work on multiple systems to combat piracy and people copying them, but when it doesn’t even guarantee that you can continue to play what you paid for, then I think that sucks.

    Personally, I’d rather buy classic games that are released on a disc for a particular system that will therefore work on any one of that brand of system, not just the particular one that I own. They could still easily add the online functions to them on those discs for newer releases. At least I know that if they stop making that disc and if my system crashes/dies and I have to replace it, I can still play my existing disc on the newer system.

    Another issue that arrises is this. As it stands, backwards compatibility is becoming of greater and greater interest. People want to be able to continue to play the games that they are buying now on the future systems that will eventually replace the current ones from the same respective company. Xbox 360 has already been highly criticized for not having all Xbox games compatible from day one and having to download updates to use them.

    But, things will be even worse for these Virtual Console/Live Arcade games come the next generation. I mean, if I can’t take my Wii VC games and even play them on my friend’s Wii, then how the hell will I get them to work on Nintendo’s next system (or the same with the Live Arcade games for 360)?

    I think part of the issue with paying $5 for a game like Super Mario Bros. is that many people have already bought it several times (original NES, SNES All-Stars Collection version, GB Color SMB Deluxe edition, GB Advance NES Classic Series edition…). And if I can’t even be guaranteed that it will still work 5 or 6 years from now when Nintendo’s next unit comes out, what good will that do? If I am going to pay $5 to have this game in the form of data rather than a disc, then there better be a simple, hassle-free way to get it to work on the next unit that comes out without me having to pay more money for it again.

    Going back to my Sonic Mega Collection comparison… I personally have both the Gamecube and Xbox versions of that Collection. And I have both the Wii and 360 systems, and I can use both of those previous-system version on my newer systems (and on my friends’ systems, etc). Therefore, I see no reason to pay $5 to $8 for a VC version that I can’t take with me (short of taking the whole system with me) and that may not even work with the next generation consoles that will eventually replace the current ones (granted, there’s no guarantee that the Gamecube and Xbox versions will work on the next systems either at this point, but at least they are already more widely usable now than the download version).

    The bottom line is that gaming and movies (and even music for that matter) are very different markets with many different things driving what prices are set, what formats they are available in, and why.

    I just think that the prices for downloading old games can be to high (esspecially from old late 70s/early 80s arcade, Atari, and even early NES era games that would only have like a few levels that would repeat over and over again and just speed up to increase the difficulty). And if you download several older games, those prices can add up pretty quickly to be a lot of money for games that many of us have already paid for in the past.

  • http://benefitofthedoubt.miksimum.com/ Jesse Miksic

    Background: casual gamer, loved his Nintendo, knows how to emulate software, has a USB Playstation controller, owns a Wii. Is dealing with college loans, and is NOT wealthy.

    As the game player thus described, I have to say I’m happy paying five bucks for an occasional Castlevania or Ninja Gaiden. I like the idea of playing these with a Wii controller, on my television set, and of having legitimately acquired the rights to emulate them to my heart’s content.

    Luckily, I feel like I’m winning this debate, despite all the comments in the other direction. Why? Because this isn’t a debate that’s going to be decided by feedback of fans on forums. It’s a debate that’s going to be decided by the market. People can bitch about the prices all they want, but it doesn’t, nor SHOULD it, matter to the developer. If people are paying those five bucks, the games will keep being offered for that price.

    So those of you who object to the price tag should direct your efforts toward convincing ME not to buy them, not toward convincing Nintendo to lower the price. And so far, I’m not convinced.

  • http://www.def-logic.com Brent Silby

    I don’t think it works to compare the length of gameplay between a classic (such as Defender) and a brand new game. They are different types of games and the comparison doesn’t work.

    New games that are story driven have to last 40 hours because you only play through once. There’s no point in playing again after you’ve seen it all and figured out all the puzzles etc. But with Arcade games there is no story. You can pick it up and play it a hundred times for a quick 5 minute fun blast. Its like comparing a game of soccer to a modern videogame–totally different. Or, perhaps a better analogy is to say that an Arcade game is like a music video while a huge story driven game is like a full length movie.

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com/ Ken Edwards

    Congrats! Your article was picked for this weeks Editors’ Picks.

  • Andrew Ogier

    I have no problem shelling out $5 – $10 on XBLA. Not only do you get the original game, but you get enhanced graphics and sound along with online play… this rejuvinates the old games and makes them worth the entry fee… Plus, you know the prices are justified due to the sheer amount of work those extras take to be put in. Look at how long SF2 took to hit XBLA as a good example.

    However, I DO have a problem shelling out the same $5 – $10 for a ROM with an emulator on Wii’s Virtual Console. There’s no enhancements, no online, and no custom button configurations. There’s not even Wiimote support for half of them, let alone Wiimote gestures. The price is too high, plain and simple.

    There’s also no original games on the VC, so you won’t ever be seeing brand new games on there.

    I’ve bought a lot of VC games, until one day it dawned on me… What’s the point? I have an identical version of them on my PC (and some on their original consoles too), so whats the point in paying for another identical version???

    If Wii’s VC games were at throwaway prices (50cents – $1 for a NES game, $2 – 3 for a Snes / Genesis / TurbographX game, and $5 for an N64 game – ya know, the prices you can get those same games for on Ebay, with a physical cartridge, box, and manual), I’d no doubt collect the full sets, but until they drop the prices Super Mario World is the last game I buy on VC.

    Xbox Live Arcade on the other hand, I have the entire collection of them so far, and I’m going to continue doing so…both for the brand new original titles, and for the enhanced remakes of the old classics.