The Gamer’s Conscience 10.06.03


Starting off this column, I’d like you, the reader, to recall the last time you went out and bought yourself a game. Just, if you will, remember the motions: you, running into your local video game specialty store or mass merchant for that new title you’ve been salivating over your keyboard for as long as you care to admit. Like a rabid heroine addict about to get his/her fix, you whip out the paper or plastic, take it home, and begin to vegetate to your heart’s content.

Now, try to remember the last time you did that, but really- and I mean really enjoyed that game. Really loved it. Like when Bryan Adams loved a woman back in the 90s and had to write such an asinine song about it. A game that, despite the fact that it came through the usual horribly morally tainted corporate channels of Best Buy or EB Games, you loved because it was so damned great. When it comes to memorable games like these, I believe they fall into two categories:

A) The mass market, sure fire, high production-run titles. These games usually come to define the console that they’re in, and benefit from some degree of prior franchise exposure. Games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, or Metal Gear Solid. Usually produced by gaming giants and preserved by the Console Cartel’s budget lines, these brought a great gaming experience to the gaming populous as a whole, and chances are that you can find them easily and cheaply wherever fine gaming products are sold. Please excuse that last cliche line. When it doesn’t fall in here, it falls into the category !

B) The sleeper hit; the low-print thus low-risk game that if you don’t pick it up now at 50 bones, you may never get to at that price again. Games that get as much as a murmur or a peep of regard from the mainstream channels, only to rock your socks off when you get a hold of them; usually stand-out for their respective genres. Games like Raystorm, Intelligent Qube, or the PS2 version of Guilty Gear X. Most of the time, these gems fall from the purse of smaller publishers and developers. These games, while perhaps having a lineage from a marketable franchise, are put into retail channels in such a low volume for what companies target as “niche” gamers, and thus enter an abyss I like to call “the Collector’s Market,” with the effect of pricing a game out of the reach of certain gamers.

Import games also fall into the second category, but for this discussion are omitted due to the fact that they aren’t available to the US market anyways.

Some of you might be wandering why I bring up this point at all. Why I’m taking time out of your day and mine to talk about something that is taken at face value. Well, you see, I’m somewhat dismayed at the fact that games that fall into the second category, that is, the low-print one, have not had as wide a release as their superior gameplay merits. That among the annals of great games for gamers to choose, there are a few select pieces that are kept out of gamers hands, if only because of the shortsightedness of game producers in wanting to keep their production costs low and their profits stable.

Take Intelligent Qube, for instance. IQ has got to be one of the most original puzzle game concepts to ever be developed for a platform since Tetris. For the uninitiated, you play as what looks like Weird Al Yankovic’s rendering from the Beverly Hillbillies video (which in itself was a parody of both the video and song Money for Nothin’ by the immortal Dire Straits) running around a polygonal surface while trying to escape the coming rush of incoming cubes that had the propensity for a quick and crushing death. Sure, you had to contend with an obnoxious announcer every now and then, but this game was pure and original puzzle gold- an assessment that most gamers agreed with. For a game that had been originally released in October of 1997, you should be able to find it in the bargain bin at a modest price. But because of it’s low production run, it’s inflated value keeps the scope of it’s enjoyment limited.

This doesn’t apply to certain titles either. Working Designs boasts an impressive library spanning a series of Japanese titles that no other publisher would touch. However, probably due to economic constrains from a higher production run, much of their games are produced in lower numbers and thus earn the dubious designation of ‘rare,’ acquiring a higher price of admission. Vanguard Bandits comes to mind, as well as an insane amount of RPGs made for many systems in their years of business. Many games from Atlus, unfortunately, suffer the same fate; they’re great games, yet the low production yield prices out some gamers in the long term.

However, when you think about it, the video game market itself isn’t so unique in this respect. A lot of consumer goods fall into this line of production; all of the digital media, from albums to movies go in limited runs. Cars do too, as well as wine, and! well, other stuff I’m sure.

But I say that if a company can support a larger production run, or even a reissue of the same title after some time has passed, then they are doing the right thing. If a company has the economic resources to re-release a genuinely good title for those that may have missed it in it’s first run, then more power to them. Examples are as follows!

From Software and Sony Computer Entertainment released the first Armored Core game in 1996, paving the way for 2 later PSX sequels and now 4 PS2 titles as well. When Master of the Arena came out in 2000, the value for the original Core was inflated to the point of putting it off. So when Agetec took it on the chin to re-release it for the modest price of 29.99, they were doing the gaming community a service by satisfying that contingent of the market. They did damned great work for bringing SNK classics to the US Dreamcast and other imports as well to other systems, but I’ll save that praise for another column.

Before it’s re-release, Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo for the PSX was going for upwards of 80 dollars on eBay. Today, since it’s re-release, its value has gone down to a more accessible 29.99, allowing more gamers to try an alternative to the over-saturation of Tetris titles. Now, if they can do this with the Street Fighter 3 titles, I’d be much obliged.

Hell- I’m indifferent to the house that Madden built, but if it hadn’t been for the Square-EA connection some time ago, I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy Xenogears at all- and that would have meant one less column and around 68 hours of having to do -gasp- something else!

But in all seriousness, these companies are doing the right thing. By re-releasing titles that had not got the run they deserved, companies are giving gamers what they want: realistic prices on great time-tested games. While it’s worth it to pursue and pimp games that is new and exciting to the gaming world, companies shouldn’t lose sight of the lesser (and in some cases better) releases that those same gamers have come to appreciate. Rather than closing the door on great titles to the overpriced collectors market, re-releases can regulate the price of admission on these same great titles, thus opening the door for more gamers to enjoy.

Keeping the game ‘priced to play.’ That’s the Gamer’s Conscience.

That’ll about do it for this edition of the Conscience. Stick around the rest of the week, as the superior outfit of gaming Gods here at 411Games brings the news, insight, and funk like no one else. Feedback is always encouraged and appreciated, whether you love this stuff or hate it.

Have yourselves a good week- until the next time!