Black Friday Part II

“If everyone is doing it, flooding the market, then sales are going to be lost, either to some kid having to choose between Ace Combat 5 and Goldeneye: Rogue Agent now, or between no game next year and a baseball glove or something like it.”
– Michael O’Reilly, Inside Pulse Staff

Part II: Hardware

So you’ve decided to become a gamer. While it’s a noble gesture to want to get on the gaming bandwagon at a time when business is booming like never before, be prepared to pay a hefty fare for doing so. Before you get to experience the sights and sounds, the blood and gore, your local game retailer will bleed you dry.

Let’s just say you’re buying a PS2. A PS2 costs $149, right? Well, not exactly. Here’s how it breaks down…

Playstation 2 ($149). Your new, slim Playstation 2 system comes with the system, a controller, and the necessary cables to play. Nothing more, nothing less. And you’ll play nothing on the PS2 unless you invest in some other “accessories”.

Vertical Stand ($15). You know how on the box, the PS2 is standing up? That doesn’t come cheap. You’ll need to invest in a stand to prop the system up, unless you’d like to run the risk of leaving the system on your carpet – and anyone who ever tried that with a PS1 can tell you how successful that thought process is.

Memory Card ($25). With games clocking in at 50 hours and above, it’s going to be necessary to save that game. And if you plan on playing a season of MVP Baseball 2005, you may need a separate card just for that game, unless you plan on doing some heavy deleting of other files.

Second Controller ($25). While many would make the argument that the industry has moved away from a two-player cooperative form towards a single-player world with online components, the truth is that there’s nothing better than giving it to a buddy in person and talking trash the rest of the day. To do that, you’ll have to drop another $25 on a second controller.

DVD Remote ($15). Suppose you don’t have a DVD player and would like to explore the wonderful world of DVD through your PS2. You aren’t the first one, so don’t worry about that. But do worry about the fact that your system doesn’t come with a remote and unless you enjoy using your controller to perform DVD functions, the investment in a DVD remote becomes essential.

Notice how we haven’t even discussed games yet? Still, you’ve already dropped $235 (before sales tax) on the bare essentials for gameplay. Hidden costs add $85 to your initial layout, which doesn’t include a game at this point. Feel taken? You should.

Now, just for comparison’s sake, you decided to get into the DVD market instead. You want a good, reasonably priced DVD player. You don’t need a 5-disc changer or anything like that, just the basics. Here’s how that instance breaks down…

DVD Player ($149). You’ve made a solid investment in a Progressive Scan DVD Player that will also play your MP3 CDs, video discs, or any other kind of digital media you might have. You know that it’ll last you because companies have had countless chances to make DVD players and have encountered all the problems they’re going to face. Besides, when the bottom-line DVD player costs $50 and you’re playing $150, that’s a very secure feeling you’re going to have.

That’s it. A little easier, no? Sure, you could go nuts buying component cables and audio cables to hook up to your home theater system, but unless you have the capacity to do those things, you won’t need to drop the money on them. So for $85 less, you’re set. The only thing left to decide is how you want to spend your $135 in savings (that’s $85 on the setup plus $50 for the game you’re not buying).

Some other things that you can get started in for less than $235…

Stamp Collecting
Coin Collecting
Texas Hold’ Em Poker

You get the idea. It’s expensive to be a gamer, no question, and most of the time, it’s worth the hit in the pocket. But when you’re into gaming, you’re not looking at a one-time deal. Instead, you’re likely to be buying a new system at least once every five years.

When you purchase a DVD player or TV, you do so with the knowledge that you’re going to be keeping it for a while. Maybe in five years, you decide you can get a better one for cheaper than you thought. That’s your choice, and kudos to you for upgrading if you feel it’s necessary. However, the advantage that other areas of the entertainment industry have over gaming is that they don’t force you to change.

If you’re a gamer that follows the changes of the industry, you know the scenario well. Company announces the next system that will replace the one that you have, while simultaneously telling the world that they will continue to “support” your current system. So while promoting the new system, what you get for your system is half-assed games, because developers are working hard on making a big splash for the new system. And when the new system finally arrives, all you get are crappy versions of the newest hits. Is that “support”?

“When the new system finally arrives, all you get are crappy versions of the newest hits.”

Now, obviously, gamers are going to want the most current technology, and that’s fine. But is it really fair to leave a part of your core audience – loyal fans who can’t afford the new system – behind? Think about it – go into your local Best Buy and you’ll see a very small VHS rack with new releases as well as old favorites on it. Do studios produce VHS versions for profit? No! They do it to convenience those people who hate technology and would just rather have the movie on VHS. So why is it that nobody can obtain new copies of N64 games anymore? A heck of a lot more people play the original Mario Party than plan to watch Shrek 2 on VHS, so why the discrepancy?

We’ve come to accept price cuts as part of the console wars, and most people agree that it’s a good thing. The companies are happy because they get extra sales they never would have had before. Gamers are happy because they get what they wanted for a significant discount. And the industry benefits because competition breeds quality, which means that if someone has a PS2 and an X-Box, that consumer is going to have a tough decision when it comes to buying Madden for one system or the other. It forces developers to become creative by offering “extras” for the buyers who own different systems.

But imagine you were one of the brave souls who lined up in the freezing cold in November 2001 for a GameCube. You paid $199 for it, and you thought it was worth it – after all, both PS2 and X-Box retailed for $299 at that point. But you look at your Circuit City ad three years later, and suddenly the system is not only half what you paid for it, but it includes a killer game as well. What’s going on here?!?

Buying a modern gaming system is like investing in the company that produces it. You have to have total confidence that this system is going to get the games and apps you expect it to have. You have to believe that the system is going to stick around until it is technologically obsolete. And you have to believe that its price is right – more so than you believe it for any other system.

Is that right or wrong? That’s tough to say. You don’t see Sony and Samsung waging price wars against each other, at least not in the over style that Sony and Microsoft go at it. Then again, when it comes to gaming, it’s not really about the hardware at all. It’s about the games, and the games ultimately dictate who wins and who loses. So even though you waited on that long line for a system that’s more technologically sound than the PS2, you will – unfortunately, and probably more unsettling – never get to play GTA for your GameCube.

But you, as a gamer, have come to accept that. After all, it’s only recently that PS2 owners got to experience Viewtiful Joe. But with these games that are so valuable comes one of the most vile and disgusting practices in the marketing of any product. One that makes you wonder how valuable you really are to the companies that rely on your dollars to survive. And if you were one of the poor souls who tried to buy Ninja Gaiden for the holidays last year, you know exactly where this is headed.

Part III: Shipping & Handling