E3 has started. Some gamers are excited. Some gamers are jaded with it all. Either way, the lifecycle of many games will start this week. Almost. Well most of them were revealed, hinted at or leaked already. So this is games at their birth. First comes hype, then months of reveals, then reviews then bam! Japan gets the game. Then America. Then Australia. Then most of Europe. Then the UK. This is the beginning of a lifecycle for a game. But what happens at the end? When the game has been played by millions? Bizarrely it appears they dissapear from sight, only resurfacing on the second hand market. Don’t believe me? Check the official sites for Nintendo, Capcom, Microsoft games, Sony, Ubisoft. Mostly filler sites at best with the rare piece of news before Kotaku gets it. On most of them you can’t even buy the games from the site. Want to pick up Super Mario Sunshine from Nintendo directly? Tough. You can’t. Thank the goddess of gaming then for Amazon and Play. Otherwise anyone wanting the good old games (and in many cases the ‘old’ can be as recent as last year) would be well and truly fucked.
Instead of just incessantly whining and bitching about it all I set up a little experiment to represent the general consumer with a slight interest in games. This theoretical person doesn’t sit on the net all day, doesn’t peruse gaming forums and might buy one or two gaming mags a year. They have a bit of spare income and normally buy a game once every two months. But not just any old shit. They want genuinely good games that will last them a while and forking out full price is a bit too much to justify, so they are looking for a bargain. They want to buy the games new as they don’t trust online retailers and read somewhere that the second hand market for games is bad for the industry as a whole. They are also lazy and unwilling to travel further than 5km from their Central London (UK) home to buy a game from either a media store (HMV, etc.), chain games specialist (GAME, Gamestation) or independent gaming store. And there was no skimping either. The media stores and chain game stores were the biggest and in some cases flagship stores. So our guinea pig has somewhat atypical access to large stores than the average UK consumer.
After conducting some research on the internet our theoretical person is out for any of the following 21 GBA, DS, PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii and Gamecube games:
GBA: LoZ: A Link to the Past, Metroid Fusion and Advance Wars 2.
DS: Mario Kart DS, Elite Beat Agents, and Mario and Luigi: Partners in time.
PS2: GTA San Andreas, God of War II, and Resident Evil 4.
PS3: Ninja Gaiden Sigma, Elder Scrolls IV, and Wipeout HD.
Xbox 360: Gears of War, Dead Rising, and Dead or Alive 4.
Wii: Zack and Wiki, De Blob, and Resident Evil Umbrella Chronicles.
Gamecube: Resident Evil Zero, Viewtiful Joe and Eternal Darkness.
All good or great games, you’ll understand, and common enough to be realistically found in a store.
Now our theoretical is disabled by virtue of being not real so I took the liberty of hunting down these games in real life. In the space of two or so weeks I managed to get to most of these and in the end had to phone two stores with inquiries. Here be the results.
Overall very disappointing. In fact I our theoretical person had low expectations but the results were even worse than anticipated. So what does this mean? Well the sample size is rather small so we take these results with a pinch of salt. However, most people might not wander around 15 stores looking for games; I’d give up after three. It is important to remember that most games are bought at retail, so ‘just get them online’ doesn’t wash. Originally, I stated that our guy was after new games only. The above results are for new and second hand with Viewtiful Joe and Metroid Fusion being the only two second hand games because there weren’t any other copies of stuff that was second hand. I should know, I spent hours rifling through filthy game cases. All on your behalf.
So by platform.
GBA. Despite every first edition DS and DSlite having a GBA slot and the GBA itself bought in such high numbers the platform is all but abandoned on the high street. You won’t find a GBA section in the media stores and GAME and Gamestation have a tiny collection, if any. Indy stores were a bit more of a winner but in all but one of the Indy stores the GBA section was less than 12 games thick.
DS. With apparently all the world owning a DS it was surprising to see that it was still tricky to find the quality titles. Looking for these titles was also the hardest on the hands being that there are just so many mediocre and shit games on the shelves. Sad faces for Mario and Luigi all round.
PS2. With the PS3 doing so badly for so long you thought Sony may have had a bit of a contingency plan with the PS2. As with the GBA, huge install base but no shelf space. Ridiculous that GTA and GoW 2 were totally invisible in all but the Indy store. Criminal that RE4 just wasn’t there.
PS3: With the total lack of games for the PS3, it was anticipated that you’d be able to find these three games quite easily. After all, if you can’t find three of the best games when there are only 20 games available for the platform you’d be right to be pissed off if you were Sony. Sony, I hope you are pissed off.
Xbox 360: Again, a slew of average games but very few classics. Not bad though. 1 in 2 chance of finding Gears of War which is unusual for a game with a sequel and the same chance for Dead Rising. DoA 4 though? No chance.
Wii: Surprise of the whole shebang is Zack and Wiki, being the most available game of the lot. Shame about De Blob, again a classic and good to see that Resident Evil Ummbrella Chronicles is out there. Albeit with mixed consistency.
Gamecube: Depressing result but totally anticipated.
The HMVs of the world.
Scoring a whopping 17 out of 105. Which is crucial when you think that going to a game specialist or independent store is something that most normal consumers will never ever do as they are such horrible shops. No PS2, GBA or Gamecube games. Some of the newish games.
The Game Specialists.
Thankfully scoring better than above but still lowish considering these are the game specialists. 24 out of 105. Where exactly is the specilising?
The best scoring with a wowing 29 out of 105. But did they do well without the big budgets, chainstores and branding? Yes, yes they did.
Overall depressing really, for a number of reasons:
The games industry bitches about the second hand market. Try finding these games new. Just try. In lots of cases there’s no other option but to go for second hand, especially online.
The sign of things to come? Games are made to make money not to further the art. Most games are bought at retail. Most great games cost millions to make. From this little survey, most games disappear from shelves after a year or so. So the thinking persons money is on cranking out shit shovelware. You have been warned.
Non-obsolete but old platforms are all but abandoned. So you’ll be continuously buying new platforms in order to have a reliable supply of games even when the older platforms work perfectly well. There’s some mileage in backwards compatibility but is so costly for what I imagine means little return. Backward compatibility is gone with the DSi, only half works on the PS3, works with the Wii but try to find the games and I imagine is the same for Xbox titles. Expect support for PSOne, PS2 and Xbox to disappear with next gen.
It is genuinely shocking. Some of these games are absolute classics that need to be experienced by gamers new and old. The gaming industry seems to be using the fashion industry model rather than the literature and film model when it comes to keeping consumers happy. Unlike books and films, a lot of these aren’t available anywhere else and it’s the masses that will be missing out. If all they are exposed to is shitty new shovelware on increasingly expensive platforms then you wouldn’t blame them for giving up on gaming altogether. In the UK, gaming is finally getting recognition (although purely on an economic basis in these dark times) and I think we need to reel back the ambition to make money a bit. I know this is a point that has been made many many times, especially here on videolamer, but how about supporting games after they are out for a bit longer? Instead of ploughing all the resources into cranking out the next sequel in time, make a bit more money from the older games and kill the second hand market by keeping games on shelves for longer than a month or two for most games or a year for the AAA titles. Who knows, it might work?
Preserving our digital heritage. Thank god for the web. Without the millions of news posts, videos, fora, blogs, images and wikis there would be no preserved gaming heritage or any record of how gaming affects some people. There are no proper gaming museums, there are a few computing museums but no National Depository or official system for preserving every new game. Sadly, games are being lost the whole time and with the above situation this time appears to be getting shorter and shorter. With such depressing findings perhaps it would be better if gaming went completely virtual, but countless surveys have shown that downloadable content and microtransactions are still unpopular with many many people and even then there is not a proper archiving system in place for the terabytes of data that needs preserving and maintaining. I, for one, like owning a physical object to hold in my hands and think it will be a sad day indeed when we no longer have that option.
So remember this E3 and all the games you were excited about because when the next generation of gamers comes round they won’t care or even know what you were talking about. They’ll have their own new games to play.