Now that I’ve indulged in Amazon Prime’s everything-ships-free plan instead of having to find filler to reach the $25 mark for free shipping, I get a lot of individual movies or games in the mail–small, light boxes instead of larger, denser boxes with three or more things packed inside. On Friday, I received one such large, heavy box and couldn’t remember what I could have possibly ordered that would result in a package of this heft. Once I opened it, I realized it was my copy of The Witcher 2.
At the time of pre-order for the game, there was no “standard” edition; there was the choice of “premium” at the normal PC game price of $50 or the “collector’s edition” at a much pricier $130. Even this “base-level” package was packed with the sort of things we’d normally pay a price-premium for to upgrade to a collector’s edition: behind-the-scenes DVD, soundtrack CD, strategy guide, map, coin. Atari and CDProjekt spoiled their fans for $10 less than the price that even the PC versions of popular console games charge. Heck, even the PC-only Starcraft II retailed for $60.
When publishing on the PC, because it is an open platform there is no licensing fee charged for the¬†privilege¬†of releasing a game as there would be on a console. So why then are PC versions of console games now asking as much as the console version? Because the fans are willing to pay that much? Because the content is worth that much? Certainly, the publisher is allowed to ask what it will and it’s up to the buyer to agree to the cost, even if the back-end business numbers show that there’s something missing from the equation compared to the console version of the product.
But then sometimes the question isn’t “why am I being charged the same for less” but rather “why am I being charged the same for more?” Sometimes that extra leeway of reduced publishing costs and room to breathe at an expected price point allow you to say, “let’s really give them all of their money’s worth.”
Recently, Amazon added a “standard” version of The Witcher 2 on their page for some unknown price but currently starting at $40, $10 less than the “premium” (and current “regular” edition). It’s not yet available for order, but I predict it will be a game-only version without all the addition bonus materials. People love to play video games, but they also love paying as little as they would need to. Companies like Atlus, NIS, and Warner Bros know that most “day-one” purchasers are fans who love the material and who appreciate extra trinkets like behind-the-scenes materials, soundtracks, art books, or toys. They’re willing to pay full price and are rewarded with special editions of their games & movies; at a later time, subsequent print runs cost less and have less included material but is targeted to a different audience who only really cares about the core experience. (That said, in the case of Atlus & NIS, they know they cater to a very fanatical, niche audience who generally invest emotionally and financially in their game worlds. Warner Bros. also started a movement now catching on with other studios to create special “DigiBook” blu-ray versions of some of their more historically significant or popular films that include a hardcover booklet of photos & essays.)
EA sort of does something similar with their every-first-run-copy-is-a-”limited-edition” thing, but it’s more of a marketing push than fan-service. You get extra things for your game, but you’re not given a look behind the creation of the game or given something meant to make you smile.
Back on the original Xbox, Microsoft experimented with the¬†every-first-run-copy-is-a-”limited-edition” thing with Jade Empire and Mechassault 2 which was a sort of hybrid between the “buy it now or else you’ll miss out on something cool” marketing push and the fan-service “we know you like this so much you want to know more about it” approach. That’s something I miss, but I don’t think that sort of effort will come back since most publishers now make that the +$10-$20 “collector’s edition.”