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Re: Is collecting physical games worth it?

A follow-up on the insanity of collecting retro games

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I pre-ordered a physical edition of Bug Fables for Switch last week. My calendar has marked next friday as pre-order date for the Castlevania Anniversary Collection. Everyone who knows me also knows I’m a big Castlevania fan, but still - why bother with (much) more expensive physical editions? What’s going on here?

David Farquhar asked in his blog recently: Is collecting retro games worth it? It was a follow-up to my earlier article about the insanity of collecting retro games, and I’d like to rehash one perhaps overlooked concept here: the fact that game collecting primarily is about physical, tangible editions.

David remarks that you should not look at any hobby as an investment, and that’s true: if you are enjoying yourself, and you have the money to spare or it is not important to you, then by all means go for it. However, in one of the later paragraphs, he the continues talking about cashing out on retro gaming and how he should probably sell most of his stuff once he reaches mid 60s. I find that view very odd: by saying that, you basically admit that you’re doing it as an investment anyway. If that is your primary goal, then I suggest buying a storage locker full of sealed Magic: the Gathering booster boxes!

Why bother with Limited Run games?

A couple of friends think I’m crazy. They love the website eshop-prices.com which lists prices of games in different regions, allowing you to cheat by changing your Switch’s regional settings and buying it in for instance Brazil when in reality, you’re from Belgium. Great, a few dollars saved! Electronic game shops, including gog.com and Steam, regularly offer huge discounts, making it very tempting to click on “buy now”. You see, that’s exactly the problem.

You’re feeding your backlog way too easily. Are you also the kind of person in need of Backloggery.com to manage the games you own? In that case you probably have way too much! Buying a physical game to me is advantageous for a couple of very important reasons.

1. I can actually hold it.

This may sound ridiculous, but the psychological perspective for me is not unimportant. If I buy something, I want to be able to see and hold it. This also means that:

  • I can re-sell it if I want to.
  • I can display it in a nice way if I want to.
  • I can lend it to a friend if I want to.
  • I can chew on the cartridge!

On the lending and re-selling: this might seem as a non-issue, but is very important to me. I should own what I buy, meaning I can decide what I do with it - within the boundaries of intellectual right laws, of course. Some publishers claim it hurts them more than it should, but I tend to disagree. I have bought many games that were lent to me: it gives the games more exposure, not less. For that same reason, some developers even release the full version of their games on The Pirate Bay. Go figure.

CD-Key abuse is rampant, and I’m pretty sure I’m cutting a lot of corners here, but there is also evidence that more distribution equals more opportunities.

2. Physical games are usually more expensive.

And that’s an advantage. Why? Because the more money I spent on a game, the more conscious the decision will be. This means that:

  • I will oblige myself more to actually play and finish it.
  • I will more carefully consider the purchase by looking at reviews and asking myself whether it’s really worth it to have this particular game.

Come on, be honest. How many of you bought a Humble Bundle or a massive amount of GOG/Steam games for $1/piece and never touched them? Right. These rules are applicable to any game by the way, not just retro games.

Getting your hands on a physical version might also involve more trouble: this also plays into the cares of “mindful game buying”. For example, Nintendo’s Super Mario 3D All Stars - even though many games on it aged badly - was quickly sold out everywhere, because it was supposedly only available for a set amount. To be honest, that’s just ridiculous. Of course, I had to grab it, and it involved an afternoon of driving around. I would not have done that if I did not consider actually playing it.

3. Physical editions come with extras.

Well, I should write came instead of come. My big box PC games such as Neverwinter Nights, Baldur’s Gate II and Might and Magic VI all included booklets of a hundred pages and a cool map. Might and Magic even has a cloth version of the world map! I’m not into collecting figurines but the games that I do love are usually the ones I spend a lot of time on, and having a map to decorate my retro game room with is just awesome.

4. Physical games do not clog up disk space.

Sure, disk space is inexpensive. However, on the Nintendo Switch, these things are set in stone. The only thing you can and should do is buy a large enough SD card - which is also not that expensive. Still, just booting them from an external cartridge is more effective. It provides additional bonuses:

  • I have to go through the act of inserting a cartridge. To me, this ritual is part of the gaming process. I’m used to blowing SNES ones!
  • It forces me to think which game to play by rummaging through my drawer instead of zipping through icons and just pressing a button.

Why not bother with Limited Run games?

Limited Run Games is a company that releases physical versions of e-shop exclusives. That is, these games never made it into the physical world before. The trouble is, they’re only manufacturing a couple of thousand cartridges each. I think you know what’s coming next:

Yay, ridiculous eBay prices!

This obviously creates a new problem: should you buy these games preemptively, even if you’re not that interested? Hold that thought! We’re entering the “my collection is an investment”-mode again. I’d strongly advise against this. Gaming should be fun and should be about the games, not about the potential money gains. That said, I’m often frustrated by the fact that these limited availabilities cause that sort of effect. Nintendo also knows this well enough when they decided to put a time limit on Mario 3D All Stars - further increasing the demand, precisely because of the triggered psychological effects.

This would be a strong argument against bothering with such games. If gaming really is about gaming, a digital edition also allows you to play it, at a fraction of the price. Do not forget Limited Run’s ridiculous $15 shipping (to Europe, at least). I would be amazed if additional import taxes would not be needed. As David says: rebuying a lot of games from your childhood can get very expensive.

To conclude, I actually like the concept of “mindful gaming”, which, for me, includes the act of handling its physical appearance, whether it’s a small Switch cartridge, a huge PC box, or a big SNES PCB housing. It’s not about collecting, it’s about buying, feeling, and playing the games you have hand-picked, and actually intend to finish! Up to the second boss with the huge difficulty spike, anyway.

So, take my money and get on with it already, Limited Run!

I'm Wouter Groeneveld, a level 35 Brain Baker, and I love the smell of freshly baked thoughts (and bread) in the morning. I sometimes convince others to bake their brain (and bread) too.

If you found this article amusing and/or helpful, you can buy me a coffee - although I'm more of a tea fan myself. I also like to hear your feedback via Mastodon or e-mail. Thanks!

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