With digital distribution the dominant force in the video game industry, due to its low overhead costs and ease of access, physical collectors editions and disks are likely to be phased out with the onset of next generation consoles and hardware.
For people like avid game collector Jason Ashman (inset), this isn’t particularly great news.
‘Personally, I hate it. There is no value in anything you get digitally. There is no rarity or collectors value, it’s just what it is. For most people this is not a bad thing, it’s quick, easy, and for the most part cheaper than their physical counterpart. But to a collector they are worthless. I can’t display it on my shelf, I can’t sell it on, I can’t get it for a bargain.‘
Jason Ashman is a Melbourne based video game collector and developer in the process of moving the bulk of his collection to a new house. The often large size of collector’s editions, not to mention the sheer number of games Jason has, makes for a challenge trying to find room for it all. I was lucky enough to secure him for a one hour interview in the midst of the chaos.
‘I had to steal a spare bedroom in my house (pictured below) to house my collection and it still isn’t enough room. They are just everywhere, and when you take into account that I also collect arcade machines and kiosks, it gets out of hand quickly.’
It takes up a lot of room, it’s expensive and inconvenient. So why does Jason Ashman collect games? In a time where it’s never been easier to download or emulate games? For Jason, it’s a labour of love and a search for nostalgia.
‘The appeal started after a large amount of boredom set in one day, in between university and work about three or four years ago. I remembered about my old Nintendo sitting up in the roof . I brought it down and played some Dr. Mario. Then I remembered my Super Nintendo, Sega, and whatever else I had stashed up there. I had so much fun I decided to go and get some games that I didn’t have as a kid. Suffice to say I just didn’t know when to stop. I don’t remember exactly what was the first retro game I went out and bought was, but if I had to guess I think it was Super Castlevania IV. Funny enough, I still haven’t played past the first two minutes.’
Digital distribution isn’t all bad though. It allows not only instant access to new games, but support for playing old ones, without having to source the old, often rare hardware to run it. Finding old consoles and video games in working condition is not easy either. Jason concedes that it’s definitely broadened the market, and has even made it cheaper for collectors to get the original hardware.
‘For collectors who are just starting out, it’s brilliant. What brings prices down more than something else that is cheaper and easier to use? The advent of the Wii Virtual Console has especially helped this along. Retro games on the Virtual Console have dramatically dropped the prices of their retro counterparts. Same goes for high definition re-releases like ICO, or Shadow of the Colossus for example, which used to routinely go for 100 dollars. But a quick search on eBay finds these games sitting at 40 dollars.’
So what is the future for collector’s editions? At the moment, the market has a nice harmony of catering for the hard-core collectors, while digital distribution platforms like Steam and Desura cater for those who just want to play the games. But collectors like Jason are in the minority, and even collector’s editions with bonus content are now being cast into the realms of digital distribution.
‘Since digital has become prevalent, I think collector’s editions are both on the way out, and coming back in a different form. Most collectors editions I see these days are ‘buy this $30 more expensive edition and get a digital download of the art book!’. Yeah, great. That is becoming the norm now. I don’t mind spending an extra $20, $30 or even $100 on a game if it has something I really like in it. I recently bought a game for $200 because it had a massive and awesome looking statue in it. But there is no chance I would spend even a cent extra to get a digital copy of the soundtrack which costs nothing to reproduce.’
Nintendo has already released their next gen console, the Wii U, which still uses physical disks. However, its increasingly popular Nintendo eShop accounted for a significant amount of their income in early 2012. With Sony and Microsoft having already announced their new consoles, the subject of physical disks is a hot topic. Jason asserts that although internet speeds aren’t good enough just yet, the PS4 and Xbox One will be the last consoles to use physical media and the next generation will likely be online distribution only.
‘With internet speeds becoming greater and greater, I foresee that the next generation of consoles, PS4, Xbox One, etc., will probably be the last for physical games. I sincerely hope I’m wrong, as I love the new games almost as much as the old. But I can’t see the publishers putting out for the costs of packaging and printing, when they can just as easily push it to consoles at a fraction of the cost, and at the same price to the consumer.’
At the end of the day, it all comes down to ease of access, businesses reducing overhead costs, and convenience for the consumer. So collecting may become even more niche then it already is. For Jason and other collectors, it’s likely going to get harder to collect for modern gaming. But as with all niches, it will always have its place with a community of avid enthusiasts. I’ll leave you with some questions directed to him about his extended collection.
Is there something that you just couldn’t get due to rarity or other factors?
‘There is always something out there that you see and you think… nope! I recently saw Nintendo World Championships on eBay. It’s a super rare Nintendo cartridge. It never saw an actual release. It was based on a gaming tournament in the late 80′s and the winners in each state got one. It sold for around about $12,000 (AUD). I would love to be able to say ‘I own Nintendo World Championships’ but I think I would rather buy about a thousand other games, or you know, a new car with that kind of money!’
What item or items do you prize most?
‘This is a tough one. I can say I prize my copy of Dr Mario very highly because of the memories attached. My family and I used to play that all the time, even my mother would get involved. When you take into account things of high value, I have a launch team Xbox 360 which was only given out to the people who actually made the 360. The only difference in my model, as it is incomplete, is the green strip on the top or bottom. But that green strip brings it from $50, which is what I paid for it, to $1000. There is also nothing like bringing someone down to my place and saying ‘Hey, you wanna have a go at Point Blank on my cabinet outside?’ It’s just a spectacularly fun thing to play and I love it to bits!’
Do you keep a list of things you have and want?
‘I do. It started after I bought the same thing that I already owned multiple times. I’m not sure what I was thinking but I definitely went overboard after that in terms of cataloguing everything. I even catalogue the cables I own right down to the power cords. As for a want list, I do have one, but its vastly incomplete. At the moment it’s just big ticket stuff that I forget about because they are obscure or super rare.’