Being Part of the Gaming Bubble

There really is little point buying a game at launch when you think about it.

For a start, you’ll be paying a premium for the privilege of owning a game on day one – up to £60 if you’re paying the RRP for a new Xbox One or PS4 game (although realistically it will probably be more like £50 or less if you shop around). And what are you getting for that money? Well, probably something that’s a bit broken. Patching a game after it’s been launched is now the norm, so the version you play at launch might be radically different – and probably worse – than the version you’d play if you waited a couple of months. The broken – and now partially fixed – loot system in Destiny is a case in point. And speaking of Destiny, I’ve no doubt that the game will be utterly transformed over the next few months as more patches and game modes are added, and it will be all the better for it. Plus in six months’ time it will be at least half the price, and probably cheap as chips secondhand.

Is it worth paying a premium for a game that isn't at its best on launch day?
Is it worth paying a premium for a game that isn’t at its best on launch day?

So why on Earth would you buy a game at launch? Logically, it makes no sense. But logic has no place in the gaming bubble.

And in fact, the premium you’re paying for that day one game is to be part of that gaming bubble – the bubble of hype and fanfare that heralds the launch of a shiny new gaming experience. Of course, this is mostly down to the marketing – the steady drip feed of information on a new game that sets hearts and minds racing on the road the launch day, whipping potential purchasers into a frenzy of excitement, ready to hand over their credit card details to gain access to the Next Big Thing in gaming. So if you pay full price for a game at launch you’re being duped by advertising, right?

Well, perhaps not. You could argue that you’re falling into the advertisers’ and publishers’ grubby hands by succumbing to the hype, but you could also argue that all the promotion and advertisng actually makes the game experience better. Picking up a few cheap, old, secondhand games is nowhere near as exciting as getting a shiny new game that almost no-one else in the world has played, and that excitement carries over into the playing experience itself. I came sorely close to buying the just-launched Alien: Isolation today, but in the end my logical mind won out and told me to wait until it comes down in price. Yet I also know that if I’d bought and played it today, I would enjoy it more than if I bought it a year from now. That’s simply because of the added excitement of being part of the bubble – and that includes all of the excited blog posts, tweets and Twitch videos being created about the game as other people play it for the first time along with you. Playing a game at launch is paying a premium to be part of a shared experience, an exclusive club that consists of you and everyone else who’s paid to be in the bubble.

How much would you pay to be part of the bubble?
How much would you pay to be part of the bubble?

There’s even more of a case to be made for massively multiplayer online games like Destiny. Yes, it was a bit broken at launch, but the multiplayer aspect means that the feeling of a shared experience was even more prominent. The people playing at launch enjoyed the thrill of discovering a new world together, but anyone joining the game a year from now will be met with probably a much-diminished and somewhat disinterested group of veteran players.

A year from now, Destiny will be a better game. But for anyone joining in for the first time, long after the bubble has burst, it will arguably be much less enjoyable.

6 Comments

  1. You did also get into the Beta with Destiny, which swung it for me (I could have preordered and cancelled after playing the Beta, but by then I was hooked).

  2. Great observation. It comes down to how the utility derived from something is valued. Games at launch, for example, may have a higher intrinsic value than the same game at a later point in its life.

    Interestingly enough I only buy games at launch at the start of a generation. I have more pre-orders right now than I had for the last six or so years of the last consoles. I can remember preordering a shit-tonne of games near the launch of the Xbox 360 and PS3 – Dead Rising, Lost Planet, Prey – probably games that there is no way in hell i’d have paid the same amount for later in the console cycle. It’s that perception of ‘new technology’ I think that colours how much someone is willing to pay upfront at the start of a generation of hardware.

  3. Great points all–games improve far better from their launch date when developers have more feedback from the general gaming community and can integrate patches as needed. However, I simply can’t wait that long for Borderlands Pre-Sequel, for that I admittedly have been suckered :p

  4. I believe I recently read an article suggesting that preorders were a marketing tool for the publisher to gauge consumer interest. However as a result of recent consumer apathy to a few games as you discuss above these numbers are starting to decline. I can think of battlefield 4 as getting particular stick. Yet recently this has recently had a large gigabyte sized patch a year or so after release! The article went on to say publishers need a new way to measure consumer interest. Enter the day zero COD behemoth. So my thoughts are that another reason individuals buy early is so they can level up sooner in online battle spaces to get better gear or loot to give them an advantage over their mates. It must be chaos in the school playground these days with all the boasting and teasing. The other thought for a reason to get in early is so that you get the story first straight from the game. Not through social media or other spoilers. I buckled under the weight of halo 3 stories and comments online that I had to keep dodging and had to buy the 360. I suspect this will happen again for halo 5 and I wonder how many others have that ‘game’ or ‘film’ that they must watch.

    My time for games is at its lowest point ever so I’m doing a lot of reading about games. Please keep it up! I did buy xcom enemy unknown based on your article. Great game. But I can’t stand to lose my men and a woman who is my most decorated and prized soldier. Save and reload is my best friend.

  5. I’d like to add that there is a certain satisfaction in being part of that bubble when it bursts. I almost always buy games on day one or pre-order, I get taken in by the hype of getting a new toy while it’s at its shiniest. For the most part I’m not disappointed (mostly ’cause I’m easily impressed), but when I am there is something nice when everyone else is disappointed as well. Like the collective “meh” that seemed to echo around the internet at the underwhelming Watch_Dogs, my voice included. All part of the shared experience.

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