Double Agent
More for your money - February 20, 2002 - Erin Mehlos

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this column are those of the participants and the moderator, and do not necessarily reflect those of the GIA. There is coarse language and potentially offensive material afoot. Where is my Suck-O-Lux when I need it? Don't say we didn't warn you.

There's little to say tonight, but I'd like to share the day's startling and mildly disturbing epiphany with all of you:

I liked Pikmin a lot more than I liked FFX.

Let's go -- the best thing for me is to just keep moving, I guess....

Take the bad with the good

Sometimes I wonder. I look at my gaming collection and think of how much money sits next to my television. That's bad enough; games and consoles combined, it's over a thousand bucks, not counting the consoles that I don't have any more. This is an expensive habit, I say.

And I look at my PS2, and think of the drought of good games in the middle of last year and remember how I was lamenting the purchase of my $300 dollar DVD player. And I look at my Gamecube, and think about how I haven't touched it for almost 2 months, and regret staying up all night in line the day before I started a new job. (Especially when I went to another Target an hour after they opened to buy Super Monkey Ball and found that they had 6 unclaimed systems sitting behind the counter... just sitting there...)

But then I remember how much fun I had playing MGS2, and Tony Hawk 3, and Pikmin. Friggin' fun-as-hell Pikmin! And I think of all the future fun to come: Zelda, Mario, Metroid (God, I'm Nintendo's Bitch...) and all those great games I still have to play on PS2 (they were really holding out on us there for a while, huh?). And I realize that $50 is not too much to pay for a game, especially when it is one of those games that just makes you sit back and say, "Damn, I know it is a geeky habit, and I'm 23 years old and shouldn't be playing these games, but that was just pretty..." I'm sure I'm going to pick up Mario Sunshine and be completely enamored by it. Zelda? Gimme a break. Anyone who can't look past what can only be called the perfect 3d representation of classic-style Zelda to what I am sure will an incredible game (has Miyamoto ever not made an incredible game?) needs to re-evaluate what makes a game great (hint: it is not graphics...). I'm also guessing that those people never played a Zelda before OOT.

Anyway, enough rambling. This email has gotten a little off-topic. Let's just leave it at this: $50 dollars will never be too much to pay for a good game. Remember Link to the Past, how cool it was when you went outside and the rain was falling all around Link? Or the first time you escaped Midgar and were amazed by the size of the city? How about that first game of Super Monkey Ball? These are the moments that make gaming worth all the money we spend on it. What a great (yet expensive...) hobby.


I'm sure a few of my readers would take exception to your remark about 23 being too old to be gaming, but anyone who loves Pikmin can't be all bad -- clearly you understand the hobby's unique allure.

This is a medium with soul-soaring highs that can easily compete with contemporary film and literature, despite your take on the whole art issue. Interactivity intermingled with emotional involvement is a peerless one-two punch, making $50 seem a paltry sum for an experience like ICO or Zelda:MM, and when you get into the realm of lengthier games like FFX and DWVII, $50 seems bloody economical....


Hey Erin -

Here's a (very rough) calculation that I came up with a little while ago. $50 can buy me five thick paperback books (25-30 hours of entertainment), two movie or anime DVDs (2-8 hours, depending on the extras), three non-dining-hall meals (2 hours)... or a 30-40 hour RPG. Sweet deal. Provided the game doesn't suck or anything.

-Toma Levine

We've mentioned in DAs past that when Whoppers aren't even 99 cents anymore and the going rate of taking in a shit summer flick averages $7.50, fifty bucks hardly seems a princely sum for 40-some odd hours of decent entertainment.

Any land-locked American with a penchant for sushi -- or any frequent flyer of the rave scene -- is well aware of this....


Dear Agent Erin,

Well, considering that I usually pay about 200 to 500 dollars every time I go to a night club (which, assuming 4 hours of party time, costs about 50 to 125 dollars per hour), I would say spending 40 to 60 bucks on a game that will last me a minimum of 20 hours is pretty good. I mean, maybe I'll meet a fine ass hooch to go home with when I go to the club. But then again, maybe I won't. The point is, whenever I spend benjamins on v-games I know that the bitch will be mine until I decide to sell it for bigger and better things. You can't say that about the effervescent bottles of Ballantine 30 or the various tramps who saunter your way at a nightclub. And let's not even get into the 30 or 40 bucks you spend on crap-tastic movies that Hollywood sends our way all the time when you're out on a date.

Basically, no one has any right to complain about the price of games right now. Despite the supposedly inexorable power of inflation, game prices have actually gone DOWN 10 to 15% in the last 10 years, as anyone who was alive during the Atari2600/NES/Snes days knows. Despite the price differential between cartridges and CD/DVD media, that is still a very significant price drop. But nobody seems to appreciate it here in the States. It's the same thing that happens with gasoline prices. We, in America, pay much lower prices than any of our predecessors or contemporaries ever did or do, and we enjoy deflationary pressures on that commodity (gasolineand and/or videogames) which don't exist for other products in the economy. Yett we still kvetch incessantly about how expensive that product is whenever the price goes up 10 cents, or fails to go DOWN. It just makes no sense.

When 2 to 4% inflation has been in effect for over 10 years and the price of games and game systems have stayed constant or DECREASED 10 to 15% in that period, we have no reason to complain. I, for one, am glad I never have to shell out 70 bucks for a Square game again.

-JC, who spent over $1200 on one night of clubbing without getting any nookie

Undeniably, games are the cheaper entertainment option in your particular case.

So are prostitutes.

Round-trip fare to France: $469; Tickets to the Paris Opera: $120;
Smiling smugly at the exorbitant totals of others.... priceless


I doubt if I am the only person to sidestep this problem entirely by buying systems and games well after the prices drop into the reasonable range. At one point last summer, I was considering getting a PS2, but instead I opted for a Dreamcast and several games for about half the cost, and adding to my library never seems to cost more than fifteen to twenty dollars, as long as I am willing to accept a used copy. Even the new copy of Samba de Amigo I recently purchased only set me back $20, although the maracas were a bit more than that.

Basically, I prefer playing older games like Skies of Arcadia and Shenmue, since they are every bit as good as Final Fantasy X and all those other new releases, and since the money I save allows me to buy opera tickets or travel. The recent column about how much money some people spent on games and consoles gave me a warm fuzzy feeling inside, which didn't go away when I glanced at my bank statement.

-Kim Taegon

Sadly, games often crowd out life's more tangible pleasures (like opera and travel) when one reaches an addict level of devotion to the hobby. When a friend lamented to me his spending $300 on an item of jewelry for a girl who broke up with him days later, indignation overrode sympathy and all I could say was "Three hundred bones? That's like 6 damn games. What the hell were you thinking?"

But I suppose if you can stand the agonizing wait for those 6 games to find their way to the clearance rack, it's no big thing. I, however, no longer have that luxury, seeing as how anything I don't play immediately will be brutally spoiled by you people, seething mass of vipers that you are; graphically raped before my very eyes and rendered unfit for my attentions. Thus, I'm lumbered with having to find a way to play each and every new release of any consequence; encumbered with staying on the bleeding edge of gaming despite it being the clear-cut path to financial ruin.

Pity me, readers.

Yummy shitcakes


One word for you: Summoner.

I paid full market price ($49.99, I think) for that steaming pile of crap. It's the only video game purchase I ever regret making. Now it's $25 or whatever, but that didn't help me then.

Here's my plan: set up a tribunal of gamers who would play each new release and give a MSRP depending on the game's quality. MGS2, FFX or GTA3 could be sold for the full $50, but games like Summoner, Evergrace or anything Mary-Kate and Ashley developers would have to pay us to receive. That might prevent all these crap games being released, or at least make the developers of said crap file bankruptcy that much sooner.

Oh, and Summoner...? I traded it in for a vastly superior game, Persona 2: Eternal Punishment.


A good plan, with only a few corn combine-sized holes, none the least of which is the fact that under such an institution, financial obligation would find me constantly embroiled in shit-plated beauties like Azurik and Ephemeral Fantasia.

Anyway, you make another good point: mediocrities can always be sold or traded in for something decent that may not have sold a million copies because its cover lacked heaving bosoms or any promises of Xtreme bass fishing.

I sold my soul for this donut -- but you can have it if you give me your beachfront property

Sweet Goddess Erin,

I was originally a Nintendophiliac. I still have good copies of Chrono Trigger, FF3, Zelda, the first three Dragon Warriors, and several others. Yes, they cost me a pretty penny when I first bought them, but I'm hoping that their shelf life and accumulating value will extend far enough into the late 2030s that they (combined with a few thousand comic books) will let me retire gracefully. That is, if I can ever bring myself to part with them...

Cartridges seem like a better long-term investment than CD-based games. Of course, that's not what most people think about when they buy a game. I use a Playstation, myself, and I plan to get a Playstation 2 at some indefinite point in the future. It's still all about the games, as it should be, but cartridge games seem to carry more weight over a longer period of time.

How much will all of these Playstation games be worth in ten or fifteen years? CDs are easy and cheap to produce, so there will always be the potential to re-release a game several years after its initial run, even if the system itself is out of the limelight. It's far less likely to happen with a cartridge game. It's safe to say that Chrono Trigger will never appear again in cartridge format. It's rare, collectable, and superior to it's CD incarnation.

Cartridges are more durable, as well. Thus they could likely outlive many, many CD-based games if properly cared for.

We were far more attached to cartridges; they'll build up far more nostalgic value than any CD. You could cuddle with 'em! You didn't have to hold it awkwardly to avoid getting fingerprints on one side of it or dinging it on the side of your bookshelf. Super Metroid could be held, hugged, and kissed goodnight with relatively little worry.

That last point might seem sort of wacky, but think about it; wouldn't you grow more attached to a stuffed Garfield toy than the delicate, porceline cats your mother keeps in the den? You share an intimate, emotional relationship with one, while the other might be similarly appreciated... but treated with the delicate respect reserved for something that wasn't made to be cuddled with.

So, anyway. Most of the games I like are on CDs right now, so I'll keep buying CDs and appreciating the relatively low cost of my addiction--but I know that games like Chrono Trigger and Zelda are the ones that'll stick around for the long haul. Samus will still be with me when I'm old and gray.

... Or, uh, whenever I decide to sell her for a house in the Carribean.

Friarjohn (makes cooing baby-talk to Breath of Fire II)

All right. I'll buy the hugging and kissing goodnight ... but cartridges more durable and a better long term investment? Maybe if we're talking about Road Runner's Death Valley Rally. But I've already lost three NES carts and two SNES carts to the evils of failing lithium batteries. Sure, they can be replaced, but are they really gonna be worth that beach house in Maui after someone's cracked open the casing, undid the battery's spot-weld and fitted the cart with a standard battery holder? That's not what I'd call MIB. No, not Men in Black.


Feel the purchasing Power! we get enough bang for our buck do you say? When I went through months of bottle collecting and allowance saving when I was a kid saving up for my pre-ordered Dragon Warrior 4, it was $70 when it first came out. It had maybe 30-40 hrs of game play. Dragon Warrior VII was $40 when it first game out and I spent around 110 hrs playing it. YOU DO THE MATH. I think RPGs now usually give us more bang for our buck. Even racing games now can take a long time to finish like GT3. I have no faults with game prices they have now. I had more trouble with the prices of RPGs of the NES and SNES when they went as high as $70 a pop. The price for consoles right is steep but I lucked out with the PS2 because I did not have a DVD player, and still had PS1 games to beat (and still do in-between playing the new PS2 titles I like to play) so paying $300 for a nifty 3 in 1 job wasn't all that bad. People bitch about console prices but wasn't the original PSX $300 when it first came out? Anyone else remember the Neo Geo when it was $400-$800 for the console with $200 games?

Pendy the DQ/DW guy


Fall on your knees before the Stripe

Erin, muh sister in arms,

My first sobering moment was buying Who Framed Roger Rabbit for 50 bucks at Kay Bee (yes, when it was still called "Kay Bee). Of course, when you're a child, you think money just flows from the ATM like so much ambrosia from Heaven, but my cheapskate dad almost had a heartattack at the counter. I was raised by a single mom that at one point had to work two jobs to put me through private school and my sister through college--my mom just couldn't afford that 50 bucks for a luxury item, my dad was too cheap, so I appreciated those games my older cousins used to get me. By the time the SNES rolled around, I learned how to scrimp and stretch my allowance, sell old games I never played anymore, etc. in order to get new ones. I think it really made me appreciate games more, and I always felt like I got my money's worth. It also made those few times when my mom *did* buy me games that much more special; I must have looked like a crackhead when I unwrapped Final Fantasy 6 on my 14th birthday.

With the exception of FF7-10, which I had to have THAT DAY (I'm a Square whore), none of my 40 PSX & PS2 games I've paid over 30 dollars for. I'm honest, my preference for Sony is for two things and two things only: Square, and Greatest Hits. My buddies at the local Software Etc. call me the Green Queen cause I'm attracted to that green stripe like a wino to a 40 ounce. Even my addled otaku's brain simply can't process the level of pretention it takes to pay 100 dollars for a game on Ebay that costs 20 dollars at the store just because you don't want the green stripe. Hell, some of my games are even USED greatest hits: I got Chrono Cross for 14 bucks! That's 7 dollars a disc. Ain't no shame in my game. When you're a college student that's into gaming, computers, *and* anime, shame is not an option.

This is a broke gamer's golden age. Old classics that cost 60 and 70 a pop are being packaged together as 2-fers for 50 bucks, you've got Green Stripes and backwards compatibility, etc. Even the PS2 is something of a bargain when you sit down and do the math: PS1 (100) + DVD player (150+) + next gen games. Well worth that 300 (I didn't pay 300 of course, I used my Sears employee discount ^_^).

The one tiny beef I do have is that so many PS2 games are over so damn fast. I blew through Ico in a weekend, and it only took me that long because I stopped to go to a friend's house. 'Course, since I got Ico & Devil May Cry together for 60 bucks, I'm not bitchin. Yay for coupons! ^_^ Living in NYC helps, since there's loads of places to get cheap new games here (bought Star Wars Starfighter new for 20). Also, New Yorkers are notorious bargain hunters, and I'm no exception. If you want to survive here with this sky high cost of living, you have no choice.

--Celestra worships at the altar of the omnipotent Green Stripe.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Ye gods -- there was a lesson learned, thankfully, from a rental.

The anecdote, though, whispers to me of a time when I saved all my birthday money to put towards -- get ready for it -- Buster Busts Loose.

The surprising thing is, I enjoyed Buster Busts Loose. My friends enjoyed Buster Busts Loose. Hell, we doubled our pleasure and enjoyed it together.

When you're young, and you're stupid, and you've nothing more imminently pressing to put your money towards, it's a lot easier to appreciate even the crème de la crap, not fall to your knees sobbing because you just forwent a month without electricity to buy Bubsy 3D.

When you make that shattering belly flop into reality, though, and have to survive college, engagement, your own apartment, or a combination of any or all of the above, those green stripes start looking a whole lot more attractive. Much like ... green M&Ms....

Hmmm. Green M&Ms.... they help us to score home-runs....

Everything's $10


My policy when buying games is simply "Nothing over $100" (that's Australian $$$... $1 = just under 52c American). This is usually a pretty easy policy to stick to because the RRP of most PS2 games is $99. In the rare cases when it's higher, I just refuse to buy it until the price eventually comes down or I get it discounted like when KMart run their occasional 15% off everything sales. I did actually break this rule once to buy Konami's masterpiece (and in my opinion probably the best PS2 game yet, and that's from somebody who usually doesn't even particularly like sports games) Pro Evolution Soccer for $105. The only reason I did that was because I heard it had just been discontinued in Australia and I believe the copy I got may have actually been the last copy on sale anywhere in my city.

Problems may occur in the near future since I hear foul rumours that Final Fantasy X may carry a RRP of $120 when it launches here. Of course that's probably so far off in the future that we'll all be wearing those shiny silver jumpsuits and the price will actually be 120 "credits" instead of dollars, if all those old sci-fi movies are to be believed.

I feel the consumer has to make a stand somewhere. Publishers and distributors will always be trying to push that little bit higher. They'll test the waters with a a high-profile game, giving it a pricepoint $5 - $10 above what's usual for other games. People will run out and buy it at that price anyway, simply because they want the game, and the publishers say "OK, they're willing to pay that much for a game. Next time let's try bumping it up another 5 bucks and see if they'll pay that". If people refuse to pay over a certain amount for games, then publishers will eventually see where the line is drawn. Of course many may point to the higher production costs involved these days, with larger teams of programmers, writers, artists, musicians, actors etc needed to meet the standards people expect. To which the consumers should then be turning around and pointing to the explosion in popularity of video games over the past 5 years which has seen them transformed from geek-dominated niche market to geek-dominated multimillion dollar mainstream entertainment market. The best and most popular games these days (The FFs and MGSs of this world) sell about 5 million copies. At $100 a copy, that's $500,000,000 in revenue generated by a game (not counting spinoffs like soundtracks, action figures, lunchboxes, glow in the dark "Solid Snake" condoms, etc). That's more than enough for everybody along the chain, from developer to retailers, to take their cut and all be very happy indeed. Of course most games don't sell as many copies as FF or MGS, but most games don't cost as much to develop as those two, either. In addition to the increased popularity of video games, there's also efforts by Sony to crack down on piracy. Modchips are now illegal in Australia, meaning the vast majority of PS2 owners here (and also in Europe, from what I read) will not be able to get them. The resulting drop in piracy should also lead to an increase in sales as people who used to pirate PS1 games now have to buy their PS2 games.

Of course there's always the painful option of waiting a year or so for a game to get re-released at a budget price. I was always glad I didn't get a Playstation until mid-1998, because there were already a lot of great games going cheap, and not long after buying my console, they re-released FF7 and Gran Turismo at the $40 price. Now *THAT* is value for money, people!!

I'm sure I had a point when I started writing this, but I seem to have lost it somewhere along the way...

Randall Flagg, who now has to read the GIA from home because his company dumped him and half the staff in his office last week in order to push the shareprice up by $0.02. New policy - "Nothing over $10".

We come at last to the economic truth of the matter. Like any other consumer good, the price of video games is determined by you and me. We want our games, and we're willing to pay $50 a shot (USD) to get our fixes. Should some ghostly force intervene with the forces of the free market and somehow drag the prices down, more people might buy more games -- hell, people who never considered playing them might pick up the controller -- but fewer companies would be able and willing to develop them at this new, lower price, creating a shortage of decent titles and hiking prices on limited quanities of quality games. And then, you guessed it, demand would flag all over again, until finally, the industry found its new equilibrium. And you know what? I bet it'd be around $50 a shot.

Closing Comments:

Well. Konami's long talked-about Castlevania: White Night Concerto has shown its true colors, defecting to the GBA camp, where it will arguably enjoy a far more cordial reception.

By most, anyway. Undoubtedly there will also be an envious pocket of PS2 owners at the party, jealousy whispering amongst each other about how fat Jeust looks in his new knickers. Will you be among them?

- Erin Mehlos

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