[Nintendad Coffeehouse] The Problems with Game Preservation

A Challenger Approaches!

Since this week’s announcement that JP of JP’S SWITCHMANIA along with his team have been working quietly behind the scenes to launch their latest business venture, Premium Edition Games, the Nintendad Manor has been alight with conversation. Rather than run the same snazzy news post that every other friend of JP is running right now, I wanted to address the elephant in the room and ask – is Premium Edition Games really necessary?

The aptly named Limited Run Games started the whole movement, with games being available to order for a set amount of time, before being shipped months, sometimes even years, later.

Super Rare Games entered the fray and took a different angle, announcing a set quantity of specific games which remained on sale until they were sold out. Unlike LRG, SRG shipped pretty much straight away as all games had been produced prior to press releases being drawn up and store pages opening.

Unique Successes

Source: iam8bit

Many more have since followed, sometimes offering something slightly unique, sometimes sticking to the tried and tested formula of those who preceded them. When iam8bit announced Untitled Goose Game as an upcoming physical release of their own, not only did they flex their publishing muscles by securing an indie darling, they also demonstrated something that big businesses don’t always display – a conscience. Intricately tied to the announcement of the game was the reveal that Untitled Goose Game would use the first ever eco-focused game package, at least on the PS4. Nintendo, it seems, is a little behind in the conversation.

This stance corroborates what friend-of-Nintendad Ryan Brown of SRG fame said when I put it to a group of boutique publishers to reduce the size of their packaging. Unsurprisingly, everything has to go through Nintendo. Publishers can’t put anything on the market before it has been heavily vetted by Nintendo. It would seem Nintendo is very fond of the fact that Switch cases are the same size as the Switch itself. Digressions aside, iam8bit’s efforts are a wonderful step in the right direction and an inimitable USP. 

One constant remains, however.

Pontificating about Price

Source: Limed Run Games via Nintendo Life

In an oversaturated physical games market, the quality of titles getting the preservation treatment can often take a hit, alongside value per dollar. Blossom Tales is one of my favourite indie games of all time, but there’s not a Bokoblin’s chance in Hyrule that I was willing to part with $50 for a physical copy of it. Even the recently released SteamWorld double pack from SRG I found to be too much. Had it been a complete SteamWorld collection on a single cart at the 50 mark, I probably would have felt more inclined to bite. But for £70+, just three titles seemed far too grotesque for my humble means and tastes.

I completely understand that I’m not the target audience, but instead the more affluent members of the Switch Corps who can buy any and all titles they wish to add to their already engorged collections. However, as a fan of the medium of video games in general, I grow ever more disconcerted with the sheer number of new physical preservation companies.

The Value Proposition

Source: Limited Run Games via Gematsu

Do we really need collectors editions of indie games, no matter how good they are? Doesn’t this just take away from the genuine excitement experienced when the latest AAA release drops with a plethora of goodies that make you lovingly cradle them, caressing them gently and learning all of their inimitable secrets? Trinkets are nice, but don’t they muddy the messaging somewhat? Are these companies trying to create something that has staying power, or simply filling the Collectors Edition with enough tat to make it seem better value? Again, I understand the game cartridges and shipping represent high overheads, but with so many boutique companies now in circulation, the conversation needs to shift towards competitive pricing models. Tit for tat, I guess!

Exploring this further, is nobody else genuinely offended when they see tiny games launching with $70 Collectors Editions? On the flipside, it can be handled tastefully too. The recently revealed Ys Origins will launch, courtesy of Limited Run Games, for a very modest €29.99, with the Collector’s Edition coming in at €44.99. If it can be done for such a title, why do other companies charge so much more? I guess it comes down to the bottom line: money. The form factor of Nintendo’s phenomenally popular hybrid means that custom cartridges have to be used for games, not the infinitely cheaper-to-produce discs that are far more synonymous with games consoles. Hence why the PS4 versions are always a good $10-20 cheaper than their Nintendo Switch counterparts.

Back to Premium Edition Games. What exactly will they bring to the party to differentiate them from the boundless slew of comparable companies?

Premium Edition Positioning

Source: Premium Edition Games

From its website:

All Physical Releases by Premium Edition includes:

All of our Premium Editions offer the same high quality items and goodies for consistency sake!

Nintendo Switch Physical Case and Game

Double-sided Insert

Full Color Manual

A “Special” Trading Card

A Logo Sticker

First Prints of the game will have a hand-drawn Full Color Glossy Slipcase by legendary artist Paul E. Niemeyer of Mortal Kombat Fame!

All orders are considered final and cannot be canceled without approval. If approved, canceled orders will be subject to any non-refundable charges occurred through the transaction process.

Preorders may take 3-4 months for production and manufacturing, follow us on the website and sign up for the Premium Edition newsletter for updates.

All Switch Games are Region Free! 

This is an open pre-order for a limited time **

Reading through this, it would seem like the answer is not a lot. The format looks pretty much copy and pasted from that of LRG.

On top of that, their inaugural launch title feels somewhat underwhelming. Being English, I’m not big on hockey, but for comparison, I’ve imagined it would be equivalent to an arcade football (soccer) game and the last one of those I played didn’t fill me with an overwhelming urge to own a physical copy, even more so at such a premium – pun utterly intentional – price point.

The news that A Robot Named Fight will be getting the physical treatment at a later date is perhaps a little more exciting, but again, at the $40 price point, it probably won’t be an option that I explore.

I wish JP and all the best of luck, sincerely. However, with the world in the grips of a full economic meltdown and with money tighter than ever for most, I can’t help but think that the ludicrous preservation movement is being carried by only the most ardent, affluent aficionados.

Misplaced Preservation

Written by: Abram Buehner

Reframing the Rebuttal

Source: My Nintendo News

When axiomatic points about market oversaturation and the shoddy value proposition are raised, defenders of these niche publishers turn to the argument of preservation. The problem with this argument is the flawed assertion that physical games are the solution to the waning notions of ownership with respect to digital media. Physical games aren’t the answer to game perseveration. The answer, counterintuitively, lives on the digital storefront.

Preservation necessitates ubiquity. The notion that a 4,000 copy run of Chroma Squad safeguards it from being delisted neglects an obvious point – the game is now preserved for 4,000 people only. The entire thesis of preserving games is that these titles shouldn’t be disposable, that they should be able to be appreciated as moments in gaming history and as experiences worth having. How does a limited amount of physical copies solve anything? How are the masses supposed to engage with this media for generations to come if it is only available to a fractional portion of the player base?

The question is moot because this whack at preservation doesn’t address the issue. It’s a short-term solution to an intrinsically long-term problem. I’d like to play Chibi-Robo, a game that is only available on the GameCube as a physical disc – no digital rereleases. It sold less than 500K copies, a pitiful number (yet still significantly higher than the preservationist runs of indie titles from SRG), making it deeply inaccessible. A loose copy of the game will run for north of $150 online, which simply isn’t feasible for me.

Suddenly, I’m locked out from this experience. Suddenly, it’s existence on disc does nothing to give me access. In this respect, the most effective move toward the preservation of Chibi-Robo comes in the form of the file sharing sites that’ll post shoddy, illegal ROMs of the game for folks to download and emulate, a practice that I personally don’t endorse or take part in. That certainly isn’t the solution.

The Ideal Outcome

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

The true answer is to double-down on digital distribution. This is how every other artistic medium has future-proofed itself. I wasn’t able to watch Citizen Kane, The Seven Year’s Itch, and Rear Window in my college Film Studies class because those movies have been reproduced physically. I didn’t read and analyze William Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury in my English Literature class because that text has been reprinted. I was able to engage with this material and deepen my understanding of these mediums completely by merit of these things being easily accessible digitally.

That doesn’t make digital distribution perfect. It certainly isn’t. With respect to games, there is still work to be done with digital preservation. When a title like Scott Pilgrim or Ducktales Remastered is lost to licensing disputes, it’s a reminder that we need to press companies harder to take digital marketplaces seriously, viewing them in the long-term. However, we also need to recognize that the reactionary, physical games preservation movement is built on the back of scapegoating only a handful of titles that have been digitally delisted – of the literally countless titles preserved specifically by the merit of digital distribution. Scott Pilgrim is the outlier, not the norm.

Stepping Back

Source: Nintendo UK

Game preservation is deeply important, especially as the medium ages and games build a lineage on the scope of narrative cinema. As such, we need to think big-picture. The answer is the Nintendo eShop, the Xbox Marketplace, and the PlayStation Network. These services aren’t perfect, but they’re not even twenty years old. Growing pains are inevitable. There is nothing wrong with supporting physical media because you prefer to play games that way. There is not wrong with enjoying the tangible feel of a game cart or the bonuses that SRG, LRG, and others offer.

But, there is a problem with conflating game preservation with physical collecting. It’s too short-sighted to view these publishers as the solution to the issue. Let’s refocus, adjust the lens of conversation, enjoy these physical prints for what they are, and work to actually address games preservation instead of just making ourselves feel better about it.

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