Collector’s Edition Overload

Bradly takes a look at how collector’s editions have become not so collectible, and what to do about the rising problem.

By Bradly Halestorm. Posted 09/03/2012 14:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

I love collector’s editions– always have, always will. I appreciate their meaning, their intrinsic value, and, of course, all the goodies and trinkets they offer. To me, though, the most important aspect of a collector’s edition is its purpose, which is arguably to provide gamers with a way to define their level of devotion to the specific game or franchise they so cherish. But as much as I love collector’s editions, special editions, limited editions– you name it– I can’t deny the fact that they need step away from the gaming scene for a while if they ever hope to reclaim their former glory.

You see, my beloved collector’s edition has been denigrated over the last few years. It may sound bonkers to the youth of today, but I can remember a time when special editions were something of an oddity. They didn’t come out with the release of every major title, or even all that often. But when they did… by Ganon did they include some really great items. Back in the day, they almost always sold out, and because of this, they actually meant something to the fans who bought them.

For instance, I can vividly recall getting my mitts on a copy of the Growlanser Generations for PlayStation 2 (sadly, one of the last releases from Working Designs, a publisher who really knew how to make a game’s packaging feel extra special). I remember thinking I’d acquired something that not many others would– I’d spent the extra cash, and in turn obtained a product I could display, be proud of, and allow to represent the level and kind of gamer I truly was. And this was precisely why collector’s editions have been so popular– they allow hardcore fans to separate themselves from casual fans by way of tangible or in-game goods. They’re a claim-to-fame, if you will, but the reason why so many collector’s editions even exist in the first place goes much deeper than that.

Growlanser Generations Collector Edition
Just look at all that cool swag!

If we take a quick look at people from a broader, more sociological perspective, we can observe that folks inherently like to identify with certain groups of people. In high school, we see this dynamic play out very explicitly in the cliques that exist, and when we really get down to what those groups actually mean, we can understand that they’re merely a way for a person to feel part of something– to ultimately feel unique. Even within groups, though, there are sub-groups– pockets of people who define themselves even further by carving out a niche that defines them down to their very core. For example, the guy who plays quarterback on the football team is able to define himself by that specific role; it’s what essentially sets him apart from all the other guys on the team, as well as those who aren’t on the football team at all.

Gamers, like jocks, geeks, band-nerds, and all the rest (I use those terms somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as I was involved in all of those groups at one point or another) are no different. They too now have their own space within the social stratosphere, but just like that quarterback, the average gamer likes to further differentiate themselves within their preferred group. They can do this through various means– by the genre of games they play, what platform they play them on, and also by the merchandise they purchase and the amount of money they spend on the game in question– and it’s that last part that seems to hold a particularly significant amount of weight in our psychological make-up. Sure, a person can choose to spend the standard $60 on the latest title (that shows that they have an interest in the game and that they would like to play it), but dropping $150 on the collector’s edition… Well, that implies something else entirely. Purchasing the bigger, beefier edition of the game essentially allows that person to solidify their undeniable passion for the game in question.

But that’s just one aspect of this equation. There’s also another part that I feel often gets overlooked, and that’s the competitive element of buying collector’s editions. Being the inherently competitive bunch of people we are, buying collector’s editions can often go beyond the idea of buying cool items, and can, at some point, almost become a competition among friends to see who’s ultimately the bigger fan of the game. When this happens, one may go above and beyond to get that exalted collector’s edition, all so they can cement their victory over their friend who may have settled for the measly standard edition.

What you can’t see here is the pile of bodies Luigi’s just demolished so he can be the first to get the special collector’s edition of Luigi’s Mansion. Oh wait…

Over the many years of gaming, publishers have recognized all this and have essentially exploited our psychological vulnerabilities to turn a quick profit. Publishers have discovered that special editions can, and will, sell for an insultingly large amount of money simply for the aforementioned reasons. Unfortunately, though, the market has become absolutely flooded with these types of editions in recent years, so much so that they simply aren’t special at all anymore.

They’re so common, in fact, that there almost seems to be a formula to them. It used to be that collector’s editions were shipped with very interesting and unique pack-in items, but now you can almost count on three things being present: a soundtrack, an art book, and a making-of documentary. If you don’t get all three, you’ll at least get one, but probably two. Other than that, you might get a fold-out map, or maybe, if you’re really lucky, a figurine of some sort. In truth, though, these items don’t possess any merit anymore. I have more art books and soundtracks than I know what to do with. I don’t even display my items anymore. Hell, I usually don’t even open half the stuff these days simply because they lack purpose or individuality.

Lunar SSSC Collector's EditionI wish publishers would think back to the earlier days of gaming for some direction about what a collector’s edition should entail. Take Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, Ultima IX, or even Nintendo’s own The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, for example. These all had extremely unique items, and were all presented in a package that felt special and distinctive. Lunar came with a fold-out cloth map, cardboard stand-ups of all the game’s characters, a necklace, a full-color, hardback instruction manual (note: not an artbook)…. and a punching puppet?! Wow. Ultima XI included all eight, yes eight games, a pendant, a cloth map, spellbook, tarot cards, an oversized box, and a certificate signed by Richard Garriott himself. Now that’s impressive. Even Skyward Sword was released with something truly special – that gold, Zelda logo-emblazoned remote. It also came with a soundtrack and some big-box packaging, but sometimes less is more, and I’m inclined to believe Skyward Sword proves that.

Publishers need to lay off collector’s editions if they hope to ever return prestige to them. When there’s a collector’s edition releasing alongside every game’s standard edition, there’s just no incentive to make myself care about them at all. They’re also so mass-produced that stores usually have to heavily discount them in order to get rid of them too. For instance, I still see copies of Epic Mickey lying around at my local Gamestop and it saddens me. It would do publishers some good if they refuse to stop churning out these things, or at least start including items that aren’t some run-of-the-mill pack-in garbage. A documentary and soundtrack without a complete track listing isn’t special at all; it’s a quick, half-baked cash-in that’s just been thrown together with very little care or thought put into it.

Fortunately, I think Nintendo is in a pretty good position to return the collector’s edition to its former grandeur. For starters, they’ve never been incredibly keen on collector’s editions in the first place. They seem to dole them out in small(er) doses, which makes their special editions feel slightly more significant than others. Thinking back on the Wii itself, Nintendo themselves only published a handful of titles: Metroid Prime Trilogy, Skyward Sword, Super Mario All-Stars, and the upcoming Kirby Dream Collection. All four games are selling for more than they were when originally released, which, in Prime‘s case, was over three years ago. There’s a reason that game in particular is selling for $200 on Amazon.

But where Nintendo can really capitalize on this, though, is through its new digital business model. Now, I’m not a big fan of digital distribution, but I can’t deny its prominence in today’s gaming market and I see this as a good way to make physical goods, and collector’s editions in particular, feel special again. If we look at the success of platforms like Steam, XBLA and PSN (and hopefully Nintendo’s own eShop), it’s foreseeable that physical packaging may well cease to exist in the future, but if this did actually happen, it could provide publishers with a chance to release limited runs of certain games in physical form, complete with pack-in, collectible goodies. They could take pre-orders on select titles, ship out a set number of special editions, and suddenly, something that used to be everywhere is only available through one channel.

Ultimately, the whole point of something being a collector’s item is the fact that not everyone can obtain the item in question. It means we’re able to set ourselves apart from the rest of the crowd, and from a purely psychological standpoint, we rather like being able to do that. But when a collectible good can be collected by almost anyone at any time… well, it’s hardly collectible anymore, especially when it’s being stockpiled on store shelves.

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