Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Disappointment.


So this here is where my verdict of the Batman: Arkham City Collector's Edition was supposed to go. I was going to post some pictures of it, detailed shots of various bits, maybe even a little video of the art book. I'd give my opinion on all the little pieces and whether the set as a whole was worth the money I had payed for it (it probably wasn't going to be). I'd talk at length about what I'd do to improve it, what I liked about it and probably griped about how annoying it is that the game disc rests in the cover of the art book. But you'll notice that I'm not doing any of those things right now. No, no the universe had other plans . . .

So I strolled into my local HMV a few weeks back to do my annual list of preorders (easily the nerdiest thing about my life, aside from this blog). This being my final year in college the list was incredibly small, Batman: Arkham City and Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. As some of you may have read in a previous post, that list used to be about three games heavier but if I want to pass this year than sacrifices need to be made. I always use my local HMV for a couple of reasons.

  • They have the best prices.
  • They're staff are always very friendly and helpful.
  • They're generally well stocked.
  • They've come through for me hundreds of times in the past.
  • They also provide me with music and film.
  • They're not Gamestop of GAME. 
When I was placing the order, the staff member very kindly reminded me that there was a Collector's Edition available and asked if I wanted it. To save face I feigned taking time to consider it for a moment and then nodded at him to save one of those for me. He took my details, took a small deposit and sent me on my way with a receipt and a smile.



So I counted the days down until the calender told me it was October 21st. This being one of my most anticipated games of the year, I decided to take the day off college and enjoy me new game for the day. Waking up at around nine o'clock, I wasted no time in getting myself to HMV. As I drove in to the shopping centre, I got a funny feeling that this wasn't going to go smoothly. A memory of a previous experience with Modern Warfare 2 flashed before my eyes. A memory of me being met with confused and somewhat irritated looks when asking for my Special Edition. I disregarded this as a fleeting thought and tried to find a parking space. I arrived in HMV to notice that it was almost empty, this boded well for me as I wanted to minimise the amount of witnesses seeing me buy a Special Edition of a Batman game. I wasted no time in getting to the counter and slapping down the deposit receipt I had been given before. I immediately noticed that it was a different staff member today, one I don't think I'd dealt with before. He took a second to go over the piece of paper and then asked "Collector's Edition yeah?" I replied with an enthusiastic "yes please" and silently drummed my fingers on the counter. The staff member (who we'll refer to as Tony) did a three hundred and sixty rotation around the till area expecting what I can only guess was for a copy of my game to jump up and shout at him. He halfheartedly glanced around and slightly moved some boxes, then gave me a quick "back in a minute, Scott yeah?" and ran down to the store room at the other end of the shop. In the three or more minutes he was off the floor a rather sizable queue formed behind me. Sadly he also seemed to be the only staff member in the place so there was no way anyone was going to get served until I got out of there. I was both confused and somewhat irritated to see him roll back up to the till with a black t-shirt wrapped up in his hands. He popped said t-shirt onto the counter in front of me, gave one more half hearted look around the till area and then threw up a regular non-collectory version of Arkham City onto the desk. Once again trying to appear more like a regular Joe Soap, I used the price difference as my way of saying "where there hell's my collector's edition?!" and said "sorry, but was the version I preordered not (pause for effect) like seventy euro?" He hesitated for a moment and then said "Um, yeah, there was only one of those in the back and it didn't have your name on it, sorry" and continued to process the sale. This is where I hit a crossroads, do I press the matter? Do I stay silent and walk away? Do I make a scene? I was very conscious that there was a line of people behind me, that I had been at the desk a while, that it was a special edition of a video game. I took the easy way out, gave my money, said a polite "thank you very much, have a good one" and left with my peasant edition of Batman.

So, what's my beef? What's the big deal? Why am I writing about this? Because, people, pre-orders and special editions are a big deal these days. HMV, Gamestop and other such establishments place a crapload of emphasis on this stuff. Publishers, who are losing serious amounts of money to Gamestop are still giving them the best, most extravagant special editions of their games. There is no way they're sitting around a table in Ubisoft and going "y'know what? Let's give Gamestop the Ultra Super Amazing edition of Assassin's Creed 2.99 to Gamestop". No, I'd wager that Gamestop pays quite a lot of money for that little privilege. And I'd say they pay quite a bit. You may notice that when you walk into a store that sells games they practically stop you in the aisles and beg for your pre-orders. A pre-order to these guys is a guaranteed sale before the product has even been released, with a deposit. This helps to control stock, looks good to the shareholders and is way easier to sell on the basis that you don't need to pay for the item when you order it. I'd be fairly confident in guessing that these retailers are competing heavily for these pre-orders, they have to deliver.

Now, there's a few things I need to stress here. For one thing, the staff member was perfectly polite at all times and apologised for the mix up, and it's not something I particularly stress about. It was not a particularly responsible use of money and I really don't want to go in that much for the snazzy editions of games. However, there was every chance I could been one of the people who queues up at nine in the morning waiting for the store to open. I could have shouted the place down demanding the edition of the game that I had been guaranteed, that I had paid a deposit for, was placed on the counter in front of me. And I do believe I would have been somewhat within my rights to do that. But I'm a little less wired (or ignorant than that). Also, yeah the dude was courteous, but he certainly wasn't too professional. I may have played a little casual about the whole deal but that didn't warrant him to try and pass me off without saying anything. I've done my time in retail, he should have opened with an apology, moved straight on over to an explanation as to why there was a problem and then concluded with his three step plan to fix everything. I understand working in retail sucks (trust me) but the guy was simply doing it wrong.

So, maybe in future I'll order online like most others, or take my business to a different retailer. I like HMV, for many reasons, but they fucked up this time and seriously left me hanging. What irritates me is that I had a feeling they would, and I don't really know why. If you're going to make such a stupidly big deal out of pre-orders and special editions, you best deliver, or else you might seriously piss of a good customer.

P.S. Sorry for the massive inactivity of late. I'm working incredibly hard in college and just don't have the time to write or even play games at the minute. I fully intend to be more active in the future though so please keep swinging by and thanks for looking today. Peace. 

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Alliances.

The console wars, to me, have always been about the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3. The Nintendo Wii cornered off it's own market on day one and never really felt the need to compete with the other two giants. In my opinion the consoles themselves are just another piece on the board. I strongly believe that it's exclusives that sell consoles, and without talented developers you have no exclusives, studios like Naughty Dog or Turn 10. Sony seem to be all about hanging on to these studios, as can be seen by their acquisition of Sucker Punch in August, less than two months after the very successful launch of the PS3 exclusive inFamous 2. A quick Wikipedia search will show the Sony has numerous successful studios in it's pocket, and is still hiring. Microsoft on the other hand seem to prefer to keep their developers at arm's length, choosing rather to pay developers for console exclusivity rather than buying out studios themselves. I honestly don't know which method is better, I'm sure both have their pros and cons. But exclusive studios are not really what I'm here to talk about today, rather publishers.



Over the last while I've noticed certain publishers giving better treatment to one console over the other. Of course when I say "giving better treatment" I mean "selling better treatment". It's been clear for years that Microsoft is prepared to pay top dollar to stay in bed with Activision. At E3 2010 they made the rather terrifying announcement that they had entered into a three year agreement with Activision which meant they'd get timed exclusivity of any downloadable content for Call of Duty until the end of 2012 (note: "timed exclusivity" means that it releases on one console before it releases on another). That might not sound so special to you but a few weeks is a long long time in the world of video games and that time does not come cheap. It's also worth taking note that when Bungie (developer of giant Xbox series Halo) flew the nest from Microsoft they landed snugly in the warm embrace of Activision, a company not known for it's hospitality. And lest we forget Bobby Kotick (CEO of Activision and the Darth Sidious of the video game universe) threatening to stop supporting Sony consoles back in 2009. Of course it didn't happen, nobody thought it would, but it was still a noisy move and raised quite a few eyebrows. That exclusivity deal on Call of Duty ends in December of next year, I'll be very interested to see what happens next. 
EA and Sony seem to be going down a slightly different road with each other, a road full of extra games included in the package. Like, full games. Medal of Honor (Yank spelling of "Honour") had a voucher for the PS2 classic Medal of Honour: Frontline included as standard when it released in Europe last year. Not a big deal in the nickels and cents of things but it certainly pleased some of my gamer friends. This move was outdone by another big EA release less than three months later when Dead Space 2 had a port of the previously Wii exclusive Dead Space: Extraction on the disk! This got my attention because Extraction was the only attractive game in the Wii library to me. This union was further solidified at E3 2011 when Sony and EA announced a spate of new PS3 exclusive deals, the largest of which the inclusion of Battlefield 1943 in Battlefield 3. To put that in perspective, Battlefield 3 is arguably the biggest game of this year, whether you want to measure that in preorders, forecast sales or even budget, it's huge. And 1943? That only holds the distinction of being the fastest selling downloadable game of all time. 

So what does all this mean? It's kinda hard to tell. One might predict that this will escalate until full alliances are formed. I myself don't see this happening, it just doesn't seem cost effective to me in the long run, for anyone. I definitely see this as being the beginning of something, something that might turn into a really big deal when the next generation of consoles roll out. This also might be a fatal mistake on the part of one of the publishers, as the console war between Playstation and Xbox might come to a head in the next three or four years and I know neither Activision or EA want to be on a sinking ship. Maybe this is the natural progression of things. Or maybe, just maybe, this is what will bring an end to this console war.