Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, March 05, 2013
System seller?

Pete from Dragonchasers recommends Fire Emblem: Awakening, saying "If you have any interest at all in strategy-RPGs, get this game, even if it means buying a 3DS to play it on. Yup, it is a system seller, in my opinion.". In Europe the limited edition 3DS XL with Fire Emblem: Awakening is coming out on April 19, and it costs €219 ($285). While that isn't completely unaffordable, it still is a heck of a lot of money for a single game. Is that worth it?

The more general problem here is that game platforms appear to be multiplying. There are different consoles, with yet another generation currently being announced from various companies, and being incompatible with previous generations. There are different handheld consoles. And there are different tablet / smartphone platforms. Do I really want to have an Android tablet plus an iPod/iPad plus a Windows 8 tablet plus a PSP Go plus a PSP Vita plus a Nintendo 3DS? And that would just be the handheld gaming platforms, in addition to which I'd still need several consoles and a PC to cover the rest.

The other option is going for just a few platforms (in my case PC, iPad, PSP Go, and PS3), and missing out on the games that are exclusive for the platforms I don't have, like Fire Emblem: Awakening, or Skulls of the Shogun. As my growing library of unplayed Steam games proves, even with that limited selection of platforms I already have more choice of games than I have the time for. Just like there are more games for the PC than for the Mac or Linux, there are more games on iOS than on Android or Windows 8. The consoles are more a matter of what *type* of game you like, with certain genres being more prominent on certain consoles. Thus by making some strategic platform choices you can, while not covering every single game, still cover a majority of them.

So I'm questioning the concept of a "system seller" game. When is it still a viable option to buy a system to play a game, and at which point do you just have to give up and realize you can't play everything?

The 3DS is a system worth getting, and I would definitely categorize Fire Emblem Awakening as a "system seller." The 3DS XL is a relatively new console, so I don't see it being replaced by a new Nintendo handheld anytime soon. It's a sound purchase, with more games coming your way, like Animal Crossing New Leaf, Pokemon X and Y, and Castlevania. I'd stay away from special edition versions of consoles, since they tend to be too pricey.
I have preordered Fire Emblem Awakening and the black 3DS. It's definitely a system seller for me. I can't find any other game like Fire Emblem Awakening on the market on PC, PS3 or PS Vita.
I think your list of hardware contains the answer to when a system seller is needed. The PSP has no new games coming out for it, and Apple is aggressive about obsoleting their hardware. (If that's a 1st gen iPad, it can't use the newest iOS. I'd expect iOS 7 to not be available for iPad 2.)

So, assuming you have bought what you wanted for the PSP Go, you will be in the market for a new system sooner or later. When that happens, you need something to draw you in; while library size is definitely a consideration, most people will make the final choice based on one or two games that are exclusive to that system. Thus system sellers will always be necessary for each new generation of hardware.
It is absolutely possible to buy a system for just one game, and that still being a rational and reasonable thing to do.

Consider an alternative, buying and watching a movie. A movie provides perhaps 2 hours of entertainment. It costs perhaps $5-10 streaming, $15-20 on dvd, $25-30 on blue ray, call it $20 average. So you pay $20 for 2 hours of entertainment, or $10 per hour.

Pay $200 for a new system, $50 for a new game. If the game doesn't hold your attention you might spend 10 hours on it. If it really appeals, it could provide 50+ hours. Call it 25 hours for a game in a genre you care about with good review scores. That's $250 for 25 hours, or $10 per hour, same as the efficiency from buying movies.

So even at the first game, you've already broken even. But let's suppose you hate that first game, play it an hour and give up on it. And then this happens again with another game. But then you run into one that gives you 50 hours. Total cost, 250+50+50+50=400, total hours of entertainment, 2+2+50=54, or $7.69 an hour.

Games are just so horribly efficient at turning money into hours of fun. I say if there are two reasonably long games on a system you don't have, that you're interested in playing, go ahead and buy the system.

I heard the next Megaten game is going on the 3ds, and saw reviews of fire emblem awakening, so I just bought a 3ds. Now that the system has already 'paid for itself' in generated enjoyment, I can look at other games like harvest moon, animal crossing new leaf, etrian odyssey iv, etc, and these will all just increase the efficiency of the initial system purchase, making it ever a better deal.

And after saying all that, it seems quite damning to me that I still don't have a PS Vita, nor any intention of ever buying one. WTF, sony, get some games. XD
I buy into the conventional wisdom that dedicated-gaming handheld devices are, if not going away, are becoming much more niche.

Most people have an iOS/Android and those get replaced most quickly. Say new phones every 18 months versus and slowing PC replacement (recently PC sales declined) versus new consoles every 7 years. means a current smartphone/tablet will have a hardware advantage over a 3 year old gaming device.

So in a shrinking market, it seems reasonable that a title focused on really pleasing a segment would make sense.
I don't know about Fire Emblem, but I almost broke down and got a 3DS to play Resident Evil: Revelations. I shelved it at the time when I realized that there were maybe two or three other titles I was interested in, and the rest was a sea of kiddy-focused shovelare. A week later they announced that RE:R was being ported to PC and the other consoles. So my answer: nope, there are too many games and not enough time to buy a console...never mind a hand-held, just for one game.
Some random unorganized thoughts:

I share this problem at a more abstract level. There just so much information out there, and try as I may, I cannot read it all. Days go by with me marking articles in my newsreader as "read" even though I didn't read them because there's just not enough time (currency).

The cost of course is not just in terms of money, but also in terms of opportunity cost (what games you aren't playing instead, or what articles you aren't reading). The cost is much steeper.

But all that said, the way I settled this problem was to realize I couldn't play it all, and just settle on improving the quality of my choices (the things I read). It's helped me a lot. Same applies to gaming, I think.
Buy a used 3DS and re-sell it when you're done with the game.
Music and movies have standard "players" (mp3 player or ipod, bluray/dvd player). Games need to have something similar, some sort of standard console that will play any game released. In this way console manufacturers compete directly with each other to make the best console. Due to the nature of games, there would need to be one standard for mobile/web and another for home consoles/PC because of the differences in graphics capabilities of each.

I think a big reason music and movies do well is because it's easy for a person to consume them. You want to watch a bluray? You buy a bluray player. However, you want to buy a game? You have to do research on which platforms it's available for. Then, due to the high cost of the consoles, you have look at existing and future titles to see if they will be good enough to justify the high console price. That's way too much. It needs to be simple. I buy a console, it plays all the console games. Only then can people get past the "amazing graphics" and start focusing on the actual art.
I have never bought a whole new system but have several times upgraded Operating systems, memory, processors, and hard drives to play a new game. Does that count?
For me, there is no such thing as a system seller. I'm simply far too practical a consumer to make purchases based on a single game.

It's the 'body of work' that a platform offers me that is the selling point.

All that said, I do believe in diversification. I wouldn't buy an android tablet, for example, if I have an android phone.
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