The Economics of Video Game Geekery


I've frequently heard over the last few years that in the realm of electronic entertainment, video games are flying circles around movies in terms of revenue. While I can understand why this is, what I have yet to comprehend is the economics behind product longevity when it comes to video games. Read on . . .  

For example: Because DVD sales are dropping, you can find a wide range of movie titles that are available for less than $20. (In other cases, less than $10.) In many cases, these movies are a few years--or even a few decades--old and, chances are that whenever the next big video format arrives, these same titles will be made available in this new format (complete with whatever bells and whistles that come with this new format). So you didn't get the 30th anniversary edition DVD of Jaws when it was first released? No problem--you can either get it brand new and for cheap at several DVD outlets, or you can wait for the 40th anniversary edition on a new video format that will probably include a whole new set of giant, man-eating shark-related ultra-super-high-definition goodies.

On the other hand, there are the video games. For as profitable as they are, they certainly can be hard to acquire once they've gone out of initial production because the prices seem to skyrocket after their initial distribution. For example, take Stubbs The Zombie in Rebel Without A Pulse (as seen above). I've heard nothing but good things about this game, which is not only a spot-on parody of zombie movies but it also gives you a chance to play as a zombie (quite a rare feature in the sub-genre of zombie video games) and start your own undead army of cannibalistic corpses. But when I recently tried to pick up a copy at Amazon.com, I found that new copies of this game run anywhere between $33 and $74, depending upon which vendor is chosen and how many new copies are left.

The same goes for Star Trek Elite Force 2. I played the first Star Trek Elite Force and it was an amazing game; it played almost exactly like an episode of Star Trek from a first-person perspective. (In fact, I would even go so far to say that while Elite Force is the older game, it probably captures the overall Trek experience better than the brand-new online Star Trek game. Go figure.) However, I missed the Elite Force sequel, which is now going for as high as $238. At prices like this, I can't see how long particular video games can maintain their appeal outside of a handful of hard-core fans.

Video games may have proven their worth economically, but it remains to be seen how well they can maintain their appeal over time. For example, even though stop-motion animation is not used often in the production of new movies, that doesn't prevent people from finding, watching and enjoying stop-motion classics such as the original King Kong and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. In contrast, enjoying some of the older video games appears to require a lot of money--not only to get the games themselves, but to get the necessary software and hardware to play them.

That said, there are video game emulators out there (such as Stella for the Atari 2600 and MAME for arcade games between the 1970s and the 1990s) that can be downloaded (either for free or for a fee) so that older games can be played on newer machines. However, how these emulators will factor into the ongoing history of video games remains to be seen, particularly since the emulators only cover certain game systems and formats. It could be that they could become essential to the future distribution of video games, for both old and new titles, particular since some have speculated that the future of video games may not belong to the dedicated consoles anyway. We'll just have to wait and see. Whatever happens, I just hope that I don't have to pay $238 just to play a single game.

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