Looking at ebay, Youtube, conventions or flea markets it is easy to see that there is a market for retro games. With the release of modern iterations like the Retron 5 or Nintendo attempting to cater to this market with the release of the NES Classic it’s very clear that the retro market and game collecting is a big hobby. However I don’t see a very bright future for game collecting beyond the 6th generation of consoles IE the Gamecube, PlayStation 2 or the Xbox. The reasons for this can be broken down to a couple of points I would like to discuss: Number one online features, number two downloadable content and number three bad business practices. As a note I do not believe that digital distribution has an effect on collecting yet as digital storefronts for the consoles is still relatively new and on the PC front CD keys and DRM have existed since before console digital stores.
Starting with point number one it is easy to see how online features can kill a collecting market. You need to look no further than online only titles like Shadowrun, Warhawk or Titanfall. You get a simple question with a simple answer that being what happens when the servers for an online only game inevitably cease? The answer being you become the owner of a shiny drink coaster. As games push further and further with online features you will see games become nearly crippled as these features cease to function. Whereas in the past you could get some friends and fire up a game of Halo Combat Evolved via LAN you will now be unable to enjoy the multiplayer when the servers are gone because consoles have stopped supporting LAN play.
Multiplayer isn’t the only issue with online features though. Many games ship rushed and broken looking to meet the holiday sales rush. This leads to many games needing day one patches to fix bugs that are sometimes game breaking. The most notorious example of this in recent years is Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Shipping with many bugs that left quests unable to be completed and most notoriously on the PlayStation 4 the dragons flew backwards.
While the game was patched this bug remained through 1.2 which was a bug fix patch release a mere weeks after the game came out. The issue here is what will happen when the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 are no longer supported on their individual platforms? This is something that can be tested now, grab a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, format the drive and then take the console off of your network. Now trying playing any of the following games: Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5 (in this case the patch is the game) or Gran Turismo. There are others but at the time of writing its hard to nail down a list of which games in the last generation needed day one patches.
Another massive effect on the collecting market is the idea of downloadable content this is most notable in the complete editions or game of the year editions. In most cases I have found that complete editions do not come with the content on disc but instead come with single use codes to download the content. This means that a serious collector, someone that wants a complete collection will never be able to have all content available to them as the codes are used or expire. Compound this with the inevitable shut down of online services this means that no complete game will ever actually be complete. Then look at all of the other content not considered necessary from a content perspective, things like costumes, palette swaps or alternate animations. The kind of things that used to be content that was unlocked or existed via cheat codes. Something like the ninja or cheerleader palette swap in Gauntlet Dark Legacy would be for pay content in the current industry. We have already seen this with Namco’s Tales series. Costumes that used to be easter eggs that could be unlocked are pre-order bonuses.
Which then leads to the final reason why there will not be much of a collector’s market for the seventh generation of consoles and up bad business practices. Best example of this in recent years was Watch Dogs between retailer exclusives, console exclusives and version exclusive content you would have needed to buy three or four version of Watch Dogs if you wanted to get every piece of content at launch. This is made worse by again most of the content being single use codes applied to an account. We see this time and time again as games get bigger and more expensive, Microsoft pays Bethesda or Activision to get content first or exclusively. Sony pays Capcom to not release a game on the Xbox One, or Capcom making 3DS games that only have one save that cannot be erased in the case of Resident Evil: Mercenaries. This kind of shady business is only becoming more common as the years pass. Again making this worse are that studios at the behest of their greedy publishers are including microtransactions in single player games or single player modes. Games might be balanced to make them unnecessary now, but when that is no longer the case will the game matter once the hype dies down and the storefront no longer exists. The crippled game thrown aside, meant to be consumed not enjoyed.
As a final thought I do think things can be changed, I do think things can get better. What happens is we as consumers need to demand better from the studios. I have no problem with paying more for more content and I see no issues with expansions, but physical releases of them would be nice. I see no issues with a healthy secondary market for older games, however as things are now the publishers and hardware vendors have ensured that there will be no market.