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I guess it's sunk cost. No need to torture myself over what are effectively phantasms.

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The Pull of the New

Hey, referring to the prior blog, maybe I was deluding myself!

Still, I got the chance to play a lot of games on first release, something I haven't done... maybe ever? Apart from a few big-name franchises I'd really loved, like Phantasy Star, Grand Theft Auto, or Elder Scrolls, I've tended to stay away from the initial release of games, especially now that the price is often a bit much for me. That's not to say I haven't used Kickstarter to get the jump on a few projects, most of which arrived pretty much intact, as well as some direct paying for smaller games on release, although those tended not to be forbiddingly expensive.

But to play them around when they came out on a regular basis has been a privilege. It's also been a great way to sample how buggy code can be. We all know it; whether or not a newer version of the code ever comes out, the first releases are likely to have problems. People who pay full prices, or even premium pre-order prices, get to hit the first wave of post-tester code. As someone who advocates (in my spare time) for paid testers, I know some of the problems stem from people, often independent designers, throwing their game at friends and family, which is rarely a good idea. Unless those friends and family trust that you won't take the criticisms personally, and if they have a healthy understanding of games, you're going to get some great feedback in certain areas, but you're setting yourself up for a mess down the road. And the bigger companies, often trying to keep a massive group afloat, will often drop the small problems in favor of making the launch no embarrassing, and keeping everybody paid and only moderately overworked. At some point things break down, especially in poorly managed companies, and you'll see character models that could fit quite well into horror movies, or stuff that totally isn't buggy but is so safe and boring as to be a different species of embarrassing altogether.

So why buy when it's fresh out of the gate? I have indulged in this often enough that I feel like I might know. I did it for Rogue One just recently, and apart from the game series above I have gone after a few specific titles I had to have. I guess, especially now, it's easy to fill up on other people's impressions of things. Maybe there are some people who are completely impervious to external impressions but it does seem to affect how I view things, at least initially, and there's something clean and pure about going in without knowing a thing. Especially with movies, music, TV, books... this can be kind of exhilarating, like you're the first person to see a new land (even if you're pretty much not unless it was procedurally generated, and I don't think they're doing that so much in the old media). There is also a sense that you may be the first to do a thing, even if you never even talk about it I guess there's a human tendency to like to be first, or at least be perceived that way, if only by yourself. And conversely, you feel like a member of a community who has bought into this new thing, and are experiencing it along with everyone else in the world playing it, like a club; you get to be the first to get the references to the game, the first to maybe make a few. You could be an internet sensation! (Probably not).

I suppose you also feel like you're supporting the team that made it. Even if it isn't a Kickstarter you're throwing money at them for making a smart-sounding promise, or being a team you've come to rely on. And if you do expose yourself to games media leading up to the release, you may have a few reviewers you trust to give you a decent impression of what's coming up. Even if your taste differs you've come to predict how they'll react to things you like and be able to figure out if you might want it. I tend do that more with games than with other things, because so much can go wrong in games even when it seems like a great experience.

But it's price, ultimately, that seems to dictate my hesitance of late. I was on board with No Man's Sky until I saw the price, and after it was released the price was the thing that made me glad I didn't get it. I could have enjoyed it for cheaper, and I probably will later on, especially with the updates they seem to be sticking to. Too cheap, and you wonder if it's worth it, too expensive and you wonder if they're trying to ride a popularity wave, and reasonable prices could probably be statistically shown to be in a certain range, but everyone probably has their own idea of what they would be, and you wouldn't really know that until after you played the game...

(...There's an idea. A rating system that's a currency value. What you would pay if you had the choice (including not bothering even if it was free). Since I just said everybody has their own idea about pricing that may weaken the argument a bit, but with stars it's sort of the same, you get people who are just happy to be here, and others who are searching for a better experience than most games can offer. Still, I can imagine pricing being something we could relate to, especially since there's a dissonance there. When you get a review copy for free, as objective as you can be, you have to leave the price judgment up to the reader, and if that information isn't up front, someone may diminish the role of price in their decision making. The controversy may come in relative to actual price, like you have a game that's 20 dollars and the rating says 10, as authoritative as you can be as a reviewer would that have been a realistic price for that team, even if it's ultimately not worth the purchase? Regardless, the price is important)

Having written about the games I got to see early has given me a chance to warn people about buying the bad ones, or maybe given a few people the inspiration to pick something up if they could afford it, but it's also shown me just how much out there isn't as great as it seems. It's one of the reasons why big publishers no longer supporting early reviews bugs me a bit. Competent reviews help us decide, give us something other than the official line to go by. But that's assuming the pull of the new is absolute, that in absence of other people's impressions we should just buy the thing immediately. With refunds being easier in some places maybe it's not as big a deal anymore, but maybe we should hold back. It won't kill us to wait a few days, but there are some people out there who really need to escape to these other worlds, as risky as that is. I can understand that, too.

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