Game People Calling: The Buy Once Manifesto

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I only have myself to blame, but I’m fed up of buying the same games over and over. I think it’s time for us to send a message to the industry and stop buying games we already own on old formats. Let’s raise our expectations of what platform holders need to do to keep our custom.

I’m not talking about the FIFA, Assassin’s Creed or Mario Kart iterations – although some of these are pretty questionable, that’s another story. I want to call time on our crazy habit of quite literally paying again to play games we played (and paid for) on older systems. This is two way traffic – a comfy co-dependence where we keep buying repackaged classics – but when the platform holder intentionally removes support for our old carts and discs just so we have to buy them again things have gone a little far.

When Nintendo released the GBA Classics range, they were asking a very specific question. Would we pay to revisit a straight copy of an old game on new hardware? The response was an emphatic yes and set in motion their subsequent Classics titles, Virtual Console and even New Play Control offerings.

It’s not that platform holders can’t get it right when they want to though. There are plenty of examples of hardware that delivers great backward compatibility. The PlayStation 2 could run any PlayStation 1 game straight out of the box. Not a cheap option for them as they had to include the original chipset in their new machine, but Sony saw this as essential to keep hold of a market they had broken into.

Do you remember the 90’s Gameboy games? In many of those little cartridges were not only some of the best games I’ve played but they were pre-loaded with data for the Super Gameboy TV Player. Sticking a Gameboy game into the Gameboy Player and you discover not only full colour decals to accommodate the larger screen size, but also extra colour information ready for TV and Gameboy Colour rendering. With that sort of commitment and effort to go the extra mile, it’s no wonder the Gameboy was such a success.

The Gameboy Advance continued this trend and offered Gameboy and Gameboy Color emulation. The original DS and DSlite could also run any GBA game. Great backward compatibility seemed critical to Nintendo as they wanted to ensure their continued grip on the handheld market. Then there’s the Wii’s Gamecube support. Again we find Nintendo working hard to please gamers and win back their audience by including not only the old hardware but also the controller ports to go with it.

It’s also interesting to see how hard Sony has worked to honor UMD purchases as they look to make further inroads into the handheld market with the PSPGo. They did a lot of work to enable you to convert your UMD discs to digital versions, with a whole area of the store devoted to these transfer purchases. iPhone games have worked on each subsequent update of the hardware. This includes even the move to the iPad where the iPhone games will work straight out of the box.

But as these companies that service our habit start to gain market dominance, they often leverage their lead by not working as hard to make our old games work. Sony came into the current generation with a big lead and we see that the PlayStation 3, although initially sporting strong backward compatibility at launch, was soon chopped back to software-only emulation of a limited number of old games. And more recently, with a vice-like grip on the portable market, Nintendo are happy to drop the GBA slot and access to all those great games on the DSi and DSi XL.

Rather than a route to cheaper hardware, these decisions seem to go side by side with strategies that sell those old games one more time. It’s not a big stretch of the imagination to expect that we will soon be “enabled” to download Virtual Console games on the DS and buy those classic 90’s Gameboy, Gameboy Color and GBA titles again.

But nothing is going to change if we don’t find a way out of this co-dependent relationship – where we keep buying and they keep selling. So this is my Buy Once Manifesto.

I resolve to stop buying these retro releases unless there are genuine new features or art work. I’ll not reach for my wallet to buy Super Mario World for the umpteenth time on the DSi store when it surfaces. And I set my face against those oh so tempting New Play Control, PS1 Classic and iPhone retro re-releases.

Instead I’ll spend some time hunting down that old hardware and digging out my old carts and discs and have a real trip down memory lane at a tenth of the price. Will you join me?

Game People is a rag tag bunch of artisans creating awesomely bizarre reviews from across the pond.

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