So, once marketing has done its research and decided what to put in the increasingly large boxes, the final test begins: Will people actually buy the thing?
I posted an inquiry at both Ubisoft’s official Watch Dogs forum and the more general discussion area at CollectorsEdition, a site that’s all about the curation and discussion of video game special editions. I singled out Watch Dogs in both places and asked if anyone was interested in buying it, and if so, why.
For some gamers planning to buy the special edition, it was just enough that Watch Dogs looks really cool.
“I love the art direction. The special edition comes with an 80 page artbook,” said JMG9519, a member of the Watch Dogs forum.
Others are interested out of habit.
“I collect steelbooks, artbooks, and statues,” said FP X Snubkiller on the Watch Dogs forum, “so it’s a must-buy for me.”
Some have practical reasons.
“I don’t want to have to buy the downloadable content or bonus missions later on,” said Watch Dogs forum user Ghost_Rider2008. “I want to be able to play them the minute I find them in the game.”
And some, like CollectorsEdition member vhal_x, are completionists.
“I am getting multiple editions of Watch Dogs. I really like the look of the game, so it is highly unlikely I will not enjoy it. However, if you were to buy an edition and you really hated the game, you could always sell it afterward. This isn’t an option for me, however; even if I dislike something, I have a weird aversion to selling my stuff. Also, it is rare for me to hate a game.”
Developer and publisher loyalty also factors in; some gamers are on board just because the makers of a new project have a good pedigree.
“I would’ve bought the standard if I had to,” said CollectorsEdition user Harlequin, “but I support the game and its publishers enough that I want to pay as much as I can for a game that looks this good.”
“Based on their track record, I predict the worst Watch Dogs can be is an Assassin’s Creed clone with a modern skin to it,” adds user Tubigdomo. “But based on gameplay videos, it has several unique gameplay features — like the hacking mechanics — to differentiate it as its own game.
“Obviously, the final quality of the game is yet to be revealed, but I have enough evidence to say that it’s more than blind faith why I invest more money in one game. It’s like how you would judge a favorite between two boxers based on their previous matches.
“And what if I don’t enjoy the game? Preordering is a risky venture. It is satisfying when the game you paid $98 for you is good, but it feels even better when that fun game came with extra goodies you are proud to have.”
So what did we learn?
For developers and publishers, special editions are a means to promote player interaction and build up excitement about their new titles. Even if we don’t know much about the game in question, they hope to build interest by offering things they think fans will find useful or cool, and they use social media and forums to gauge what people might want.
Let’s face it, too — special editions are also an opportunity to drive up revenue for a new franchise and hopefully give it a kickstart up front. I contacted NPD, which tracks video-game sales, to see how well the limited versions sell against the standard-issue ones, but it couldn’t tell me much: “Of the top 20 video games sold through retail during 2012 that contained special editions, there was a range of 1 percent to 14 percent of total units sales that stemmed from special edition SKUs,” NPD analyst Liam Callahan told GamesBeat over e-mail.
It’s hard to tell from that whether or not special editions represent a significant portion of sales, but the fact that developers and publishers still offer them, even for brand-new series, at least suggests that it’s worth it.
Fans have their own reasons for buying more expensive versions of games with which they have little to no history. If it looks cool, or they like the people who make it, or they’re just collectors, they’ll pay up. And if PR and publishers have done their homework and can offer fans something they can’t resist, so much the better for everyone.
So while it still seems a little strange to me for someone to pay $130 for Watch Dogs without knowing if it’s good or not, the fans have their reasons, and of course nothing is stopping us from just paying the regular price and leaving the statues and soundtracks on the shelf.