Buying Video Games at Launch Has Become a Punishing Waste of Money

Are You Paying Full Price for an Incomplete Experience?

Back in 2017, I was wooed by the Japanese version of Dragon Quest XI. The 3DS version in particular charmed me with its 16-bit graphics option, and the regular version’s gorgeous Akira Toriyama art in full HD was spellbinding as always. It was the first time I had been interested in a Dragon Quest title since the Pokemon-like Dragon Warriors 2: Cobi’s Journey back in the early 2000s. When Dragon Quest XI did finally come to the West it had left behind the 16-bit graphics option that piqued my interest, and it was made exclusively available for PS4. Instead, it packed 4K Resolution (which admittedly was and is stunning on my PS4 Pro), English voice acting, a first-person camera mode, and a harder difficulty level – all of which (except for the 4K visuals) I personally found to be entirely unappealing. I still picked the game up at full price($59.99 USD/$79.99 CAD) and slogged through the painful anime cliches and deliberately boring combat, just so I could enjoy the beautifully realized art of Akira Toriyama (also, Sylvando).

Last year, a new version of the game was released for the Nintendo Switch with the 16-bit graphics option that had sold me on the game in the first place. It also came with expanded plot points, an orchestral soundtrack, an option to speed up battles, more monster mounts, a photo mode, following NPCs, and a nifty little mechanic where you can visit worlds from previous Dragon Quest games for extra side missions. Naturally, these are all things that absolutely appeal to me and many other players because they’re excellent additions that make the game better on a fundamental level. This version of the game is also re-releasing this week for Xbox, PS4, and PC, and comes with a demo that brings your saved progress to the full release. It’ll be retailing for $39.99 USD/$53.99 CAD


I feel as though I’ve been ripped off in some way – but in some fairness, perhaps I should have known better. Re-releases and “Definitive Editions” are nothing new in the gaming industry, with annual sports games and bi-annual fighting game roster updates being some of the most egregious practices. But this dates all the way back to the late 80s and early 90s. The original Dragon Quest came to the West three years after its original release on the NES with enhancements of its own. Updated graphics and direction-facing character sprites were quality of life changes, but the battery-powered RAM for saving the game could change how someone plays it when they have the security to undo decisions they may be unhappy with. None of the changes in DQXI:S DE are that impactful, but it’s hard not to feel like I’ve had a lesser and incomplete experience with the original release. There’s also no known or implied reason that this content couldn’t be patched into the existing game for free, or sold separately as a DLC bundle. Here in the West, the only way to get the complete experience is to buy Dragon Quest XI S: Definitive Edition. It especially stings because I bought the original release digitally, which means I don’t even have the option to trade it in and pay a bit less for the Definitive Edition.

Now I did mention early in this writing that I’m not a fan of the combat or the story, both of which make up basically all of this 100+ hour JRPG. So why would I want to get the “full experience” anyway? Well, it sounds like this additional content could alleviate some of the issues I have with those aspects of the game. Being able to speed up combat on a whim would save a ton of time spent rhythmically pressing X waiting for a battle to be over. Or perhaps those additional story beats for each character that isn’t Sylvando (who is so fun and great) would give me more reason to take an interest – at all – in their stakes in the narrative. I’m also a total sucker for being able to see my party members follow me around, and being able to visit worlds from other Dragon Quest games sounds interesting. Above all, the thing that sold me on the game in the first place would be included. That would be really nice.

Bleeding Us Dry

But I’ve genuinely spent too much time talking about this one example I take personal issue with when there are so many others guilty of the same crime.

When Horizon Zero Dawn originally released on February 28th, 2017 for PS4, its full MSRP was 59.99 USD/$79.99 CAD. Less than a year later on December 5th, 2017, the game was re-released with The Frozen Wilds DLC packed in, as well as the additional content from the digital deluxe edition as Horizon Zero Dawn: Complete Edition for $49.99 USD/$59.99 CAD. Those who had purchased the game at launch still had to buy The Frozen Wilds at its standard MSRP for $19.99 USD/$29.99 CAD (I should note that PS+ subscribers did get a small discount on the DLC), meaning they would have to spend almost a hundred dollars US (and over a hundred in Canada) to have the full content and experience. In some ways, this could be likened to waiting for a game to go on sale. But when I bought Red Dead Redemption’s Undead Nightmare DLC at full price only for it to go on sale the very next day, I was not upset with Xbox or Rockstar. It was additional content that had been out for a few months by that point, and I had only myself and my impatience to blame. In the case of Horizon Zero Dawn, the game had only first released 8 months prior when the Complete Edition was announced. Again, it was hard to feel anything but bamboozled knowing that if I had waited I could’ve paid half the price I originally had for the experience and used that money elsewhere.

Earlier this year 505 Games upset fans of Remedy’s Control by announcing an Ultimate Edition of the game that comes with the DLC packed in for $39.99 USD/$49.99 CAD. Again, the game had originally launched at $59.99 USD/$79.00 CAD with a season pass for $24.99 USD/$33.99 CAD. It wasn’t the Ultimate Edition itself that had upset fans, despite it being announced just a couple of weeks shy of the game’s one year anniversary. It’s that this is currently the only way to get the next-gen upgrade version of the game. 505 even publicly doubled down on this decision, saying “Every avenue we pursued, there was some form of blocker and those blockers meant that at least one group of players ended up being left out of the upgrade for various reasons. As of today, we can’t offer an upgrade to everyone, and leaving any one group out feels unfair.” They do mention that the 2019 version of the game would be backward compatible with the new consoles in the same statement, but it does seem like they opted to leave out the one group of people who supported the game from the very beginning.

Stop Upselling Me

It also seems very odd that 505 and Remedy couldn’t find an “upgrade path” for their existing player base considering Gearbox, Codemasters, Behaviour Interactive, Ubisoft, Studio Wildcard, IO Interactive, Bungie, Epic Games, Tripwire Interactive, Hello Games, Frontier Developments, several developers under Microsoft Studios and Sony Interactive Entertainment, and CD Projekt Red, could all figure it out for theirs. Adding insult to injury, shortly after the announcement a handful of users noticed that their copies of the game had been upgraded to the Ultimate Edition, which was then rescinded. This essentially shows that the upgrade could be enabled for existing owners seemingly with the flick of a switch. Given that other games are made on different engines and have other technological limitations in place, it may be unfair to say that this could be the case for all next-gen upgrades. But given the aforementioned list of developers who got it solved coupled with the number who managed to get things improved on the One X and PS4 Pro, I’d imagine it’s not too far off.

Speaking of next-gen upgrades, I expect to see quite a bit more of this type of re-release practice taking place with more recent titles especially over the first few years of the new console cycle. We’re already seeing it in action with Devil May Cry 5: Special Edition, and the next-gen version of 2018’s Spider-Man being locked behind the Ultimate Edition for the new Spider-Man: Miles Morales. I find the latter method to be less offensive if a publisher decides that a next-gen upgrade needs to be monetized at all, as it does fill out the new $69.99 USD/$89.99 CAD price point in a way I find valuable. That being said, I definitely would not like to see the trend of packing in a next-gen remaster of an older game to make up for lack of content in the newer title just to pad that price point. To be clear, that’s nothing against Miles Morales – I actually like it more than Spider-Man 2018 – I’m just specifying that a trend like that would maybe not be a great deal in every case. Devil May Cry 5: Special Edition is basically adding a character, a harder mode, and the same visual upgrades that the Borderlands 3 upgrade did, but slapping a $39.99 USD/$49.99 CAD price tag on it. If other games have proven that this content could be added in a free update, why should I feel compelled to pay for it?

Devil May Cry 5: Special Edition

There’s also the Nioh Collection coming out for PS5 in February. It includes visually upgraded versions of both Nioh games, all DLC for each title, and you can even import your saves from PS4 (the collection is also coming to PC but you can’t bring your PS4 saves to that version as far as I know of this writing). This is interesting because you can buy the remasters separately for $49.99 USD/$64.99 CAD each or you can get them bundled for $69.99 USD/$89.99 CAD, and players who already own Nioh 2 and any of its DLC will get the upgrade for free. However, Nioh 1 will not get the upgrade for free. So in the case of Nioh 1, it’s not as painful because the game will have originally launched 4 years prior to the date of its remaster. But Nioh 2 dropped earlier this year in March. This is a middle ground where it’s not quite the sin that Horizon: Zero Dawn Complete Edition is because Nioh 2 owners do get the visual upgrades at no additional cost, but the game is re-releasing less than a full year later with its additional content for a lower price point. Better than nothing, but not ideal.

Now, this isn’t a cautionary tale of how buying games at launch gets you nothing but a big middle finger from the gaming industry or a pre-Festivus airing of grievances. The real question this recurring issue poses isn’t one I can answer, but something perhaps worth considering the value of for yourself as we enter a new console generation and MSRPs rise. Is a game worth its full price on launch day, knowing there is a very high likelihood it will not only go on sale but re-release for a lower price with more content and perhaps better presentation? The value of that will depend on each person for each game, and what you’ll really be assessing is the value of how soon you need to experience it. The perhaps unfortunate truth for a lot of people will likely be that no, they don’t need to experience it as soon as it’s available. This may not be as commonly true for some compared to how they value film and television, but it will definitely be the case for a significant number of people when it comes to video games. The reasons I personally value entertainment this way is because – well for one, they bring me immense joy – but also because this is the primary way that I relate to people. Discussing contemporary pop culture is my expressway to understanding the people around me, so when they bring up their favorite story or experience I want to be able to have the most insightful conversation with them about it possible. So from my perspective, if I’m being sold an incomplete experience, I’m not only missing things that I may actually enjoy within it like a certain graphics mode or extra narrative content and context. I could also be missing out on an opportunity to relate to someone in a way I value.

Some may consider it entitled to suggest additional content granted to late adopters for less should be free or discounted for early adopters who paid more, but paying for a game at launch feels more like punishment as time goes on. I can’t at all blame people who don’t want to pay a hundred dollars or more in any currency for an incomplete experience. Why bother, when they can wait for it to go on sale, re-release with more content, go on Game Pass/PS Now, or buy it used? Especially in a world where wages have not properly risen in accordance with the cost of goods. As I mentioned, it’s an unfortunate practice I expect to exacerbate itself as early adopters of the new consoles look for proper content and try to have the best version possible of the games they already love without dropping thousands of dollars on a gaming PC (where they would have to re-buy certain games anyways). Hopefully, the goodwill, active player stats, and other boons that developers and publishers garner from releasing free next-gen updates for existing titles persuades others to follow suit. In all other cases, do your best to vote with your dollar wisely.

How do you value buying games at launch? Are there any games you’ve bought only to be re-released with more content later? As always, let us know what you think in the comments, and stay tuned to COGconnected for all your gaming news!

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