Buying Games Ain't What It Used to Be

Plastic tags, glass booths, catalogue shopping ... ahh, those were the days. Hey, get those grubby Angry Birds sneakers off my lawn you little punk.

Article by Nadia Oxford, .

I'd like to kick off this piece by admitting I'm a hypocrite. I love buying games digitally. I love acquiring hot titles at the stroke of midnight without having to leave my couch, put on pants, and stand in line. I love buying games on a whim at the start of a workday, leaving them to download over the course of the day, then picking them up as soon as work's done.

But every time I tap that little gift box icon Nintendo hands off to you as soon as a 3DS game download is done (and it's more than what most game systems do to feed the illusion you're buying a tangible product), I feel my heart flicker and go dark for an instant. Games are still fun. Buying games, not so much.

Sure, you feel a small pang of satisfaction when you pick up a title at GameStop, or even when you unzip the cardboard on an Amazon delivery. But purchasing a game is no longer the solemn, ritual-filled undertaking it once was.

To be fair, I guess things get pretty solemn when your personal information is stolen by hackers.

I weep not for myself, for I am old. It is the children I think of, the children who build their game library by watching a streamer play a title (a pastime that comes with its own set of problems), then prodding their parents until a credit card number is relinquished for a purchase on PSN, Xbox Live, Nintendo eShop, or Steam. There is no joy in the hunt. Just the immediate, empty thrill of acquisition.

O children. O my children. How long before you forget the chase entirely? Forget the curse-filled search for a parking space? Forget the long trek from the back of the parkade to the game store? Forget the triumphant grab for the last copy of Super Mario Whatever? Forget the celebratory meal at McDonalds or the Food Court afterwards, where you feast upon bad food and daydream plugging your game into your system? Your generation has everything, and yet it has nothing.

OK, that's enough of that.

You haven't purchased a game until you've lined up for one breadline-style.

I suppose the gradual change of game distribution is a topic that interests me because I've purchased games for seven generations of systems. I accompanied my parents as they bought our Atari 2600 games at a catalogue store. What merriment. You browsed a catalogue, you filled out your request on a form, you brought the form up to the clerk, your purchase was rolled out on a conveyer belt, and voila, you had a copy of the Atari 2600's surprisingly good adaptation of Commando.

Catalogue stores lost ground to big-box retail, but buying video games was still an event through the '80s and into the '90s. Toys R Us was my game merchant of choice for most of the NES era: It's where I picked up Castlevania III, Zelda II, and, eventually, my SNES. Back then, Toys R Us shamelessly dressed itself in shades of brown and orange. Harsh florescent light rained down from high ceilings, and tall shelves were piled with wares.

The establishment even had a faint warehouse smell that disappeared as Toys R Us gradually re-invented itself for the new millennium. Something else that disappeared: Having to take tags up to a person in a glass booth to buy your video games.

See, instead of plucking a game straight off a shelf or waiting for someone to open a glass case, you browsed a long line of game "boxes" (actually laminated pictures of said boxes), made your choice, and took a numbered tag out of a plastic pouch placed under the box. You brought the tag up to a clerk in a little glass booth peppered with courtesy air holes, and they gave you your game.

Looking upon those xylophone bars is like looking upon the face of an elder god. Such hideous beauty.

Looking back, grabbing a tag for a game and then bringing it to a boxed-up person who transformed that slip into an actual Nintendo game was a weirdly military exchange – kind of like buying items from a prison commissary. Nevertheless, I have fond memories of the process. If kids today have to deal with Cold War-style paranoia of nuclear war, I think it's fair to bring back the tiny but satisfying journey that was part of the video game-buying process in the late '80s–

What? "Toys R Us in massive debt? Possible bankruptcy?"


I guess it doesn't do much good to complain about the deteriorating fun-ness of buying video games. For me, the act became a little less special when game chain stores became commonplace. I've been riding this slide for a long time. And any game is going to feel a lot more magical when it's a rare present from a loving relative instead of something that got scooped into your cart during a Humble Bundle sale. I still think kids are missing out, but they'll manage. They always do.

As for myself, I'll just scratch my itch for the physical game-buying experience by attending system launches. I buy my systems at stores, since online retail isn't always timely with its deliveries of high-demand electronics up here. Yeah, waiting hours for the Switch sucked a little, but in hindsight, it was kind of fun–

Eesh, I hate myself sometimes.

Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Nameless Coast from Ys VIII

I'll be sharing my impressions of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana this week, but I'll say this much: It's what you'd expect from an Ys game. That's good, because it means you can expect good graphics, a fun story, tons of monster-killing, and a soundtrack that doesn't know when to quit.

I'm still a bit of an Ys newbie, but I've seen more than a few of the fandom's old fish declare "Nameless Coast" ("Sunshine Coastline" in Japanese) from Ys VIII is one of the series' very best songs. I offer up no argument. I mean, listen to it. It's not a hard sell.

I assure you it's even better when you listen to it with context. The series' hero, Adol, washes up on a mysterious island (like he does) that appears to be devoid of human life. What kind of music is appropriate for such a scenario? Something lonely? Something tropical, but still sweetly melancholy? Nah, boy. Not Ys VIII. Break out that electric guitar. Bash those drums. Turn the volume up to 11. Adol found a sword on a dead body, so we're good to go.

Mike's Media Minute

Whew, lad. Stephen King is having a weird couple of months at the movies. While an adaptation of The Dark Tower bombed out at the movies with $101 million on a budget of $60 million, it seems It is moving in a different direction. The adaptation of King's coming-of-age horror novel made $123 million in the United States alone on its first weekend.

Sure, It didn't have much against it, but those are damn good numbers. In fact, they're record-breaking number, with It being the strongest opening weekend for an R-rated horror film ever. (The last holder of the record was Paranormal Activity 3 at $52.5 million.) A couple million more and it would've beat the all-time R-rated record holder, Deadpool, which sits at $132.4 million. All told, It made $189 million worldwide, far ahead of its production budget of $35 million.

In other really odd news, no one's talking about Spider-Man: Homecoming, but it still continues to perform. Ten weekends in, Homecoming is still in the Top 10, netting a total of $327 million domestically. That makes it the #4 film domestically for 2017 so far, thought Star Wars: The Last Jedi will likely push that down a spot.

Further, Spider-Man: Homecoming finally launched in China, pushing the film up to $823 million worldwide. It's unlikely that the run will continue that strongly, but if it does, Homecoming could end up ahead of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. It's already ahead of Wonder Woman, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, and Logan. Homecoming is also firmly the second highest grossing Spider-Man film, behind Spider-Man 3 with $890 million.

Caty’s AltGame Corner

I wasn't kidding when I said FMV games are making a comeback. Morph Girl, an indie FMV game from developer Jordan Doyle, is the latest in the trend. Morph Girl is an eerie horror game inspired by lo-fi Japanese horror movies of the 1990s and 2000s. It's not your typical, pristinely shot FMV game, instead it's constantly distorted; scanlines bleed across the screen always.

The game itself follows a grieving widow as she wrestles with a supernatural being who has embedded itself into her life. Depending on the player's actions, they must decide to either accept the haunting creature, or reject them. Morph Girl is available on and Steam for $3.99, playable on PC.

Matt’s Monday Mornings

Nothing but Destiny 2 on the mind this weekend. Bungie's space opera sequel blasted plast a million concurrent users and I'm one of them. Unfortunately as I've said previously, it's a bit harder for me to run through the campaign because this is essentially my second time playing through the game.

I'm still formulating my final thoughts, and of course I'm nowhere near end game, but my thoughts so far echo plenty of others. Destiny 2 is good, better than Destiny 1, but it also feels more targeted. There's a part of the design that feels market tested to get the most out of players' time based on research from the first Destiny. Like the consumable Shaders for example. It's a crappy way of extracting player's time and money.

I'm not sure how I feel about this and whether this is something we should expect from massive studios with data harvesting resources but maybe that's just how gaming will adapt in the century of big data.

This Week's News and Notes

  • Ready to raid in Destiny 2 this week? Whoa there, parder – make sure you're strong enough.
  • Our Mike thinks Campo Santo shouldn't use DMCA takedowns to retaliate against PewDiePie using a racial slur. Hot take. You may agree. You may disagree. Here's another hot take: I'm not in the business of telling people what to let their kids watch, but maybe don't let your kids watch PewDiePie.
  • Nintendo is hosting a Nintendo Direct on Wednesday, right at the end of my workday. It's because Nintendo hates me. I have a piece of paper confirming it and everything.
  • Fear not: There will be SNES Classic Editions for all! And Reggie Fils-Aime will also buy each and every one of us a fat Christmas goose!
  • Did you listen to Axe of the Blood God last week? Kat and I talked about Final Fantasy VII, and then she and Obsidian's Josh Sawyer did some talking about Fallout: New Vegas. Please introduce your friends to our show, then introduce your cats and dogs.

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Comments 21

  • Avatar for riderkicker #1 riderkicker 5 months ago
    We had catalogs, afternoon/Saturday Morning TV and kids on the playground, the brats today have Youtube stars. Oh how selling games has changed so much.
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #2 donkeyintheforest 5 months ago
    "There is no joy in the hunt. Just the immediate, empty thrill of acquisition."

    Counterpoint: There is still joy in the hunt, it's just the hunt for games, not the cash transaction. Kids may not be wandering aisles for games, but they are out there hunting for fun games that they can play together while circumventing the library's filters (etc haha). They aren't held back by their family's whims - if they know and learn where to look they can find awesome obscure games that would've blown our minds as kids.

    A music fan's search isn't over when they subscribe to spotify, apple music, or google play, it has only just begun. Not everyone stops at Katy Perry or Uncharted. They dive deep and are looking forever...

    ...but i def filled my pockets with tons of those paper slips from toys r us with the 8 year old logic that yeah one day ill be able to bring these back and get them when my parents finally allow videogames in the house...
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #3 NiceGuyNeon 5 months ago
    When people don't know what to buy for kids, they just buy games. And kids inevitably end up with like 6 games at once for their birthday and like the same haul for the holidays. And the kids play maybe one that they like by treating them all like $60 demos. Then they return to their free to play clicker games while streaming someone else playing MineCraft.

    I used to get 1 for my birthday, 1 for Christmas, and I'd beg my sister on her birthday to pick a game. And I'd save my allowance to get a game in between for summer. When you couldn't afford a new game you'd replay a game you hadn't touched in a while. THAT WAS LIFE, BABY! IT WAS HARD, BUT WE LIVED!
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #4 Funny_Colour_Blue 5 months ago
    I remember when LUNAR 2 for PSone had come out, I was like, waiting for this game like, for like years.

    I phoned ahead, at my local video game store, told the guy to reserve my copy - as soon as I got there; the owner was trying to sell their last copy, the copy I had just reserved over the phone - my copy, the game I was saving up month's for.

    …I had to make like the saddest puppy dog eyes and somehow the guy buying it realized what was going on and thankfully let me decided to buy it anyways.

    About a year few years afterwards, that same store got robbed at gun point by two kids who stole a couple of PS2s - Yeah, I really do not miss buying games, physically. (renting movies on the other hand, that's something else.)

    But there is still a certain thrill to buying the games themselves. Like back in 2006, I was somehow able to score, Silent hill 1, 2, 3 and 4 over various online sites, for under 20 bucks for one christmas, all in gentle used condition - that feeling, that's something I don't think will ever truly go away, because there's something to be said about something that can be felt with the hand; that someone had put a lot of time and incredible amount of effort into the product that you're holding in your hand today - we really like owning this stuff.Edited 3 times. Last edited September 2017 by Funny_Colour_Blue
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  • Avatar for link6616 #5 link6616 5 months ago
    I've gotten too far into the hunt for best prices... I own games where I spent more time checking prices and umming and ahhing for each discount...

    Now I own enough games that if I were to spend a full week with every unfinished game that I hope to finish that I presently own (so, excluding filler from bundles), would take me about 10 years at least.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #6 VotesForCows 5 months ago
    Change is inevitable - and its probably better now. More options. But I have very fond memories of sitting on the bus reading through the manual* of the latest game purchase.

    *For the kids - manuals were a paper version of tutorial levels. They were much better, as they smelled nice and were optional.
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  • Avatar for Frosty840 #7 Frosty840 5 months ago
    @VotesForCows God, I really do miss games just throwing themselves at you from the get-go. Sadly, over time manual-readers like ourselves became the minority and "press A to jump" and a picture of Mario landing on an enemy's head turned into a fully voice-acted five-minute story told by a wizened old Toad who recalls his younger days marvelling at Mario's ability to jump when he pressed the A button. You know, the A button. The one on that pad you're holding in your hands. Why don't you press the A button and see what-
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  • Avatar for Jonnyboy407 #8 Jonnyboy407 5 months ago

    Word. I sometimes wonder... Was I happier when I played fewer games? Like 4 or 5 in a year?
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  • Avatar for Nuclear-Vomit #9 Nuclear-Vomit 5 months ago
    I remember when my brothers and I walked 3 miles to the to the nearest Funcoland (rip-off land) to purchase... Lagoon? WTF were we thinking?Edited September 2017 by Nuclear-Vomit
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  • Avatar for mikehiscoe #10 mikehiscoe 5 months ago
    Consumers Distributing FTW!
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  • Avatar for link6616 #11 link6616 5 months ago
    @Jonnyboy407 I'm pretty sure I enjoyed the games more. I mean, since becoming an adult with a billion games I half play so much, and my friends who just play 4 games a year devour them to the nth degree.

    Love of the medium hurts your love of the medium.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #12 VotesForCows 5 months ago
    @NiceGuyNeon That's pretty much where I am at the moment - replaying Street Fighter (or still playing) and Dark Souls 2. Plenty in them to keep me going for another few months til I figure out where I can get some spare cash...
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #13 VotesForCows 5 months ago
    @Frosty840 Good example, you should definitely design tutorial levels! Extreme example, but I remember the manual for Civilisation 2 was about 130 pages long. There's value for money!
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  • Avatar for scottygrayskull #14 scottygrayskull 5 months ago
    iirc when I was little (NES era) we had a Zellers, Woolco, and Canadian Tire. Still have the CT price stickers on some of my NES boxes. We got a K-Mart around the time SNES was out.

    Trying to remember how the games were displayed... I think they were all just behind glass cases. Sometimes behind the counter.
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #15 Roto13 5 months ago
    I definitely never felt any joy in the hunt for video games when they would come late to the one shitty store in my shitty home town that sold video games. Or when I couldn't find a game that was selling out. I'm out of patience for physical media in general. I don't think Kids These Days are missing much.

    (Random extra irrelevant thought: When I see people who supposedly love books shitting on ebooks because they don't smell like paper or whatever, I want to punch them in the gut.)
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #16 NiceGuyNeon 5 months ago
    @Jonnyboy407 I honestly think I was. I've actually imposed a limit on myself of 4 new games maximum in a given year. I've hit two so far in 2017 with Fire Emblem (Virtual Console) and Breath of the Wild. I finished both, and I put over 100 hours in Breath of the Wild and keep going back to it.

    It's been helping a bit with my backlog titles too.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #17 NiceGuyNeon 5 months ago
    @VotesForCows I've got about $9 in my Steam Wallet which will probably go towards a game purchase during one of the major sales in winter. But I've got such a huge backlog that I've been digging into that and I imposed a limit of 4 games max for new purchases in a year. So far I bought Fire Emblem in February and Breath of the Wild in March.

    I quit my job in August once I started school again, so I figure the limit on what I can buy will be even easier to uphold since the choice between eating and playing games always tends to fall in favor of eating.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #18 link6616 5 months ago
    @NiceGuyNeon Before I realised the switch was coming out this year I had mentally prepared myself to only buy 5 new games this year, and focus on the ps3 backcatalog.

    I now own a switch. And it has more than 5 games I own for it.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #19 NiceGuyNeon 5 months ago
    @link6616 lol I feel ya. Honestly, if Breath of the Wild hadn't released on Wii U I'd be in the same boat: Switch and a bunch of games for it.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #20 MetManMas 5 months ago
    Never did Toys "R" Us much, but I did occasionally go a town or two over to visit the mall. Remember when malls used to be the prime location of game stores, and had arcades? I do.

    Sometimes, I miss the excitement of heading to a different town to hit up the game stores for that release I want that isn't at Video Warehouse. More than that though, I miss when physical media was worth a damn, how the average PC game or 8 to 16-bit RPG would come with maps and feelies and stuff and how instruction booklets often had lore and cool official art.

    That said. I do not miss the difficulty of the hunt. I'm glad that I can just buy a card with some game money or order online to get most new games these days, instead of riding a few dozen miles to another town or praying that the Game Rental Deity will stock the particular title I'm after.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #21 MetManMas 5 months ago
    @Nuclear-Vomit It's probably the effect of Nintendo Power. I know when I was a kid I rented every RPG I could find.
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