Upon my recent purchase of Star Wars Battlefront, I began to ask myself questions about value concerning modern games.
It seems silly that I should ask myself this question in 2016 at a time when games in the UK, and as far as I’m aware also in the US, are still released at the same price they were 10 or 15 years ago. On the surface, it surprises me that they have not increased in price because as far as I can tell, and I hope I’m not alone here, games seem to have come a long way in the last 15 years. This was only further highlighted to me upon the recent re-release of Level 5’s charming PS2 title, Dark Cloud, where I knowingly, and happily I might add, paid £11.99 for a game that I had not only already completed on many occasions, but that I already owned and is, indeed, sat on my shelf gathering dust as we speak. I even have a PS2 in the building, though it has been boxed up for a while, I admit. I’m not going to talk specifically about modern-day game pricing, or DLC for that matter, but I do want to talk about value and our sense of this in the modern market.
Dark Cloud holds an especially important place in my heart having been released near the start of the PS2 era when I was still in high school and desired fascinating worlds to escape the horror that was my school life. Playing Dark Cloud now seems just as magical as in 2001 when the rebuilding of quaint Nolun Village and all of its inhabitants was an outward symbol of rebirth for me that I felt was needed in my own (rather cushy) life, but that’s nostalgia (and kids) for you. If I take a step back, however, Dark Cloud highlights just how far games have come along in the last decade and a half. After all, games like Dark Cloud initially released at the same price in the UK as current heavy-hitters, Fallout 4 or The Witcher 3, and I can only assume that games are far more expensive to make now than they were in 2001 – if not only because of inflation, let alone expanded ambition. And yet, we’re still able to get games at launch for the same price when everything else around us has gotten more expensive. On occasions, I think our sense of value in the current games market can be difficult to grasp.
It has therefore occurred to me that value is an incredibly curious and highly subjective thing. This has been brought to my attention through the various comments sections on a myriad of websites full of angry gamers aimed at the “greedy” corporation that is Sony for charging us £12 for a game that is, after all, 15 years old. Dark Cloud is not the only PS2 game that is now available to download onto your PS4 for a fee, there are eight at launch, with promises of more on the way, and many are angry that Sony does not instead provide the ability to play the original PS2 discs on our PS4.
Now I like to think I’m pretty savvy with my money. It’s no secret that gaming is an expensive hobby, and like many I often trade in my games after finishing them to fund my addiction (I’m still talking about games here, mind you). In fact, I tend only to keep the exceedingly special games in my life, perhaps exemplified by the mere seven blue cases glaring back at me from my shelf, begging me to make them relevant again, when I know I’ve played many more than that since the PS4 launched. This suggests to me that I trade in a lot of games, so I’m no stranger to questions of value, or eBay for that matter. It would appear obvious, however, that I may be a stranger to perspective since, after all, I only have my own to fall back on, and everyone is ultimately different, so take what you read here with a knowing glance that it is but one’s opinion.
For me, regardless of whether I already own Dark Cloud or any of those other PS2 games that are now available for purchase on the PS4 store, £12 seems like a decent price for a game that can last upwards of 40 hours. Indeed, the game is a charming little RPG that many players, even today I’m sure, would enjoy. I mean, we haven’t had many decent JRPGs through the last cycle of consoles (with a few notable exceptions, of course), so there seems to be a bit of a window there for companies to exploit. That said, I don’t see this as exploitation. It’s very easy to look at this as though Sony is merely conning us out of our money by making us re-purchase games that we already own. But actually, Sony aren’t making us do anything. On the contrary, they’re offering us an opportunity to pay a relatively small fee to play an upgraded version of a classic game that will include full Trophy support, 1080p up rendering, and the ability to play them using the vastly superior PS4 controller.
For me, as someone who already owns the game, this feels like a fair trade. When I plug my PS2 into my high-definition TV, games look dreadful – much worse, in fact, than they did at launch all those years ago. The reason for this is the low-resolution input of those older PS2 games into the high-resolution output of modern TVs. The image gets stretched and highlights all the imperfections and polygons, which just makes the games look downright ugly. Okay, so we’re not getting a full-on HD remaster with these re-releases on PS4, but we are getting an up rendering, and the games do look better (if you don’t believe me, check out the video above). They look much sharper than they did; font is legible, and I don’t want to gouge my eyes out when I play the games in that mushy blur of nostalgia being actively obliterated in the face of modern technology. Not only that, but we’re not being asked to pay the price of a full remaster either, just a measly £12, which is the price of DLC for some modern games, to have some of our old favourites upgraded and playable. If, unlike me, you still feel aggrieved at having to pay for these old games all over again, then surely you can simply play them on your PS2? If you don’t care about the upgrades, then what does it matter? Just don’t buy them, it’s not mandatory.
I get it; it would be nice to be able to, at least, have the option to put our PS2 discs into the PS4, but it’s by no means a right that we get this feature. Sure, it would be nice of Sony to do it (whether they actually can do it is another matter), but they don’t have to do it. I think it’s easy within the echo chamber of comments boards on dedicated games sites to lose sight of things, and it sometimes feels like a sense of entitlement comes forth around such musings, as though it is Sony’s responsibility to give us this free option on its new hardware. The PS4 was never marketed as being a backwards compatible console; it was never really on the cards. Had they announced the ability to play PS2 discs on PS4 without any fee would we all have indignantly exclaimed, “It’s about time, Sony!” or would we applaud the inclusion of this wonderful and unexpected addition? I hope it’s the latter.
The fact that we have been given the opportunity to play PS2 games on our PS4 at all is a pleasant surprise for me, regardless of the method they choose to go about it. And let’s not forget that this “feature” isn’t just for those who already own the games. There are a lot of younger players who missed out on the PS2 generation, and there are a lot of good games for that console for them to play. Well, now they can. I suppose the real issue here is our perspective on value, and I suspect those hurting the most from this announcement are those who already own the games and feel as though it’s just not worth paying for them again.
We all like to feel that we are getting good value for money, and this can be highly subjective. For me, £12 is a decent price to play an upgraded Dark Cloud on my PS4. Had they given the option to both play the original PS2 disc and to pay for an up-rendered version with trophy support, I still would have paid for the upgraded version. It’s not like I will buy every PS2 game all over again, I’m only going to buy the ones that deserve to be played again and that I care enough about to pay for, and I feel like that’s the point of this service. If you don’t care enough to pay a small fee to have these old favourites playable in the modern era, then chances are you weren’t the target of this feature in any case. And let’s not forget those people who will see these re-releases as though they were new releases having never played or maybe even heard of them before. A price of £12 is in line with a lot of smaller, modern, indie games; and cheaper, even, than some expansion packs such as that for Bloodborne. And yet Dark Cloud and others available are full games that can last tens of hours, if not hundreds in some cases. Surely £12 is starting to sound like a decent deal?
I think a lot of this anger also comes from the recent developments at Microsoft where Xbox 360 backwards compatibility has been provided for free on the Xbox One, and I think the timing of this has clouded our judgment of value towards these PS2 classics. Would we have felt the same indignation towards these PS2 re-releases had they been announced and launched before the Xbox 360 announcement? I’m not sure. The thing is, those Xbox 360 games aren’t being upgraded; neither are they standard definition games being played on vastly superior technology (that would mean giving us the original Xbox games). They are games that only came out a few years ago, so they already look great. It would be absurd for Microsoft to charge us for those games because they’re not doing anything to them. What Sony are offering, I would argue, is far more relevant since I think we are more likely to still have our PS3 or Xbox 360 hooked up than we are our PS2 or original Xbox. Sony is offering us improved versions of games that almost require an upgrade, and the price of entry for that is relatively small.
For me, this is a fantastic development. I really like this move from Sony, and, honestly, seeing Dark Chronicle (or Dark Cloud 2 for those stateside) pop-up on the PlayStation Network this week has gotten me excited all over again, and I will gobble that one up too like the apparently foolish critter I am. Why? Because to me, being able to play these games on an HDTV with a little more clarity is worth it. I think in today’s world where games like Star Wars Battlefront are released feeling incomplete at £40+, and when DLC season passes can cost up to £40 alone, if I can pay £12 for a complete game that’s going to provide me with so many hours of engaging content then I am a winner. Regardless of whether I already own the game or not, the fact that it is now available again, and improved (no matter how slight it may be), is enough for me. I want to play Dark Chronicle again; I want to play it on my HD TV, and I really want them to re-release the Persona games so I can collect those trophies and get lost in Tartarus once more. Please, Sony, make it happen!