What’s a gamer to do with the never-ending sea of collector’s editions being produced for almost every big release? One writer suggests a rather simple solution.
I wasn’t familiar with the sensation that some collector’s describe as a feeling they experience almost daily, depending on their areas of extreme interest. My chest tightened, my eyes widened, and I think I might have actually started salivating a little. There was even a low buzzing in my ears, the kind that video games often simulate once a small child on the Internet throws a flashbang grenade at me and proceeds to riddle my online avatar with bullets before making obscene statements about me and my family. When Square Enix announced the Final Fantasy 15 Ultimate Collector’s Edition at its over-the-top and dazzling Uncovered event last week, I knew instantly that it was something I had to have.
If any of you, dear readers, are judging me right now, I honestly have to admit you’re more than justified in doing so. Square Enix announced that the Ultimate Collector’s Edition would have a near $300 price tag, and I had decided I would purchase it even before I saw what it actually contained. The fact that it contains a cool Play Art Kai statute of main character Noctis and some other exclusive items is nice, but that’s not what pushes these kinds of products to be in such high demand. Collector’s editions are each video game community’s answer to a biker gang’s presentation of leathers – before, a gamer is just another consumer in a market that’s been heavily saturated with product, while, after, we become members of an imagined, exclusive “club”.
There are many fans of Final Fantasy, but there are only 30,000 of us who are unified by such a driving passion we are willing to throw absurd, frankly idiotic amounts of money at it before we’re even certain it’s a good game. At least, that’s the concept that Square Enix sold everyone on at the Final Fantasy 15 Uncovered event, mere hours before the Ultimate Collector’s Edition would go on sale in the Square Enix Store at the same time the Final Fantasy 15 Platinum Demo would become available. That affect was intentional – Square Enix presented its most die-hard fans, tuning in to an excessive celebration of a game that still hasn’t come out yet after a decade-long delay, with an ultimatum. The Ultimate Collector’s Edition would go on sale about an hour and a half after it was revealed to exist in the first place, and gamers were given a very short window of time to decide just how much the purchase meant to them.
I knew what was happening, and I bought in anyways. It was an easy decision, and I imagine many of the people who pre-ordered felt the same. In retrospect, I’ve tried to assign a dollar total to the transaction that would’ve prevented me from ordering, and I’ll admit the number is higher than it has any right being. It doesn’t matter. As dumb as it is, I want to be a part of that club when it comes to the video game series that made me want to explore other titles as well, to treat video games like an art, and to write about video games.
Then Square Enix, through Final Fantasy 15 director Hajime Tabata, announced that the publisher was attempting to find a way to produce more copies of Final Fantasy 15 Ultimate Collector’s Editions due to the overwhelming fan support that caused every copy to sell out within a half hour of release. Logistically, for Square, this kind of approach makes a lot of sense. Even if Square is unable to produce more copies, announcing that it is attempting to do so will make fans who missed out happy that their concerns and disappointments are being considered. Depending on the profit margin, it’s very likely that Square producing more copies will also be a nice extra payday for a Final Fantasy 15 game that needs to move roughly 10 million copies to be considered a success.
So, at the very least, in a vacuum where we consider the possible release of more copies of Final Fantasy 15 Ultimate Collector’s Edition coldly and removed from emotion, Square is completely justified in pursuing this line of thinking. This is a release that’s making some people reconsider their lifelong stance on Final Fantasy games, after all. That doesn’t cover the whole story, though. For many people, myself included, collector’s editions are more about the emotional investment than a financial one. In fact, I’ll go on record as saying that I don’t think any mass-produced collector’s edition in history has been worth more than $150-200 at best. The thing is, for fans, the monetary value of a special edition is the furthest thing from the point of owning one that it can possibly be. Instead, it’s a complicated mix of wanting to support our favorite publishers who make our favorite games and being a member of that exclusive club.
Look, I get it, and I can see the arguments against this being formed as I’m typing this. Fans should be allowed more opportunity to get their hands on the edition of the game they want, and there are so many Final Fantasy devotees that 30,000 is an incredibly small number. The thing is, though, that collector’s editions are much more about their exclusivity rather than their content. Would I have bought the Ultimate Collector’s Edition if it was available worldwide in a much larger quantity upon release? As sad as it might be to admit it, probably not. And Square Enix isn’t the only publisher who has considered or cashed in on the idea of producing more “exclusive” editions because of fan demand – Bethesda did the same with the Fallout 4 Pip Boy Edition, which sold out near-instantaneously each time it was made available again.
Gamers praised that approach from Bethesda, but who did that resale really benefit? The fact is, very few people managed to get the extra copies because they were sold out so quickly once more. The large portion of the fanbase that had missed out on the collector’s edition still missed out on it, and were left feeling worse about their situation than they had previously. People who had already ordered a Pip Boy Edition felt that their investment in their fandom of choice had been cheapened slightly by Bethesda’s acknowledgement that, really, the Pip Boy Edition wasn’t exclusive so much as it was just a manufacturing inconvenience.
I know a lot of people don’t like it, but collector’s editions were titled as such originally because they were exclusive, collectible content. It was designed to reward diehard fans while also making publishers and developers a bit of extra cash for their hard work. That we have migrated away from this philosophy as an industry is not something worthy of praise. There is a tier system now in the collector’s edition world, where regular collector’s editions are available for all, so that every gamer has an opportunity to feel like they joined that elusive “club.” Meanwhile, “ultimate” or “super” or “fantabulous” collector’s editions are also produced for people who are bad at determining the value of eating for a month versus the value of having a really cool assortment of game memorabilia.
This system works, as long as we let it. Demanding more copies of the highest tier of collector’s items, however, threatens to cheapen their value to their primary target demographic. It might seem petty – and perhaps it is – but owning something that not many others have is a massive part of the appeal of these collector’s editions. Ideally, publishers will start realizing that before we enter a world where “ultimate collector’s editions” are just mass-produced money sinks that create the illusion of a club I’ve been chasing a membership to ever since I got a paper route just to buy my first Final Fantasy game.