Exploring the uncharted territory of the gay videogame experience. Here, I explore the female/LGBT presence in videogame culture, media and industry.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Revolutionizing the Rental

For years, if someone wanted to rend a videogame, one had to drive down to the local video store, browse the selection, fork over seven or eight dollars and take the game home. At least, that's how I did it.

And back then, I didn't have the luxury of skimming through a magazine to look at reviews to see if the game I wanted to play was any good. I had to judge a book by its cover, as it were, and just go by what was described on the box.

I didn't rent games very often, but when I did, I was usually disappointed. Bad controls, poor story, and sometimes there wasn't an instruction manual. And I was stuck with the game for the rental period. It was a 10 minute drive to the video store, and my parents weren't going to take me back every time I didn't like the game I chose. Towards the end of the cartridge era, the no manual thing became more common, and the games themselves wouldn't work sometimes.

That's when I got really disgusted with the whole rental process. But it wasn't just the inconvenience, I realized it was amounting to a great waste of money. To a 10 year old kid in the 90s, seven or eight bucks was a lot of money. And every time I wanted to rent a game, I had to pay for it myself. So I'd save my allowance and birthday money in order to be able to rent the next Sonic game or Earthworm Jim.

The rental process was a frustrating ordeal that taught me a valuable lesson in economics.

After a very extedned hiatus from videogames (the first, and last, system I owned personally was a Model 2 Sega Genesis), I jumped back in with the current generation of systems. After a few months, I grew tired of the same 5 games my brother had for his 360 and decided to dip my toes into the rental pool once again. I thought my chances of success were better, after all I was armed with knowledgeable reviews and editorial opinions. That only solved half the problem. Sure, I now knew which games to avoid, or rent for a night of cheesy fun with my friends, but I was shocked to see that it was still so expensive.

When I rent movies, it's only one or two dollars per film. For games, it's still seven or eight. Granted, games cost more than movies to buy, so rental stores need to balance it out. But come on.

When I'm at home, I rent from Blockbuster...which is a poor choice on my part, but there isn't anywhere else. While I'm at school, I rent from Family Video, same price, less hassle.

The first time I rented from Blockbuster, I felt like I was signing away my soul. Let it be known that I DESPISE video stores that require a membership to frent from them. The sign up process was long and arduous, made doubly so when I said I wanted a card for my brother so he could use my account while I was away at school. After all was said and done, I had to part with almost $20 for two games...rented for one week by default. The ghosts of lessons past haunted me as I tried to enjoy Overlord II and Fallout 3.

The second day into the rental period, I found myself choosing between the two games. In days of old, a week would have seemed excessive. The simplistic designs of the games, due to the 8- and 16-bit limitations, could me mastered in a day or two. Now, a week is barely enough time to complete the main storyline, let alone complete any side missions. Unfortunately, Overlord II fell by the wayside whilst I delved into Elder Scrolls V: Nuclear Oblivion.....I mean Fallout 3.

The price and irritation were enough to raise my rie, but the selection of games was what set my teeth on edge the most. Three 2-sided racks each of original Xbox and PS2 games, two 2-sided racks of PS3 games and one 2-sided rack of 360 games (my platform of choice). I was very upset and confused to say the least.

I realize that Xbox and PS2 games are cheaper, and yes, the 360 and PS3 are backwars compatible, but this is ridiculous.

First of all, the 360 isn't fully backwards compatible. I recently bought Madden 06 at a garage sale, and when I popped it in the 360, I couldn't play it. Second, Microsoft abandoned to original Xbox about a year after the 360 was released. There are developers and publishers that are releasing new Sony exclusives for the PS3 AND the PS2. I think it speaks volumes about costomer opinion, but that's a rant for another time.

There were absolutely no Wii games at Blockbuster. I know Nintendo had a reputation for being "just for kids," but there are actually some really fun games out there. I personally don't mind the cartoonish graphics. It reminds me that games are supposed to be fun.

Family Video, at least the one I go to, is far superior in terms of selection. There have a fairly even number of 360, PS3 and Wii games. They even have a selection of DS and PSP games. There isn't a single PS2 or Xbox game available for rent. Those are all stuck in a bin, for sale...cheap. Family Video doesn't require a membership to rent, so that's a huge bonus for me. I can just go in, pick a game or two and walk out with them. The only drawback is that I still have to pay about $8 per game. I do have the option to pay half price for a three day rental, but I don't feel I can complete a game in three days. At least, not unles I call off work or skip class.

But now, there is a light at the end of this dreary tunnel. A new rental company, Gamefly, is following in the footsteps of Netflix and offers unlimited rentals for a low monthly fee. What is this fee? $20? $30? No. $8.95....slightly more than the average price of a weekly rental.

That blew my mind when I first heard about it. I can rent as many as I want for as long as I want? I'm so there. But the Ghost of Rentals Past haunted me again. She reminded me of all the times I was decieved and disappointed. So, I stopped squealing in a most undignified, fangirl fashion, and took a look at Gamefly.

The glorious $8.95 is only an introductory price. But if I decide the service is worth it, I might be willing to pay the recular fee. ($15.95 for one game at a time or $22.95 for two games at a time.)

The library of games is staggering. Almost every game for the 360, PS3, Wii, DS, PSP...and I believe I saw some GBA games as well.

Their new motto is "Gamefly before you buy." I don't know about anyone else, but I don't buy games I've rented. If I beat the game, I don't want it. If I didn't finish it before the rental period expired, I rent it again at a later date or borrow it from a firend. The question that arises is: Will Gamefly make the act of purchasing a game obsolete?

The freedom this company affords gamers is refreshing. AFter all, at 23 real life has knocked on my door and I don't have the time or money to devote to gaming to justify shelling out $60 or more for a game, or $300 for a system.

If there is a considerable population sample that thinks like me, the gaming industry could be in big trouble. At this point, I don't think Gamefly will have any serious impact on sales, but if the economy stays the way it is, or (God forbid) gets worse, that could change.

I have no idea how much Gamefly pays for each copy of game it stocks. I suppose they get some sort of rate discount. If this is so, Gamefly can offset the cost of purchase quite easily with subscription fees.

The low rates may attract more of the older gamers. This older generation most likely is fostering the next gen of controller-weilding warriors. Growing up in an environment where more games are rented than purchased will greatly impact the younger generation's spending habits. Game developers and publishers will have to take this into consideration when setting MSRP for products. Games and systems alike will be cheaper. Probably not by much, but enough to compete with subscription-based rentals.

Another question that arises is: Will Gamefly adopt the Netflix trend of "instant" product? And, if so, will it make hard copies obsolete?

Sony has already leapt feet first into the all-digital age with the introduction of the PSPGo. The games are 100% downloadable, no UMD discs. It works by integrating with the Playstation Network to allow gamers to download major titles and causual titles alike. The only problem is figuring out what to do with all of your old hard copies, and throwing money inot the empty void of the internet.

Microsoft and Nintendo both offer online marketplaces of their own. Consumers use points to "pay" for content. Xbox Live Marketplace offers everything from DLC for existing titles to casual games, indy games and retro games. The Wii marketplace has a pleasingly vast selection of retro games. (I grinned from ear to ear when I downloaded Super Mario 64) Like the PSN, you end up spending real money for these features, but rather than using your dredit card online, you buy vouchers in stores...kind of like gift cards. More convenient, and, in my mind. safer.

In all honesty, I think it will be a very long time before hard copies o games are done away with altogether. Server hosting is expensive, and highly anticipated releases could caust network crashes when a mass download is attempted, resulting in loss of capital.

Gamefly has placed the industry and gamers at a crossroads. It's business model is definitely something that developers and publishers should keep an eye on.