Debate Club:  Should You Buy Games on Day One or Wait?

Steve’s stance: You should buy games RIGHT AWAY

Destiny is out today and I’m feeling a bit broken-hearted.  I won’t be picking it up today, this week, or probably any time in the near future. I have a lot going on in my life right now, and with what little down time I have I like to try and game with my wife.  We only have one console, which makes Destiny co-op kind of out of the question, so I’ll be skipping it for now.  I have to say, I’m really sad about it though.  I love playing games, new and old, but there is something really special about playing a game when it’s brand new and participating in the zeitgeist.

Sure, a game is a game.  If the game is good, it will be good whether you play it today or ten years from now.  I’m certainly not going to argue that a game like Final Fantasy VII is fundamentally worse than it was when it came out seventeen years ago.  It’s the same game.  That’s not always the case though.  There is at least one key instance where a game can be pretty different based on when it’s played, and that’s in the multiplayer.  Whether or not competitive multiplayer is your thing, if you’ve ever played a Call of Duty game two or so years after it’s released, it’s simply not the same experience as playing it when it first launched.  Go back and play Call of Duty: Black Ops, the first one.  You’ll find one of two things; a) no one is there to play with, or b) the only people left are those who only own one game, and have played only that game for so long that their obscenely good at it.  This is especially true for any game that has even a whiff of that MMO quality.  Play any MMO on day one and you’ll find a bazillion people leveling up, doing dungeons, trading, grouping, etc…  Play the same MMO during it’s death rattle and you’ll encounter a sad, empty graveyard of lost potential.  Destiny may prove to be the same way.  With it’s emphasis on co-op and multiplayer, playing the game a year or two from now may prove only to make it feel lifeless and boring.  So in this one sense, the timing of when you play a game certainly can matter.

There is also the matter of a game’s age making it feel old.  To reference Final Fantasy VII again, it certainly isn’t a bad game, but I’m sure that if you put it up against some of today’s RPGs it would show it’s age.  I’m not even talking about graphics here either; like everything games are inspired by other games.  That means that in the years since it’s release, Final Fantasy VII has undoubtedly inspired other developers to take it’s mechanics and grow on them, improve them.  It’s important that you played FFVII when it was new because if you go back and play it now, it might feel like a cheap knock off of your favorite RPG.  In reality, FFVII could very well be the inspiration for that game.  Gamers aren’t stupid, so it’s not as though we won’t ever realize that older games would be the inspiration for newer games, but sometimes it’s just not that easy to look past those things.  You might be able to rationally understand that FFVII is the inspiration for your favorite RPG, but that doesn’t mean that playing it doesn’t still feel a little dated.

I hate that I missed out on this.

Whether a game is multiplayer focused or not, there is no doubt in my mind that there is something inherently awesome about being a part of the in crowd for a release.  Being able to talk about a new game from more than the position of, “well my favorite reviewer gave it  4/5” is really great.  And with the internet so prevalent in today’s gaming culture, there is just so much community to participate in with a new release.

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Chris’ stance: You should WAIT to buy new games

I’m not technically going to argue against Steve’s reasons why it’s good to play a game right when it comes out. Of course it’s exciting playing the game everyone else is playing and talking about, of course games get increasingly dated over time by default, and of course the amount of people playing a game’s online multiplayer typically peaks near that game’s initial release. All of those things are more or less facts. What I’m going to do instead is simply give some reasons why waiting a bit after a game’s launch also has its fair share of pros.

All that hype and discussion can be distracting…

Let’s face it: the collective internet “voice” for the gaming community tends to skew towards the jaded, cynical end of the spectrum. And if you actively participate in that at all, or at least follow it, it’s nearly impossible not to be affected by it. If you are really super digging on a game but most people online are tearing it apart, are you truly able to tune that out and just go right on having a great time with the game, untainted by the griping you are hearing? It can be very difficult to do. The more complaints you read, the more you find yourself looking at what they are complaining about more closely, and unless people are just completely making things up you can typically see what they are talking about. “You know, actually, the weapon wheel in this game is a little clunky now that you mention it.” And just like that, you’ve let your opinion be swayed, even though you previously didn’t have any issues with that weapon wheel and were enjoying it just fine.

Alt.nerd.obsessiveUnless you are writing a review of the game for a major media outlet, I don’t believe you should be required to try and seek out every conceivable fault a game may have and examine it under a microscope. If you’re enjoying the experience, then enjoy it. That’s all that should matter. If you let a little time pass after a game’s launch, and let some of that opinion diarrhea slow down a bit while everyone starts to move on to the faults of an even newer game, you are free to have your experience, on your own terms, without all those little cynical voices slowly wearing you down and convincing you that you don’t actually like what you thought you liked. On the flip side, maybe you are despising a game that everyone on the internet loves, and…wait, everyone on the internet loving something? Let’s not get crazy here. Besides, if you don’t like an aspect of a game, other people liking it isn’t going to change your mind. The reverse just doesn’t quite work in this particular case.

…and so can the deluge of people trying to play the game online at launch

I am not a huge online multiplayer gamer, so the need to be right in the thick of things when a game is still the brand new hotness isn’t a desire I really have. That said, it’s obviously a huge part of this discussion, and I can’t simply dismiss it outright just because of my own personal preferences. If you are already the type of gamer who gets a new game at a midnight launch event, and by 12:20 you’re already playing it online, you take off work the next day to play it online, and you play it online the entire following weekend, this whole debate is lost on you anyway and you’ve already given Steve the Prestige rank for this debate, or whatever it is that’s the best thing in Call of Duty.

maxresdefaultIf not, letting a game’s presence in the overall online multiplayer community cool a bit can be beneficial for anyone but that specific type of gamer. Mainly, it’s just less crowded. Beyond just cutting down on the typical technical issues that go hand in hand with a game’s online launch–long waits for matches, server crashes, etc–people play a game a little differently 3-6 months after it comes out than they do those first couple of weeks. Everyone isn’t power leveling to max out their rank, or trying to make a name for themselves on the global leaderboards while it’s still a thing people give a damn about, or whatever else. Most people have settled into just playing the game the “normal” way, which means matches you join are less likely to be full of people doing stupid crap in the name of everything but a fun, competitive match. Also, the first rush of people who play an online game end up being beta testers in a way, and the big patches and balance changes and whatnot come from the feedback of those early games. Let the early adopters play the glitchy, unbalanced version, and wait and jump on board once all of the issues have been ironed out.

Wait for the “definitive” edition

It’s becoming increasingly common for the game that is released on launch day to end up being a mere skeleton of the total meaty package the game ends up becoming in the months following the launch. New weapons, new levels/maps, new characters, new missions, new modes, all of this is often added to a game after launch in the form of DLC. When you buy a game on day one, you have to wait for all of that to come out, and depending on the game the rollout can be very gradual and take a really long time. Isn’t there something to be said for waiting for the eventual “complete” or “game of the year” edition to come out and be able to have everything in one fell swoop (or on one disc if you’re still a physical copy guy like me)? This prospect is especially appealing for games that integrate DLC into the main game, such as items that can be used in the core part of the game or mission packs that the main game just rolls right into.

Not to mention that a lot of the time, these ultimate editions end up costing less than you would’ve paid to buy the game at launch and then buy all of the DLC. Typically they end up just being the cost of a normal, full priced game. I don’t know about anybody else, but getting to buy the definitive, complete version of a game for $60 a year after it comes out versus buying the bare bones one for that at launch and then having to pony up another 20-30 bucks (or more) to bring that version up to being complete –especially with all the free patching that probably occurred in the meantime to improve the game already being available to download the day you bring the game home–isn’t a bad deal. The game obviously didn’t become unplayably dated at that point since the early adopters are still playing the most recent DLC for it.

Finally, if Destiny or any other online game is a barren wasteland 6 months to a a year from now…

…then maybe you were better off skipping it anyway rather than putting your hard earned money and time into building a foundation in a game that must not have been worth it to anyone else to do so.

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