After years of clamoring, demands, pleas, and general collective covetousness, Nintendo finally released EarthBound on the Wii U Virtual Console today. For the first time in more than 15 years, we actually have the opportunity to buy one of the most beloved cult favorite role-playing games ever.
Curiously, this made many people very angry.
Specifically, a remarkable number of people were angry that Nintendo priced the game at $9.99 instead of, say, 99 cents. My initial response was just to shrug and say, well, that’s the Internet, but for whatever reason a number of people came to me to report Nintendo’s grievous offense. I really don’t know why, or what reaction they expected. I don’t believe I’ve ever presented myself as one to get involved in consumer advocacy or grassroots campaigns, and I deliberately go out of my way not to review games in terms of their pricing. Did they expect me to take up my pitchfork and go storm Nintendo’s castle gates? To shake my fist at the tyranny of their cruel pricing? I really don’t know.
Frankly, the growing mindset that games are intrinsically worthless infuriates me. It’s so counter-productive. People refuse to pay money for games, then turn around and lament long and loud about how no one makes the games they want to play anymore. There’s a reason for this, and if you are one of those people, the reason you don’t get the games you love anymore is that you expect the games you want to play to sport a fire-sale price. Thus the people who make those games don’t earn any money from them. “Well,” they decide, based on their sagging bottom line, “no one wants these games, so they’re bad business. Better give up and just chase Call of Duty or churn out more vile free-to-play iOS games that nag players to spend money every few minutes.”
Now, EarthBound is 18 years old, and it’s a digital release on Wii U that costs very little distribute. To which I say: So? As I mentioned before, age does not make a game valueless. Certainly EarthBound isn’t without value, given how loudly people have been begging for it all these years. I bought the game for $150 a while ago and sold it a few years later for $220 when times were tough, and the price on eBay has only gone up since then. I’m freaking ecstatic that I can own it again for only $10; honestly, I expected Nintendo to charge $20.
See, our market is based on a principle called “capitalism.” The most basic tenet of capitalism is that a commodity is worth what people will pay for it. Nintendo apparently determined that people are willing to pay $10 for EarthBound. Clearly not everyone is willing to pay that much for the game, hence the upset queries and message board posts; but it would seem that whoever counts the beans over there decided that they wouldn’t sell 10 times as many copies of the game at 99 cents as at $9.99, so it was better business for them to sell it at the higher price. Makes sense to me.
Would I have preferred it to have been priced for less? Sure, I’m always happy to get a better price on things. Do I resent the price point they settled on? Not really. It certainly beats shelling out the current market price for the cartridge. I’m not beholden to physical objects, but just because I can’t hold a product in my hands doesn’t mean it’s worth nothing. I am not a wealthy man by any means, and I have a limited gaming budget, but I am always happy to pay a fair price for a download of a classic game provided it’s presented well. Nintendo’s Virtual Console services have their problems, but they universally offer a better and more faithful gaming experience than a simple emulator and ROM. To me, that’s worth paying a bit.
But hey, different strokes for different folks. I don’t spend a lot on games these days — just the ones I know I’ll have time for, which isn’t that many — but I realize others don’t have even that much of a budget. This is why I never review games based on price: Money is not an absolute. Sixty bucks for a single person who pulls down $80K a year means a lot less than it does to someone who has a family of four and struggles to earn half that. After some of the tough times I’ve been through over the past five years, I’m sympathetic to the latter viewpoint, believe me.
But I also recognize the business reality of games… and that one of the reasons we didn’t get EarthBound‘s sequel is because hardly anyone bought the game the first time around. I don’t have a lot to spend on games, but what I do have I devote to the games I want to thrive. And if something costs more than I can stomach to pay, I wait until the price comes down. I’m happy to pay $10 for EarthBound, because it’s a long-awaited classic and there’s no other legitimate way to acquire it for even close to such a modest sum. $10 seems totally fair to me. If you don’t agree, that’s fine — wait buy it when it hits a price you find more manageable. Nintendo offers eShop sales and Club Nintendo bonuses regularly enough that you’ll be able to get the game for less eventually. Or just don’t buy it at all. The world will go on turning if you don’t play EarthBound.
But man, don’t ever buy into the mindset that games aren’t worth anything. Unless you actually secretly hate them and want the medium to be terrible, in which case… well, keep on keepin’ on.