Special Edition

Expensive versions of games are growing common, but consumers are growing wary of them.

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Downward pressure on game prices is a common theme in industry discussions. The situation is fairly clear - with retail price wars further fuelled by the entry of supermarkets and mass-market online retailers, not to mention the continued growth of the second-hand market, games now find their price tags being assaulted on a new front, as consumers find entertainment value in cheaper products on new platforms like Xbox Live Arcade, PSN, Facebook and iPhone.

Retail price wars will eventually yield winners and losers, and prices will rise again; the collapse in consumers' perception of the value of interactive entertainment, however, will take much longer to repair.

There is one bright light, however, in what's overall a somewhat gloomy picture (for publishers, at least - for consumers it's obviously fantastic, and for clever developers it's arguably a golden opportunity) regarding game prices. That bright light is special editions of games - a field which many publishers were slow to exploit, but which has gradually become a key part of the release strategy for any major title.

Special editions are, quite simply, a way to get customers who would be willing to pay over the odds for your game to do exactly that. Many games have a vocal and dedicated group of core fans who have followed the development of the title for months, if not years - many of whom may be people who enjoyed the developer's previous games, or previous games in the same franchise.

These people are, of course, a minority of those who will end up buying the game, but have always been considered valuable due to their contribution to word of mouth marketing. Now, publishers are realising that they can also make a significant financial contribution to the success of a game.

Consider BioShock 2, which turns up on store shelves next Tuesday. Most gamers, of course, will buy a simple copy of the game in a DVD style case - but for the select few, the game they'll be picking up (either from the store or from a delivery man) will come in a huge box, replete with a hardback book filled with concept art, a soundtrack CD, a set of lithographs and even a vinyl record of the first game's music.

The fact that only a tiny percentage of those people will own the equipment necessary to play that record is amusing, but irrelevant - it's collectable, and the game's fans are willing to pay extra money to own something unique which is related to their passion.

This is not a revelation which originates in videogames, of course. For years, movie and music companies have produced expensive special editions to capitalise on the willingness of dedicated fans to pay more for something more "special". This has reached new heights as bands have broken away from the traditional record labels which had previously supported them, with major acts such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails effectively betting that they can rely on their fans for support rather than needing the financial muscle of a label.

The independently launched albums which Nine Inch Nails released over the last few years, for example, came in multiple different forms - from digital downloads for a few pounds (vastly cheaper than the usual price of a CD) through to hugely expensive and elaborate special editions, produced in extremely limited numbers and signed by the band members.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, those extremely limited editions sold out rapidly - each one netting easily as much revenue for the group as 100 sales of the digital download version would.

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