The Collector’s Conundrum

Civilization V is coming out soon and I feel like I’m ten years old again on Christmas Eve; unabashedly, I brimming with excitement. For me, the series represents the very foundation of gaming. It was also one of the staple titles of my early youth, something that grew up as I did–from my years in middle school to my years at college, some version of Civilization was on my PC and being played. Watching Civilization evolve with each entry has been a great experience and I’m excited to see what Jon Schafer has done with time around.

Despite my enthusiasm, though, I’m a little disappointed right now. I just finished preordering Civilization V and I found myself paying extra for an exclusive civilization and its leader. I had a brief internal monologue in which I told myself lunch at Starbucks was out for this weekend to make up the cost and then added the deluxe edition to my cart against my better judgment. I’m not completely sure who to be mad at, myself or Firaxis or Nebuchadnezzar II and his ridiculous surname, but I’m still mad. And a little embarrassed.

In fact, this leader’s inclusion for an extra sum, repackaged with a digital soundtrack as a special edition, seemed to speak to a bigger problem in the videogame industry: the cash cow syndrome.

It probably shouldn’t be a big surprise. After all, we live in an age where there are alternate costume DLCs for multiple games and thousands of Celestial Steeds are corralled Blizzard’s online store just waiting to be bought to parade around World of Warcraft’s capital cities in an display of synchronized sparkles. Certainly the idea of an extra leader promoted as a special edition isn’t too far-fetched. It’s actually par for the course, a symptom of our time period.

The situation isn’t a clear-cut case of videogame companies and their growing greed, though. Instead, it’s more of a willing transaction between players and game companies–one where we’re both equally to blame. We want more and videogames are more than willing to give us more, just not without a price. And there are a lot of us that are quite eager to pay that price. I mean, no company would make something if people didn’t want buy it, my former economics professor could have told you as much. Our wallets are wide open and our eyes are eager.

In many ways, the industry is just giving in to our demands, providing us with more as we ask for it. We aren’t helpless victims in the whole matter.

For many of us, special or collector’s editions have always been extremely optional with little to no crucial additional content. I hope it stays that way. I’ve only bought two of them in my entire life before this slip up: BioShock 2 and StarCraft 2. I got BioShock 2’s special edition this past month because it was only a couple more dollars than the regular copy when I found it. Granted, I bought the game months after its release, but when I saw it discounted on a shelf I couldn’t resist. I was right to have gotten it, too–the artbook ended up being a surprisingly solid read, better than most others, and the posters are still on my wall.

As for StarCraft 2, the extras were particularly appealing for the Wings of Liberty arc and I’d wanted to buy a Blizzard CE for a long time. The Thor pet for World of Warcraft went well with my collector’s side–I had something like 130 vanity pets on my Paladin before I quit–and it contained a good mixture of real life swag to in-game swag. The Raynor USB dogtag even proved useful in transferring data from my mother’s two computers when she visited last week.

I didn’t need either of these even if I enjoyed them. I could have experienced the actual game at its fullest without them–my friends who play StarCraft 2 with me surely don’t lose anything by not having a Night Elf avatar like I do nor an Alliance decal for my Terran units. However, in the case of Civilization V, I felt that I had to have Nebuchadnezzar II to enhance actual gameplay on a bigger scale. It wasn’t just a pretty poster I could resist. He was an extra leader and, as a completionist, I needed him.

I’m not too happy with that fact, really.

Of course, you could argue that I was being weak by endorsing something I didn’t fully approve–I certainly was and I don’t have a defense for that. It’s likely I would have never known what I was missing had I not gotten the deluxe edition, I just felt like I needed the leader in the moment of purchase and so I justified it. You could also say that’s nothing new and collector’s editions have had some essential digital additions long before Civilization V came around. Even recently, the Mass Effect 2 collector’s edition had armor modeled after the Collectors along with an additional weapon and its distant cousin Dragon Age had similar bonus armors as well. But my Commander Shepard preferred her own suit for the most part, customized to my favorite colors. She didn’t miss out on looking like her enemy. And even if the bonuses were pretty amazing–a significant increase in health and regeneration, as well as running speed–there were other armors in-game that would be suitable replacements. I was able to resist the purchase.

In the case of Nebuchadnezzar II, he was harder to forget. He’s an actual character. He has his own portrait, animations, style–maybe even a unique voice. Even more, he has actual statistics and different traits as a leader in a game where strategy is everything. It’s a little different than armor, which is almost completely cosmetic.

Perhaps this is why I felt I needed him in my Civilization V roster. He was better than The Sims 3’s offer of a USB stylized after a moodlet and he stood out from Mafia II’s gift of two new cars for the game for an increased price. Giving an entire character for a special edition of a game is something I have rarely seen before and consequently is something I’ll take note of.

I’m sure video game companies will take note, too.

Maybe it’s time the line should be drawn somewhere on what collector’s editions should contain. Exclusives shouldn’t be so dynamic as to be an actual new character or unit, but rather, the line should be drawn at CEs containing extremely trivial items like additional unit colors or vanity pets. They should even consider going back to older, more successful collector’s editions that focused mostly on the physical rewards rather than digital perks–like the Neverwinter Nights collector’s editions. The first one came with the standard artbook and soundtrack fare along with a map, a poster of the ill-fated Paladin Lady Aribeth, and a t-shirt. The second one came with a set of silver rings, an in-game power, and a detailed cloth scroll of notable locations. They were both collector’s editions I could get behind and probably would have had I not been a broke student at the time of their release.

In any case, I now own Nebuchadnezzar II and the game’s official soundtrack. Let’s just hope it was worth it and that Civilization V will be good as I hope it will be.