You don’t need a collector’s edition of a game. Collector’s editions are not a necessity good, like food or water, nor do they appear on Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs. For this reason, it’s always struck me as slightly odd that people complain about the price of collector’s editions of various games, like the recently announced Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst Collector’s Edition. To say that this has caused “controversy” is perhaps overselling the issue, but it’s one that comes up time and time again with respect to these intentionally overpriced versions of games.
After all, you can still purchase a game in its “normal” version at a much lower cost. So even if you consider getting that new game a life necessity, core to your dignity and human flourishing, don’t worry: it’ll still be sold at a standard video game price point.
But here’s the reason game developers and publishers can charge so much for these versions: because people keep buying them. If there was no market, no demand, then no one would bother with all of this. They charge exorbitant prices because they can get them. Because, even if it isn’t you, someone out there has lots of money and is willing to throw down $200 just for that totally sweet Faith statue (and I really do like it quite a bit). And here’s the real kicker: you should be glad that they do. But more on that later.
This might be the point where you expect me to say that if you don’t like the price, don’t buy it. Vote with your dollars, and all that. But probably none of that matters, because, chances are, you’re not the person the people responsible for the collector’s edition are targeting. They’re targeting the people who have the money to throw around, or possibly the people that feel having a Lara Croft statue, or maybe a double-sided(!) map of London, is so important that they can cut back a little in other parts of their lives. Priorities matter here.
Of course, these exclusive, time-limited editions do prey upon some people’s collecting compulsions, or the need to represent their passions within their particular subculture. But, really, very little in the modern retail world isn’t trying to psychologically manipulate you (sale pricing, for example), and satisfying these feelings is ultimately the value-add in the collector’s edition.
You still might be thinking that it’s pretty consumer unfriendly for these companies to be charging such high prices for something that, probably, a lot of people are going to want. But there’s a lot more going on here than first meets the eye. What these companies are doing is what economists call price discrimination. Price discrimination means charging different prices for the same core product (often with minor variations) to different identified groups of people (students, businesspeople, parents, etc.).
The goal is to maximize profit by extracting the highest amount of money you can from each of these groups, because some of them are generally willing to pay more for certain things than others. In simplified terms, if you charge one price across the board, you don’t want to set it high enough that most of your audience won’t buy it. But if you set it low enough for most people to afford, you aren’t capturing the money that those willing to pay more would have paid. Price discrimination lets you do that.
That may sound cold, but you see it every day. Lower student pricing is price discrimination, based on the assumption that students can’t afford the higher rates. Faced with the choice of losing their business entirely or charging a lower rate, it makes sense to offer a lower rate. Airlines use price discrimination enormously. Business class fares are often more than double economy class fares, but in the end everyone gets off the plane at the same time and in the same place, and no one was strapped to the wing. A more comfy ride and better food are fairly minor benefits.
Your collector’s edition is exactly this. By “collector” they really mean “someone willing to pay us more.” And it’s not a bad thing. Video game prices have either remained stagnant or gone down over the last few decades when adjusting for inflation, while the cost of making games has gone up significantly.
While it’s true that games have a larger consumer base than they used to, in many cases increased sales don’t make up the shortfall. For this reason, game companies have often resorted to highly unpopular tactics like charging for DLC that otherwise simply would have been included with the base game, or including micro-transactions. Essentially, these mechanisms just hide the true price of the game so that you pay more in multiple stages. It’s legitimately decried as being dishonest, like if you bought a car but found out you had to pay extra if you wanted it to be able to go in reverse.
So this is where collector’s editions come in as a legitimate form of revenue generation. They’re not dishonest, because you know exactly what you’re getting and how much it costs up front. You also don’t need to buy them to play the game you want to play.
They may seem overpriced, but so long as there is a group of people who value the extras they get over the additional cost, they’ll keep selling them. In effect, they’re subsidizing the relatively cheap price of the core game.
So the next time you see an overpriced collector’s edition with nothing more than a few baubles and some cloth maps, pass it by. But be glad that someone out there is buying them, because they might just be saving you money.