A Question of Value

Yesterday, I was forced to make a critical decision.

With the transition from active duty military service to civilian college life looming on the horizon, money is tight. As a spoiled gamer used to having the latest and greatest on release date, it’s a grim and sobering reminder that money sucks and that we live in a cold and bitter world.

Life is hard.

That’s why I was ecstatic to find that I was sitting on $50-worth of Best Buy certificates. A new game! A fix! But which one? I’d played both the Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure and the Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance demos via the 3DS eShop, but I only played KH3D once whereas I found myself replaying the Rhythm Thief demo and loving it every time.

So that choice was clear! …At first. On my way to Best Buy, I realized that this may be the only game I get for some time. If Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy was any indication, I’d blast through Rhythm Thief in a single afternoon. Kingdom Hearts would probably last considerably longer.

I posted my seemingly insurmountable problem on Facebook before leaving.

It would turn out that I really didn’t have a choice, because my local Best Buy wasn’t carrying Rhythm Thief anyway. So, still conflicted and a bit disappointed, I grabbed a copy of Kingdom Hearts. My girlfriend fired-up a demo for Mario Tennis on the gigantic 3DS XL that I don’t need but still want for no valid reason while I wandered off in the games section for the hell of it. That’s when I noticed Little Big Planet Vita.

I hadn’t even considered it! I closed my eyes for a moment and dreamed of a time when I could have walked out of the store with all three games, back when the world made sense and the sun seemed brighter. I realized that LPB’s online features meant an endless supply of interesting levels to jump and swing through, but I still felt as though I would get more out of a story-driven RPG, and so I left with Kingdom Hearts. Also, because my girlfriend flipped a coin.

A few Facebook friends raised some great points on that post I left. “Rhythm Thief will sell out and not be reprinted,” one predicted, “KH3D will probably stick around long enough to see a price drop.”

He’s probably right about Rhythm Thief. Based on the comparatively low number of player reviews on the eShop, it’s probably a safe bet that copies aren’t flying off the shelves. Is that a testament to the quality of the game? Of course not. It does, after all, have five-out-of-five stars. But if the average consumer is in the same position I found myself in yesterday, it starts to become clear why niche genres and new IPs alike tend to struggle. Hell, Best Buy didn’t even bother to stock Rhythm Thief.

I always feel frustrated when a low-profile or niche game doesn’t get the attention I feel it deserves, and I would write it off as the result of gamers who were too “cool” or closed-minded to give it a chance. Of course, that’s a completely ignorant and elitist way to look at it; there’s a myriad of factors involved.

For me, and probably for many gamers, it was a question of value: The biggest bang for my buck.

I’ve heard the staffers on IGN’s Game Scoop podcast say “vote with your dollars” many times, implying that your purchases tell the industry what you want more or less of, but what happens when you can’t afford to vote more than once?

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