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Special Edition

Expensive, exclusive versions of games are increasingly common - but consumers are also growing wary of them

Downward pressure on game prices is a common theme in industry discussions, and, of course, no stranger to this column. 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 vastly cheaper products on new platforms ranging from Xbox Live Arcade and PSN through to Facebook or the 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 this Friday. 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 collectible, 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.

Thus far, few games have gone quite that far - with a few notable exceptions, even the most elaborate special editions aren't even twice as expensive as the normal game. Indeed, although special editions have become normal within the industry, they are still approached somewhat tentatively by many publishers. Afraid to commit to the idea - perhaps with images of unsold stock of baubles and artbooks piling up in warehouses preying on their minds - publishers tend to opt for the safest option, namely a soundtrack CD, a tin case, and perhaps an artbook, coupled with an extra tenner or two on the price.

If anything, this over-cautious approach is actually holding back the true potential of game special editions. Many games, after all, benefit from a stupendously devoted fan-base - often rivalling those of films or bands in their fervour. There is no doubt that certain games, from established franchises or hugely respected developers with cult followings, could easily sell genuinely limited, high quality editions for hundreds of dollars - a potential revenue stream of millions of dollars which is otherwise being left on the table.

Of course, when your game is grossing hundreds of millions already, as in the case of the industry's top sellers, that's arguably not very important. However, the reality is that it's games on the fringes which can benefit most from the culture of special editions - games whose sales may not be enormous, but whose enormous appeal to a small core of dedicated fans turns them into cult hits. These games could see a significant upturn in the revenue they generate by releasing expensive, high quality special editions. In the case of certain niche games, it could even make the difference between breaking even and flopping.

Unfortunately, as appealing as this possibility may be, the present fad for special editions of almost every major game on the market could actually be poisoning the well, at least to some extent. All too many games today are graced with hugely disappointing "special editions" - cheap, poorly made plastic models and flimsy, badly printed artbooks are the order of the day for some publishers, which naturally serves to make consumers wary of further special edition purchases. A consumer confronted with Bayonetta's dreadful gun model or the spectacularly awful special edition for Batman: Arkham Asylum - both fantastic games with dedicated fan bases who are perfect targets for good special edition boxes - is a consumer unlikely to pay over the odds for another special edition in future.

Handled correctly and applied to the right games, special editions can make more money for the publisher and developer while simultaneously delighting your most devoted fans - a win-win situation. To achieve this, however, publishers will need to get genuinely creative - involving the development team in the process of designing the special edition, and crafting something that's worthwhile, in keeping with the tone of the game, and which fans will genuinely be proud to own. One can only hope that publishers will recognise the value of doing this before consumers become completely sick of cheap plastic models and the special edition fad ends entirely - another golden egg laying goose casually led into the slaughterhouse.

Latest comments (19)

S Roberts Lawyer 7 years ago
There is also the issue of "early adopters" of special editions being burned by price cuts. I remember seeing Fallout 3 Special Edition on sale brand new at GAME for 23.99 just two weeks after release. A member of staff bitterly pointed out that he'd paid 60 for it on release day. How likely is he to make that mistake again!
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Stace Harman Freelance Writer 7 years ago
Game of the Year editions can also rub salt in the wound and relate to both Rob's article and S Roberts' comments. The Fallout 3 GOTY edition is available for around 30 with all 5 pieces of DLC, now that's either fantastic value for a new customer or a kick in the teeth for someone that purchased the original 'special' edition. How about the option for special edition customers to purchase DLC at a reduced price with a code redeemable via the Games for Windows service?

Some special editions are good value for money and actually feel 'special' (The Witcher on PC is one such example) others fall in to the other category that Rob highlights and are a blatant cash-ins (Resi5 on PS3 & 360, I'm looking at you).
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John Kershaw Editor, Writer, Coder 7 years ago
In my experience, exploiting your core fans to maximise profits is never a very smart direction to take. At least not if you want to keep them as fans.

I am one of those few buying the BioShock 2 Special Edition (in my defence I'm getting the US version which costs about the same as the UK standard edition). I'm expecting to be disappointed by BioShock 2, and I've already been burned by the fact 2K decided to give people different/more stuff if they pre-order the Special Edition from Amazon (which already had it at a discount). I know I'm not going to be buying another SE.
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Show all comments (19)
Jayke Walker7 years ago
I don't mind the idea of special editions coming loaded with goodies and collectibles, my issue is when special editions come with game changing bonuses. Special weapons, armors modes, levels etc.
I bought the special edition AC2 and when my brother played the game, on his ps3, he couldn't play the bonus levels. Not Cool
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Kristijan Lujanovic Community manager / Game Writer / Journalist 7 years ago
this will sound stupid but I don't think special editions should come out same date as regular version. when you already compared games with movies; dvd special edition for fans is little more personal, made for fans who will appreciate it with all the content fans would need. commentary, autograph, making off, updates...

you can't have that if you launch first day. it's not special... then you lose fans who are holding up for game of the year edition because of the value.

not to mention passing the opportunity to sell them twice the same product. original game, DLC and then special edition with all that and plus more... this way you would keep community alive much longer, which is important if you have multiplayer component or sequel in the making...
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Daniel Blake7 years ago
Now days, I very rarely buy/pre order special/limited editions because of the reasons in the article above, mainly because "All too many games today are graced with hugely disappointing special editions". To often they come with the token artbook, which I look though once, and a special case.

The Metal Gear Solid Series how ever to seem to always have quality Limited Editions. Konami/Kojima Productions put together a great limited edition Metal Gear Solid 4, which I was quite happy to pay a bit extra for, but they delivered; I got nice a highly detailed and High quality 6' Solid Snake figure, CD sound track, and a well made 'Making Of' blu-ray. I would be quite happy to pay for their next limited product.
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I'm getting extremely tired of having to shop round each retailer for which 'special edition' has the best content. I definitely think that if you buy a 'special edition' you should be getting everything. This problem is further exacerbated when the content from the special edition in one country isn't the same as the special edition content in another. This certainly annoys me, so it must have the same effect on other end users.

Bottom line - fine, do retailer versions of the 'standard edition' with extra DLCs, but the 'special edition' should contain all of that and more.
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Stephen Woollard Online Infrastructure Specialist, Electronic Arts7 years ago
I love Collector's Editions - in fact, I collect them...

Having said that, I agree with many of the points raised here; cheap, tacky plastic junk will backfire on the publisher and the whole thing of each retailer having their own "exclusive" pre-order bonuses irritates me intensely.

The problem is in the fact that the biggest bricks and mortar retailers still have huge power when it comes to dealing with publishers and as a result can pull off deals like this, while the gamer (as mentioned by Gillan) has to shop around for the "best" special or collector's edition.

How about have these individual incentives added to the normal game but the true special edition contains all of them? I'd buy it.

One of the best collector's editions I've bought recently was the German CE for Stalker: Call of Pripyat, in fact I have the lighter sitting on my desk in front of me now, but the missus said she'd divorce me if I left the house wearing the bandanna :-)
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Robert Walter 3D artist 7 years ago
Here's one way to execute a special edition poorly:

http://gouki.com/Story/Details/darksider...
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Jay Crowe Studying Information Technology, University of Glasgow7 years ago
Special Editions do demonstrate significant value both as a tool to reach out to a passionate fan base, and as a means to generate sales.

The comparisons in the article are interesting, and naturally look to juxtapose games with other forms of digital media. A comparison with traditional publishing is interesting, and perhaps even throws light upon the future use of special editions.

The book publishing model is different; expensive editions (the hard back copies) are released significantly earlier than the 'standard' paperback versions. The smaller, often richer, market that will pay the extra to attain the product first are milked, which to some degree offsets a lower price point for the paperback editions, which attract a more general readership.

Another point worth mentioning is the shift to digital publishing streams. Already having a huge impact on the book publishing market (as the recent feud between Amazon and Macmillan demonstrates http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/... digital releases of products (which under pinned the Radiohead model discussed above http://www.inrainbows.com/), offer the potential of a huge shift in traditional distribution networks and marketing.

Clearly, any such shift would then impact upon special editions.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jay Crowe on 8th February 2010 3:22pm

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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.7 years ago
Why not release the game up front as the Special Edition and then a few weeks/months later release the standard edition for a lower cost?

The whole reason a Special Edition even exists is because of the support of the early adopters/fans. Why punish their initial efforts by making them buy it again just to get the goodies? Offer it and it only up front. Then as the weeks/months go on, release the standard edition at a cost that's competitive with what the initially launched Special Edition is then retailing for.

You can at that point offer up the Special Edition goodies as DLC for those now buying the standard edition.

Need to work out a revenue model but I don't see any losses this way AND you gain the respect of your early adopters and fans for not exploiting them.

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Jay Crowe Studying Information Technology, University of Glasgow7 years ago
@ Jimmy,

I agree it is not a great payback to the fan community by 'punishing' them, as you suggest. Yet, would only a couple of weeks be sufficient to pay 50 in stead of 35? Perhaps.

As I mentioned in the above post, the 'early adopter' model used in retail book publishing is difficult to implement with the advent of digital streams of distribution. Amazon does not want to wait untill the 'paperpack' is released to allow its customers to purchase the product, for a start.

Aside from that, and simply off the top of my head, the costs inivolved with producing a videogame are exponentially higher. Getting the product to market and then off the shelves is important for the publishers to claw their money back.

Furthermore, a book can be delayed in release for months, and the technology does not change. Text is text. In digital enterprises, the widow of opportunity for your product to look up to date a new is much shorter. Remeber how good the CGI was in Godzilla? It might aswell be stop-animation now. Yes, that is a bad example, but I hope it illustrates a point.
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Mat Bettinson Business Development Manager, Tantalus Media7 years ago
Half-arsed DLC add-ons in special additions is something I'm particularly annoyed by. For me at least the publishers have burned this bridge, I simply wont buy one again. Crazy given how these things can be a high margin aspect of the business, no one is expecting mountains here but not being a blatant rip-off would be quite nice.
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Stephen McCarthy Studying Games Technology, Kingston University7 years ago
I got rip-off when I got the last R&C SE game.
I got a art book that was A5 with only 3 or 4 pages. with most of the art very small.
As well DLC that was in the game to start with and could be un-lock by killing a boss.
All the DLC does is let you in there with out doing that boss. I am not buying R&C games now
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Dan Griliopoulos Lead Content Editor, Improbable7 years ago
In response to this piece, I've argued that Special Editions are going to completely supplant normal editions, with the average consumers buying the games in Digital form only - http://funambulism.com/?p=1350.
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Albert Schmidt Game News Reporter 7 years ago
Bioshock 2 came out today in the States. I work at Gamestop part time and I was working at the midnight launch. Only five people showed up, three of which bought Dante's Inferno for PS3. The two copies of Bioshock 2 we sold was a 360 collectors edition, and a PC version.
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Ashwin Eapen Studying Masters in Information Management, University of Maryland7 years ago
I think one of the best variations of Special Editions was the Mass Effect 2 edition, it was 10$ more, but yet it was amazing package. I think the video gaming company should do that.
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Shiraj Coenraad IT Audit Consultant, Woolworths Pty Ltd (South Africa)7 years ago
I am more careful of special editions now than before especially after the mod warfare 2 prestige edition. The packaging was great, stunning collectable outer box, the hardened edition of the game included etc, but the centre piece of the whole package, the night vision goggles, did not justify the price charged for the prestige edition. I ended up returning the package to the local retailer and for the price, obtained the normal edition of the mod warfare 2 game as well as the special white edition of assassins creed 2, which was a worthy purchase. This white edition, did not cost much more normal edition at launch and the statue included was a decent collectable statue.

There have been some really great special editions over the years such as halo 3's legendary edition, the tekken 6 very limited edition, with a stunning art book and wireless tekken 6 branded hori fighting stick which are worth collecting and owning. These 2 examples and many other great special editions are snapped up by hard core fans and collectors (who perhaps dont even play all the games collected). Some gamers even purchase an ordinary edition of the game to not spoil the collectors edition, which sits pretty on a shelf.

I hope that the publishing companies and their marketing buddies continue to think up great special editions, not to rip people off, but to give real value whether game playing extras, quality artbooks, special game music cd's, quality usable items, quality collectable items etc which does link to the game in question.

Mass Effect 2, here i come, am especially keen on this special edition, as it is noted as a worthy purchase.

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Kostas Hajaropoulos Writer - Journalist 7 years ago
I cannot help but thinking the Baldur's Gate II Collector's Edition for the PC back in the day. It is my most valued collector's item, and by far one of the most valuable collector's edition package of all time. It was a package full of extra content, with maps, T-shirt,cards, extra items in-game, soundtrack, cool packaging etc.

Nowadays it is all about the early adoption. You can see a few good value collector's editions of some games, but they get hammerd by the crappy +10$ or +20$ so-called Special Editions of most of the games out there. For instance: Enemy Territory:Quake Wars, Gears of War 2, Forza Motorsport 2 and 3, Mass Effect, Crysis. All the above where absolutelly great games, but they had really crappy special collector's editions.

On the opposite side, here's a good list of really great fan service editions: Civilizations Chronicles, Heroes of Might and Magic Complete Edition, WarCraft III Collector's, all the WoW Collector's Editions, World in Conflict. All of the above have one thing in common: they deserved their price tag, and at some cases even considered cheap for what they offered.

People in the industry must realise that a great Special Edition is a fan service, therefor it can actually broaden the fan circle and create a whole new fan base, because people get what they want and then some.

Oh, and about the price tag: in Greece, the HALO 3 Legendary Edition cost was 120 euros in day one. Six months after stores gave it away for about 30... And it didn't even have a soundtrack in it...
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