Just Because A Game Is Old Doesn't Mean It Must Be Cheap

I'm nuts for Secret of Mana. That blend of Final Fantasy RPG gameplay with Zelda-style action combat was the game that made me a fan of what we used to call "Squaresoft" back in the day.

Image: VG Museum

Today, all Square Enix has to do is put up a website that auto-plays one of the tunes off the game's ridiculously good soundtrack, and I pull out my wallet for whatever new entry in the series they're making this time.

This year, it's Seiken Densetsu Collection for Switch. The first three games in the Mana series, on Nintendo's new console? Yeah, I'm in. Of course, the level of excitement I'm seeing on the internet about the announcement is rather muted, thanks to the bare-bones special features and the 4800 yen (about $56) price tag.

I think it's reasonable to look at that feature list and price tag and come to the conclusion that it isn't a great tradeoff for you. Where I disagree is when people take it one step further and suggest that just because a game is "old", there should always be a low price ceiling on it. That isn't just a position that consumers invented out of thin air, but one that Nintendo instilled with its Virtual Console program over a decade ago. It's time to shake that off.

If you want to buy the 1972 film The Godfather on Blu-ray, the only way to do it is to purchase the three-film "Coppola Restoration" collection that includes its excellent sequel and its horrible final entry that you will never watch. This costs around $50. There's no sense, in the world of films, that because a film is old that it should cost one-tenth the price of a new film.

But when Nintendo first introduced its Virtual Console service with the Wii in 2006, it took this idea and made it a requirement. If your game was originally released on the NES platform, it could only cost $US4.99 ($6) -- no more, no less. If a publisher felt that was exactly what its games were worth, then it all worked out. But if not, then the service was forcing them to sell their games for less than they felt they were worth.

Image: VG Museum

This goes both ways. $US4.99 ($6) was a price ceiling and a price floor. I think Super Mario Bros. 3 is worth more than that. I also think Urban Champion should be 99 cents ($1.29).

Square Enix has had an on-again, off-again, non-committal relationship with Virtual Console over the years. It didn't release Final Fantasy on the Wii's Virtual Console until mid-2009, nearly three years after Wii's launch. In America, it didn't release anything on Wii U besides Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Ogre Battle 64. And on New Nintendo 3DS, where other publishers have released their best Super Nintendo games, it's only released a couple of B-tier titles, and then only in Japan. We can see that the company isn't fully on board with the service's ideals. Everybody understands that Nintendo 3DS would have been a perfect place for Final Fantasy 3 and Chrono Trigger.

Fortunately, Virtual Console does not seem to be the only pathway by which publishers can release their legacy Nintendo platform content on Switch. They're not tied to digital-only releases at a set price. They can release bundles, they can release physical cartridges, and, yes, they can raise the price if they want. That same freedom allows other publishers to lower the price.

Nintendo's original concept that games must be priced on age and not quality didn't do very many favours for the reputation of classic games, because it helped establish the idea that the value of a game is purely tied to the year in which it was created. If we want to see something along the lines of a "Coppola Restoration" for classic games, they can't be forced into a bargain price tier.

If you don't think the content of the Seiken collection justifies the price, vote with your wallet. But these are three absolutely stellar games that I am happy to see remain in print, and if Square Enix won't re-release them unless they can charge a premium, well, I'd rather have them for a bit too much money than not have them at all.


Comments

    That's the eBay/gumtree slogan isn't it?

    There's no sense, in the world of films, that because a film is old that it should cost one-tenth the price of a new film.

    Not sure how old the author is, but back when video rental was a thing, new release films always costed more to rent (and you had a shorter time limit with it) than older films.

    Oh man, Kohler's with Kotaku now?

    Love him, but if you've ever read his stuff he draws very long bows. He's astute, but has some crazy ideas he thinks would just work if everybody listened.

    If you've ever heard him on a podcast he loves his Dorothy-Dixers, someone will set him up with a question and he'll end up talking for DAYS.

      Totally with you there, Kohler is fantastic to listen to. Not gonna lie, going to miss game life.

    It'll be interesting to see what the print run for something like this is. Because I'd argue that it's not age that drives down the price, it's availability. If this is a relatively limited release, people are going to buy it for two reasons

    1. It'll go up in price after it's out of print, so people buy as a collectors' item.
    2. They don't want to miss out.

    If a game is made available digitally, chances are neither of those factors will come into play (and when they do, the game becomes even more valuable, PS4s with PT and iPhones that had Flappy Bird on them are examples), so the price is the biggest incentive to buy.

    Of course, the level of excitement I'm seeing on the internet about the announcement is rather muted, thanks to the bare-bones special features and the 4800 yen (about $56) price tag.

    You don't think part of the muted response could have anything to do with the game only being announced for Japan, do you?

    Keep in mind that many of these games possibly need to have royalties payed to the original devs.

    Also, I don't think I have ever seen second hand console games being sold for even close to VC prices that weren't cheapo sports or racing games.

    Yay, Kohler! So glad he has a place to write again.

    On topic: I seriously hope this does make it west, I would love to play these after hearing so much about them (N64 baby here.) I kinda think the price is justified to be honest, it isn't 3 games and let's be real, trying to get a legit original is gonna cost you way more.

    Roms on a virtual console - low price point ($5-$10)
    Releasing the games with extras or a 1080p scaling - mid level retail price point ($30-$50)
    Full remastered collection - Retail price point ($70-$100)

    I believe that the less effort that gets put into getting these older titles out there, the lower the price point should be. Virtual consoles are not a collectors market and should never be treated as such. All games should have a floor and roof price point as the article suggests as these are games that have been out for decades now.

    I am disgusted in myself for selling my SNES and Mana all those years ago. It was to upgrade to a PS1, but hindsight is a bitch.

    I'm happy to pay a bit more if I'm buying it on a physical cartridge, old or not. As far as consoles goes, I'll always buy a physical copy over a digital one if it's an option.

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