The Stages of a Video Game Purchase

From a casual glance, it might seem that your average obsessive video-game geek is a slave to retail impulses. That he just goes to the store, picks up an armload of software, and runs home to ravenously digest it all, but you might not know that this is but just one phase in a cycle that repeats itself over and over again. Here’s your guide to recognizing these stages so that you can be better informed about what it is that’s going on in the mind of your local video game hobbyist.

It’s worth noting that these phases may happen slightly out of order or my be skipped altogether. They’re just numbered here for reference.

Phase 1: Rumor-mongering

At this phase a game may or may not exist in any form. The player may have heard from a friend of a friend’s uncle who has a friend who has a daughter that knows a guy that works next-door to a developer of one of his favorite games. Will there be a new game in the BloodPhaser X series? Or another game by the same company, only this time with 34% more applesauce? This person seems to think so. At this stage you’re likely to hear your gamer-friend say ‘You know, I heard that BloodPhaser X2 is totally in the works and supposed to come out sometime in the Spring of 2015′. You, of course, haven’t heard anything, so you should just nod, say something agreeable (i.e. ‘Really? That’s awesome!’) and then move on.

Phase 2: Official Confirmation

You know that game that your friend told you might or might not exist? He’s just been vindicated. Someone with some authority on the matter has openly announced to whoever will listen that the sequel to BloodPhaser X, BloodPhaser X2: Double Montana is indeed in the works and will be released… when it’s ready. (Incidentally, saying that a game will be out ‘when it’s ready’ is a slightly less pretentious way of saying that ‘you can’t rush perfection’.)

Phase 3: Media Collection

Invariably, after the Official Confirmation, the Media Trickle begins. The developer will excruciatingly slowly release a screenshot here, an extremely short gameplay movie there, possibly some unrecognizable corner of a piece of concept art to keep the game fresh in the minds of the salivating public (some of them are literally salivating at this point). This slow media release then becomes like a game of Pok√©mon for the player, he’s gotta collect, or at least view, every screen, every video, every concept piece, and read every last tidbit of information about this game. He’s vicariously playing tiny morsels of this game through the previews and screenshots that he can find.

Phase 4: Early Reviews

After months of very little in the flow of information, finally, the game’s retail appearance is right around the corner. Some media outlets have gotten their mitts on the game a few days/weeks early so that they can get their precious reviews up on their sites. Did they like it? Did they hate it? Did they give an arbitrary number that agrees with what he had built up in his mind that it should be? This is a time for a decision by the player. Is the review and negative, in which case it was probably done by a complete moron, or was the review glowingly positive, in which case it was probably done by someone extremely talented and insightful? Does the review contain anything that might spoil the experience (revealing key plot lines, for example)? Is the review going to even weigh in on his purchasing decision?

There are no easy answers to all these questions. In fact, you’re very unlikely to even find someone in this Phase, unless he makes you read some review online and tell you how great or awful it is. Your best bet here is to just agree with everything that he finds good or bad with the review and move on.

Phase 5: Retail Release

After months and months of nail-biting, collecting and digesting media, and generally knowing as much about the game is if he’d actually been on the development team, the day has arrived. The game is in his local retailer and just waiting to be purchased. But now new issues crop up. Does he buy the dumb-old Regular Edition, or does he get the super-snazzy Collector’s Edition with Concept Art Book, Game Soundtrack, BloodPhaser X pin, window cling, and a coupon to mail-order a customized action figure? Sure, it costs almost twice as much, but he’s getting oh, so much more. You might want to question that decision, telling him that he’s spending an extra $50 for a CD, a pin, some plastic, a ten-page ‘book’, and a coupon that will cost him more money to redeem, but he’ll refute every one of your points and tell you that it’s an investment.

Which, of course, is total hogwash.

But you probably shouldn’t stand in his way. Let him get the limited edition bonus stuff if he wants. He didn’t stop you from getting that super-sweet limited edition novel that was autographed by the guy who swept the floors in the author’s apartment complex, did he? Wasting a few bucks on a couple of junkets isn’t the end of the world.

Phase 6: Getting the game home

It’s all been building to this. The game is in his hands, the cellophane has been shredded, the bonus goodies are in a bag on the floor for later, and the game goes into the game playing device of choice (PC, console, whatever). This is where one of several things might happen:

Phase 6a: The game is phenomenal

This is the best possible outcome. The game is great in every sense of the word. Your game-playing friend will probably lose vast tracts of time to this game. He won’t call, he won’t email, he might even forget to eat, sleep, and/or bathe until the game is done. He’s got to get to the end and see as much of the game as he can as quickly as he can. And if you do manage to see him outside of his house, he’ll probably talk to you about it endlessly, telling you all about the minutiae. You’re going to feel like you’re the one playing the game after all is said and done here.

Phase 6b: The game is mediocre

This isn’t quite as good a result as if the game had been awesome, but it’s not all bad. He’ll play the game off and on until he either trudges his way through to the end or he just gives up on it. The good thing here is that he probably won’t want to talk to you endlessly about it, which is something.

Phase 6c: The game is garbage

This is absolutely the worst thing that can happen (in this context, of course). The game that he’s poured his life into following for the past two-and-a-half years somehow turns out to be slightly less fun than getting punched in the face repeatedly by a guy wearing gloves covered in red-hot sewing needles and dipped in a mixture of lemon juice and salt. He’s disgusted and will actually probably not play the game much at all. He’ll probably quickly jump to…

Phase 7: After the game’s done

Once the player has completed as much of the game as he’s going to, he’s got a choice. He can add it to his personal archive of video game titles and paraphernalia (saying that he’ll play it again someday, but he probably won’t), or he can try to recoup a portion of his money by selling it off. Sure, he spent about $100 getting all the goodies that came with the game, but the used game store doesn’t want those, they just want the disc and they throw the rest of the stuff in the trash, and give him $25 (if he’s lucky) that he can apply to his next purchase.

This is fortunate because he just heard that Dungeon Disaster IV is supposed to be out in a few months…