This year we have GameTap trying to survive and pushing out more emulated games across a broad range of systems. Microsoft is making a play for the classic market with its Xbox Live Arcade. And Nintendo will have its Wii Virtual Console with -- reportedly -- at least a hundred emulated games waiting in the wings.
The difference is physical versus virtual: a real disc in your hand compared to a bundle of downloaded bits. In the case of GameTap, it's rental versus virtual purchase. I know it marks me as just another recalcitrant from an older generation, but I'm not ready to give up my discs and other hard media just yet. I've got a little Gollum in me, and my collection is full of precious plastic rings.
For years the system has been tilting in the consumer's favor, with the price per game dropping from over $8 to under $1. Now, with XBLA selling Galaga for $5 in virtual form, the new generation of consumers doesn't appear to even be reaping a real reduction in cost through the elimination of physical media and packaging.
I'll grant that the new a la carte models offer the opportunity to pay only for those games you want, but at the same time I fear that they will also lead to a concentration on only the most popular games.
Back when I used to hit the flea markets nearly every week, I would chat with some of the regular dealers who would dredge the yard sales for games. One guy 15 miles south of Raleigh explained to me why the rare games I craved were priced so cheaply, while the commons I didn't need were several times more expensive: "Everybody wants Frogger or Pac-man. No one but you cares about that other s--t."
He's right, of course: I'm not your average buyer. That's why I loved StarROMs and checked their site semi-regularly for new games to buy. It's why I actually enjoy trying out the obscure games on the various compilations I've collected. And it's why I'm confident that -- for me -- systems like GameTap and XBLA and Wii Virtual Console are a step backward, not forward.
I've wondered about this a lot myself. I have a 360, I buy XBLA games. I've gotten galaga, frogger, joust, gauntlet, and a few games that aren't "classic".
The whole thing strikes me as "Okay, but it wouldn't be worth it if they weren't adding on to them" which isn't to say that they just shit all over frogger, no, they shit over the art and sound, but let you change it back to normal. While still offering you the ability to send your scores to the mothership for humilation of yourself and others. I don't think I'd buy these things if they didn't enhance them whilst letting you change them. I've also only spent like 20, 30 bucks on them. So I think it is an OK price, not great, but certainly more plausible when you also end up getting the enhancements that you either like partially, or wholly
If people are going to be total jerks about it and say it ruins the experience to have the scores uploaded, then clearly this isn't for them. But otherwise, short of Microsoft going out of business, I'm not particularly concerned about the $30 or so I've spent magically going away. XBLA keeps track of what you download and ties it to your account so you can get it again.
Zachary's comment is particularly interesting here if you think of what Xbox/etc is selling you as a service rather than a game. You get to play a game with stats recorded and get to rent updated versions of the games. If you want the classics, they're available on enough systems cheaply enough that I wouldn't sweat things too badly -- yet. This is the, "How many versions of Frogger would you buy?" issue. Me, apparently 4 or 5. Pitfall? At least 3. I need to stop my personal insanity already. Renting a service that posts scores (perhaps later highlights of me playing, etc) Pitall? That'd be worth a buck or two.