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Help! I'm a PSN Card Junkie!!: the Blessing and Curse of Digital Distribution

That old saying "Be careful what you wish for" is true. Sometimes what you want most can lead to your downfall. What am I talking about exactly?? Well if the title didn't give you the answer let me begin with a little story.

It was a mid-June evening and I was heading to the mall. You see, I hadn't really been shopping in a long while trying to save the little money that I earn for school in the fall, but I felt that it was about time that I buy another game. The last game I had bought was Killzone 2 back in February. Along with more Resistance 2, Warhawk, LittleBigPlanet and Burnout, I was holding over pretty well but I really wanted Valkyria Chronicles. Actually, I needed the game. Unfortunately I had not seen VC since the holiday rush and was now going to make it my mission to get my hands on it. My first trip, which also just happened to be my last, was to EB Ga...wait no...GameStop??? What's a GameStop doing in my Canada!? Clearly I had not been to the mall in a looong time. I have to say, even though I had become comfortable with the EB Games which had been in the same location for about as long as I can remember, the changes inside were...nice. I could actually walk around for once!! I guess comfortability does lead to complacency. Anyways back to the point of the story, my search for VC. Once inside the store I looked around and couldn't find the game. So I browse around looking to see if I can get any good deals on other games and nothing really pops out at me. I then decided to ask if they had the game I was looking for.

Me: Hey. Do you happen to have Valkryia Chronicles for PS3 by any chance??

GS Clerk: Uh, I'll check the computer to see if we have one in stock.
*checks computer*
No it doesn't look like we have it in.

Me: ........Do you have any idea when a copy will come in??

GS Clerk: *checks computer again*
Actually it says here the game has been discontinued.

Me: *stares incomprehensibly*
*finally clicks in*
WHAT!? Are you fucking kidding me!? Are you sure!? VALKRYIA CHRONICLES!?

GS Clerk: We may get a preowned copy in eventually.

And then I snapped.

You see, it wasn't until I got home that night and did some internet-sherlocking that I discovered that this in fact was common knowledge. Why it took me so long to realize is beyond me but to say I was a little angry would be an understatement.

Just as I was getting ready to start hurling Rock Band bundles around the store something caught my eye. Hanging on the wall behind the counter, what I saw a put a spell on me and enchanted a calmness that only an illegal sedative could achieve. The black beauty stared back at me with its shimmering finish, petite rectangular shape with finely curved edges. A depiction of a legendary metal bird that rules the skies in time of war gazed back at me. And no, it wasn't a Pokemon.

Me: *staring wide-eyed with mouth agape, pointing at my new prize*
How long have you had those in for now!?

GS Clerk: Those? About a week I'd say.

Me:*throws down a twenty dollar bill without breaking my stare*
I'll take one, thank you very much!!

Finally!! After months and months of complaining and begging for Sony to release PSN Cards in Canada, they had finally done so giving me access to critically-acclaimed downloadable games and DLC. It honestly felt as if I had just unlocked half of my $400 console that had always been out of reach from me. Always taunting and flaunting but never within my grasp. While at my age I should definitely have a credit card, I still prefer to use prepaid cards as I would have more restraint over my spending.

Or so I thought.

Racing home and scratching away the code, I got down to business. First on the "to-download" list were the Killzone 2 map packs. After being left out in the rain during several Friday Night Fight matches, I wasn't going to be excluded anymore. Of course I wasn't just buying them for FnF but the Destructoid community does have that type of peer pressure power over me at times. Rounding out the $20 put in my virtual wallet were the Killzone Pack and Chimera Costume for LittleBigPlanet.

Just an aside about LBP's DLC costumes, I understand many people do not see the value in having to drop money on these in-game skins. But if you have the money and play LBP often, they are actually really well crafted and are worth it. They definitely look a step above what is provided within the game. They're priced perfectly to go along with your $10 or $15 game purchase. But to each their own I guess.

After giving the maps a quick spin, and loving them, I powered down my PlayStation 3 and was heading to bed. As I was cleaning up my room a bit, the PSN Card caught my eye again. Suddenly I had random visions of jet packs and dropships, of vehicular get-aways and pixelated junk. Old classics filled my mind as they were greeting soon-to-be-greats. Snapping out of my daydream I realized I had a bit of a cold sweat. I flipped the card face-down and fell a sleep, reassuring myself that what I had experienced had meant nothing.

Several days later I was back shopping, at a different mall though, and I eventually made my way to GameSt...oh no wait, this one is still EB Games. This time I was looking for a Wii game instead but everything I wanted seemed to be priced too high. This has been common as of late. So I decided to settle for a used DS game, Lock's Quest, which was priced perfectly at $15. I heard great things about it so I felt it was too good to pass up. As I was checking out, I saw them again. More PSN Cards!! It seemed as if these cards were popping up everywhere now. Thankfully of course! Since the game I was buying was pretty cheap, I decided that there was no harm in buying another $20 card. My entire purchase was still cheaper than most used PS3 games...or used Wii games ugh...so the spending-conscience in me had no problem throwing down a bit extra cash.

This $20 had gone to the Warhawk Booster Packs and rounded out with more LBP junk. While as much as I love the game, this was a hard decision to come to. I pretty much only play Warhawk for the fun of it now, what video games are supposed to be about, right? But this summer I was planning on getting a few Platinums, particularly in Resistance 2 and LittleBigPlanet. You know, make it feel like I accomplished something while lazing away. The Warhawk Platinum is virtually unattainable so every minute spent in Warhawk is a minute that could be used finishing my LBP level, which I'm pretty close to completing. But at the end of the day when I had to make a decision between Platinums and Jet Packs, it's pretty obvious which one I'd choose, what anyone would choose.

Fast-forward a few days later and I'm back at the mall, again, buying cleats this time. I was tired of getting burned in Ultimate Frisbee while playing in wet weather so I decided to finally drop the cash and buy a pair. Plus I'll eventually take up soccer. Or that's at least what I tell everyone. Anyways this was the time I realized I had a problem with my spending control. I had one of those moments that junkies have, where they're out with friends and next thing they know they're waking up the next afternoon with a needle still stuck in their arm. One second I was deciding between Nikes and Umbros (turned out they didn't have Nikes in my size and the manager took a bit extra off the Umbros), the next I was walking out of EBs with another $20 PSN Card. I hadn't even tried out the Warhawk packs yet!! While I was angry with myself, I realized that this would give me the chance to try out Metal Gear Solid for the first time ever. After actually playing the game, I don't understand why I took so long to get into the series. But that is a discussion for another day.

By this point, I'm admitting to myself that I have an addiction to these prepaid cards. I do what any addict does to try and get over their addiction by making themselves sick of it. An overdose. I eventually went out and bought the motherlode, a $50 PSN card. I figured that if I bought a larger card, I wouldn't spend it as quick. And surprisingly, it worked!! Well maybe it helped that I was peer-pressured into buying Battlefield 1943. Getting at least 5 invites while playing the demo will do that to a person. Thanks Dtoid!! :P The game has been addictive to say the least so I've been very happy with the purchase. But after getting Big Surf Island and a few discounted games as well, that $50 dried up fast. Now with Fat Princess and Marvel vs Capcom 2 on the door step, and sadly wanting to buy some stuff for my Home persona, it looks like the "addiction" has yet to be kicked.

After going through all this, it took me some time and thinking to understand why these cards have such an effect on me while I can go months and months without purchasing a retail game. I had bought Wii Points Cards in the past without having this need to drop more cash either, even though there are many games that I have still yet to download. And then it hit me. Not only is it because the content on the PSN Store is generally priced a lot lower than retail games, a lot lower, you also don't pay tax when you buy PSN Cards!!

Ok I can hear you laughing but there is good reasoning behind this. You go to the store looking for a game but nothing jumps out at you. You have a twenty in your pocket and you feel like spending it. You could either buy a used game at $15 which provides you with one gaming experience. Or you can buy a prepaid card at exactly $20 and download a game or two, get DLC to expand your current gaming experiences or a combo of several situations. That sense of value is what helps drive download sales. Unlike PSN Cards, Wii Point Cards do get taxed at retail which brings the cost to a twenty plus change. It works out to roughly the same in the end but the slight differences contribute to this "addiction" I have.

Of course, this whole way of thinking may only work on people with a certain mentalities such as myself but Sony would be smart to expand the number of retailers that carry their prepaid cards and get into the faces of as many people as possible. It's a lot easier to justify spending $20 every other week than to drop $70 plus tax for a game or two each for every month. And that is what is really contributing to the decline of retail video game sales. In this economy, developers and publishers can cry out to the moon about the rise in cost of making games. They can tell everyone how expensive and competitive the market is and try and explain why the price hike was justified. But at the end of the day, the customers are dealing with the exact same worries with job security and the doubts of tomorrow. If anything the increased prices have just pushed customers further away from retail and right into the digital distribution scene. Will publishers really be able to justify charging us $70 or $80 for the next shooter when Battlefield 1943 stormed the PSN Store and Xbox Live Marketplace at $15?? Sure BF1943 is a pretty buggy and basic shooter but pound-for-pound in the fun department, a lot of gamers may be feeling ripped off this winter. Either developers will need to step up their game or they will seriously need to reconsider what they think they can get away with charging.

One of my biggest fears for the PSPgo was that without PSN Cards in Canada, it'd be difficult for me to actually use the handheld as a gaming device. But with the cards now here, my fear is that I may actually spend too much on it....I mean after the initial purchase of the hardware of course. So Sony definitely needs to get these cards out in every one of their markets as soon as possible. The latest rumours have them dropping in European nations at the same time as the PSPgo releases, which is absolutely necessary for the success of the sleek handheld.

There are problems with PSN Cards though. One is that since you are not converting your money into "Sony Points", it is still your country's currency and retailers make exactly zero profit from selling them. They really have no incentive to sell them, a problem that the soon to be released PSPgo will have on the software side as well. Unless they have a deal where you buy a PSN Card and get say $5 off a preowned game, there is nothing that encourages you to give your money to these retailers. Or maybe Sony has to pay retailers to sell their cards, like 10 cents a card or something. The one possibility I see is that as downloadable titles become more prevalent and more blockbuster titles are released on the digital services, retailer will start to drop their prices to encourage you to buy the physical medium instead for dual-releases. They may make less of a profit this way but they'll be glad that they are making any profit at all. Preorder gifts might become more wide spread as well. Another slight problem with PSN Cards is that since your money is never being converted to points, you may never find discounts on the cards like you will occasionally do with the Xbox Live Points. But then again, I've seen Wii Points Cards for more than $20 so maybe PS3 owners are getting lucky here. And finally there is all the fears and concerns gamers have with digital distribution itself. The lack of "physically" owning the game, the download sizes, DRMs, inability to take the game to your friend's house, microtransactions, can't buy used or discounted, no boxart or manual for the game collectors.....and I think I covered most of them. What I'm saying is that there will be people who will refuse to buy digital, or at least their big purchases won't be digital, so developers need to make sure that they don't abandon parts of their fanbase.

If anything at all, this is a great time for both gamers and developers. Gamers get more diversified experiences at a cheaper cost while developers have to spend less to get their visions out there. There is no way games such as Noby Noby Boy or Pixeljunk Eden would have survived at retail. While analysts are panicking that the industry is "collapsing" as retail sales are down, everyone involved with digital distribution seems content to keep quiet while they lounge beside the pool of liquid gold. It's shaped like a money-sack if you really wanted to know.

This "addiction" you may have realized is not for the PSN Cards themselves but for cheaply-priced games that won't float at retail, for game-changing additions that expand on the original experience, for old classics and future gems. I'm addicted to the unique, the convenience, the affordability, the workmanship. Most of all I'm tired of walking into stores and seeing games I want for $70, $60 used. It's not a self-imposed boycott or anything, though if it was I've been doing it since before boycotts became popular with L4D2. It's just me being finicky with my money. When the big games start dropping I know I won't be able to resist. Uncharted 2 is looking sexy and I am required by law as a Canadian to own NHL 10. I have spent $110 on PSN Cards in the month and a half that I have seen them hanging up behind counters. This may be a little contradictory as I have said that I really don't have the money to be spending a lot on games, which is true and I really do have to watch my spending a bit more carefully. But that $110 got me two PSOne classics (Metal Gear Solid and Warhawk), three PSN games (Battlefield 1943, Crash Commando and Pixeljunk Eden), five map packs (2 for Killzone 2, 3 for Warhawk), five LBP packs (Killzone pack, artist sticker pack, MGS level kit, Patapon and Chimera costume) and Big Surf Island. I'd be lucky to get 3 new games at retail with $110.

So if you just scrolled to the bottom of this long blog and wanted to know what exactly I was talking about, the short version is I approve of digital distribution, the industry is insane if they think I'll buy games at a premium and Sony did the opposite of screwing up for once!! They did something that actually improved the PlayStation brand in a relatively small market. Now all Sony needs to do is get movies and TV shows up in the Canadian PSN stores and I will be one happy customer!!

Also Sega, what the fuck!?
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About CelicaCrazedone of us since 4:34 AM on 04.13.2007

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