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The Magpie Effect – What Is With The Collector’s Edition Obsession?
Everyone loves a shiny new Collector’s or Special Edition of their favourite game. It’s something to boast about to your friends, to display with pride and marvel at, or (as the case is with my Alduin statue) something to dress up for Christmas and celebrate the holidays with. Whether it is a soundtrack, t-shirt, figurine or something as simple as a digital download, all of this extra stuff cements your love for your game. Granted they do tend to come with a significant price boost, but for uber fans price really doesn’t seem to be an issue. So despite the fact that you’re paying an extra £30-£40/$47-$62 minimum on a game you were already planning on buying, what makes these editions so special? Why are people obsessed with the shiny Collector’s and Special editions of games?
Allow me to introduce something called ‘The Magpie Effect’. It’s pretty common knowledge that Magpies are attracted to shiny objects. Now while humans don’t use these shiny objects to attract a mate (at least that’s not the main reason anyway!) there are still people who have this obsession or ‘need’ to possess such shiny and rare objects. The Magpie Effect is the “act of purchasing goods well out of one’s price range based on their appearance alone”, and I’m speaking from experience here when I say that some gamers suffer from this badly. Despite the hefty price increase, and the fact that I’m a generally poor student, I have always loved Collector’s editions – the proper Collector editions, not ones where you simply get some downloadable codes that are more than likely going to come out in a few months as a DLC. The latest one I’ve really been lusting after was the Ultimate Loot Chest Edition of Borderlands 2. I was already planning on buying the game, and the fact that I could have my very own replica of a Loot chest (as well as a whole bunch of other goodies including a Marcus Bobblehead) was amazing. The only thing that stopped me immediately running out to the store to buy it was the fact that the Special Edition, which I had pre-ordered, was only £40 ($62), whereas this one was easily £100 ($155). In fact on Ebay they managed to reach ridiculous prices, well over £200 ($311), just because it’s a Collector’s Item. This got me wondering why people are so obsessed with these expensive bragging rights. Is this obsession and love actually justified, or is it just a very clever way for companies to get more money out of gamers?
One of my theories is that a ‘good’ collector’s edition can actually make you want to buy a game that you wouldn’t normally purchase based on the material goods alone. People become more obsessed with the goods you get with the game rather than the game itself. Take Aliens: Colonial Marines for example. The game wasn’t that great, some people may have screamed in frustration a little (I know I did) but the only reason I have considered really buying it is that I really wanted the Powerloader figure that came with it. I’ve been a huge Aliens fan for as long as I can remember and it would look pretty awesome next to my 22” articulated Xenomorph. Another example (that I sadly did buy) was Resident Evil 6. As soon as the Collector’s Edition came out I started debating whether I would buy it. Based on the previous games I already knew it would be debatable whether the game would be good, but there were limited edition signed medals! And a Resident Evil 6 hoodie! I didn’t really care about the digital download stuff (most of that would be available on the marketplace anyway, so it only really saved me a few hundred Microsoft Points) so I effectively paid an extra £70/$109 for a hoodie and some signed medals, which turned out to not be that great anyway. To test this theory I decided to do a little survey.
59 people took part in my survey (see why I called it a little survey?) and on average they bought 5-6 Collectors Editions in this year alone. The games ranged from Bioshock: Infinite and Assassin’s Creed 3 – The Freedom Edition to Skyrim and World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, and the reasons for buying them varied from far and wide:
– “My love of DC characters prompted me to buy the Special Edition”
– “I bought it because my friends bought it too”
– “The art book, extra DLC missions, Bonus Items, Weapons, Credits and Game soundtrack made me want it”
– “My girlfriend made me buy it”
– “You got a free poster with it…”
– “Mostly the action figure. I like action figures”.
While some people bought it because they were simply fans of the series and wanted to show a little extra appreciation, there were some people who purchased the editions simply for the extra merchandise you got with it. One of the final questions I asked was “Would you buy a game just for the extra bonus items rather than for the game itself”, and while 61% of people said they wouldn’t, there was still the 39% of people who would buy a Collector’s Edition or Special Edition just for the items themselves. As I’ve said before, it’s the shiny mentality – these shiny and extra goods can actually sway people to buy something they wouldn’t normally consider.
Another reason why people buy these could be the perception that the ‘limited editions’ really are limited. That’s what drew me in with the medals from Resident Evil 6. There were only a handful actually made, and owning one of them (as a huge Resident Evil fan) gave me a bit of a thrill. It’s not such a big thing at the moment, with more collector and special editions leaning towards digital content rather than physical items (cheaper to produce I would say), and lots of people don’t seem to realize that they may just end up on Ebay a couple of days after the launch.
Then you have the people who believe that owning the Collector’s Edition of every game will somehow make them superior. It makes me sad to admit that these people exist. The main thing it shows, apart from their absolute love of games, is that they have a bigger bank balance than you, or that they’re more liberal with spending their money (as a student it’s always hilarious to watch other students battle between that special edition game they want or eating for the next month).
I’m not saying that Collector or Special editions of games are bad in any way (other than for your bank balance). In fact, I still have my eye on trying to get a Zombie Bait edition of Dead Island: Riptide, and there will probably be plenty of other editions that I buy. They’re a great addition to any fan’s collection, and they can even be a pretty good conversation starter. You could almost say that buying one of these editions is a form of affection to the team who worked so hard to bring you the game in the first place. However, the point remains that as awesome as they may be, the main reason they sell and do so well is that people are attracted to shiny things. The more it shines, the more expensive it is going to be. At the end of the day you might not be using your replica of Noble Team for anything other than a paperweight, but what Halo fan would complain at that?