Saturday, January 23, 2016

Ongoing Hardware Expenses for the Typical Console Gamer

Falmouth Harbor just after dawn - but NOT the Falmouth Harbor where I live and where, along the edges of its man made pleasantry bread was broken; during that regular and frequently repeated lunch a new conversation took place in which the merits of collecting Gamepads was discussed and at which we learned that Chris can almost always dish it out, but as far as taking it goes?  Struggles such as this are generally thought to be good when they are absorbed as a learning experience.  Right?
It never surprises me when money and costs are whinged about when the subject is video games, though more often than not the sub-narrative that prompts that sort of conversation tends to relate to the perceived high costs of purchase for the games or, less frequently, the games systems - not the costs that are associated with maintaining the game play process once you have purchased your console(s) and games.

But it was the costs of continued play that ended up dominating our lunch conversation -- wait a second...  I really should properly set this all up so that you are in on the circumstances and thus can be a bit more involved in the conversation...
The original Xbox Gamepad was originally nicknamed "The Duke" and, as Microsoft's freshman entry into the Games Console Wars approached launch, it was not all that surprising that the layout and design of The Duke appeared to parallel what was at that point one of the more solid and useful game controller layouts.  In fact it was a well-proven and well-established design despite being entirely brand new.
Alright, grab a cold beverage and a good snack, lean back in your chair and imagine you are sitting in the bench seats on the back of the booth at one of the best locals-only bar/pub/lunch places on the Cape.  

No, I am not going to share the name with you because (1) if I did, this being the Internet, there is a better than even chance that tourists will end up ruining what may very well be one of the last truly special hole-in-the-wall pubs for locals in the armpit of the universe; and (2) it's hard enough getting a lunch table on any given Friday already,  why would we want to make that process worse?

This lunch is a sort of semi-regular a couple-times-a-month thing with some friends from Boston who both grew up and still have family on Cape.  They are Mark and Lynda (who are in fact a couple) who both work at a newspaper in Boston, and Kate, who is in broadcast journalism.  When they come home to chill at their parents houses for the weekend, we do lunch.

It may seem now like the whole gamepad and game controller scene with the previous gen Xbox 360 was a mostly vanilla scene but, actually, there were some interesting examples offered up to the gamer public even then - as is demonstrated by this graphically-intense Xbox 360 gamepad that was part of Microsoft's Halo 3: Covenant launch and branding.
As I gnawed on a Club Sandy, dipping it in a bowl of freshly made Thousand Islands alternating with munching what I am assured are home-made pickles fresh from their kitchen - the conversation turned to the high costs of video games today with a bit of retrospective on how it used to be so much cheaper back in the day when being a gamer meant playing games on your PC.  Yeah, the assembled gamers are THAT old.

"Jane's rabbit got loose on our bed again - she was supposed to be keeping an eye on it - and it bit through the charging cable for my Xbox One - so I have to replace it.  Actually I needed to replace it anyway because the battery seems to have hit its charge limit as fully charged it lasts like twenty minutes.

"I did the math though and it is a lot like the whole printer thing, where it is cheaper to buy a new printer than it is to buy a new ink cartridge set?"

"Sheesh Mark, how many printers do you own now?" I asked.

"Six?  No, I lie - seven.  But seriously I can get a new printer for $49 that comes with a set of ink cartridges OR I can spend $69 on a new set of ink cartridges.  I don't know who did the math on that but clearly I am getting a better deal buying a new printer.  I am just saying..."

"So what is the same with the gamepad?"

"Ah," Mark grunted, sounding very sage and wisdomy.  

"Check this out - the cost of a new Xbox One Gamepad is $49.99 right?" to which I agreed, nodding and chewing.

I should explain - in the interest of full disclosure - that 9 times in 10 when I eat out I will - as I did for the lunch during which these conversations took place - order a Club Sandwich with a side of Freedom Fries and a bowl of Thousand Islands Dressing for to dip my sandwich in.  Man gotta have his Club Sandy to make-up for too many MRE lunches. I am just saying that while I would prefer in-flights to an MRE, a nice Club Sandy beats them all, toast-down!
"For that $49.99 what you get is an Xbox One Gamepad, and two AA batteries.  That's it.  But if you only have one Gamepad, you are going to want to buy another anyway for multiplayer local play.  

"Then there is the whole rechargeable battery thing where you want to have a minimum of two gamepads anyway, so that you can have one recharging while you play on the other one, you see?"

"I do indeed see," I admitted.

"So then there is the whole charging kit - that costs $20 and gets you the a micro-USB charge cable and a rechargeable battery pack."

"Okay," I agree.

"I can actually purchase a replacement cable - for $16 - but why do that when for a few more dollars you get a cable and rechargeable battery, you with me so far?"  he prompts.  I admitted that I was, yes.

"So here is the thing - I could simply buy the Charge and Play kit for $20, sure.  But check this out - Microsoft has created a new package deal called the Xbox One Wireless Controller and Play & Charge Kit that costs $74.99 retail but that you can get for less if you shop around.  For example you can get a new one via Amazon for like $60 or so.

"That package deal includes a brand spankin' new Xbox One branded wireless gamepad, a Micro-USB Charging Cable, the rechargeable battery, and a mic-plus-headset for voice chat.  

"If I bought them separately, I would be paying like $50 for the gamepad, $20 for the Charge and Play Kit, and $20 for the Chat Headset - that works out to ninety-bucks man!"

"I see your point," I admitted, having seen his point.

"So this way I get what I need AND I have another gamepad so I can play and charge rotate.  So yeah, cool that.

"But," I pause.

When you get so serious about your Gamepads that you opt to invest in a $159.99 Elite Controller,
it is seriously time for you to start thinking about investing in Gamepad Charging Stands.  I am just saying...
"But what?" he asks, fear appearing on the edge of his voice.

"But can you get matching gamepads in that deal or are they just the black one?"

"Just the black one," he admits, now broadcasting major fear and uncertainty.  "Why would that make a difference?  All of the gamepads are black for the Xbox One," he points out.

"Uh, no, where have you been?  Mine aren't,"  I point out.

"Well yeah, yours are blue because you got the Forza 6 Collectible Xbox One thingy," he says, voice dismissive and yet clearly relieved.  I can tell he was afraid I was going to make a legitimate point about the gamepads beyond the obvious.

"Um, no.  I am not talking about the wicked cool blue controller that came with my very awesome Forza 6 Xbox One that makes tyre burnout sounds when I turn it on and air-wrench sounds when I insert a disc dood.  I am talking about my OTHER gamepads," I explain.

"What other ones?  Aren't they black?" he asks, fear and uncertainty returning in force.

"Well no, of course not."

"What do you mean 'no, of course not'?!" he demands, clearly sensing trouble.

"Well that was why I asked where you have been living?" I allowed.

"Chris, don't mess with me.  What are you talking about?" he asks.

When you reach the stage where you seriously consider a limited edition games console as an "investment" you have stopped being a gamer are started being a hipster.  Walk away man.  Just walk away....  But if you bought a Limited Edition games console as your daily driver, well hey that is totally different!  You do that and we have to say "Welcome to the club mate - grab a seat!"
I take pity on him - the anxiety level is climbing because Mark now suspects that the pride he feels about his cutting edge gaming rigs and his best-of-the-best attitude when it comes to rechargeable batteries and all of that might just be... Not so much...

"Okay I can see how you not being in the industry," I begin.

"Um, Chris you are not in the games industry.  You write about the games industry, but that does not make you part of it," he points out.  Maybe with just a touch of frustration in his tone.

"Wow, did I deserve that?" I ask.

"Well yeah, sort of.  Maybe a little?" Lynda volunteers.  

"You can be pretty insufferable when you get a game two weeks before its street date and then refuse to tell us anything about the game because of that stupid non-disclosure thing you keep using as an excuse not to let us borrow the games," Kate points out.

"Kate, that 'stupid non-disclosure' agreement and the fact that I follow it to the letter and don't loan out games I get before their street date is why I continue to get games before their street date; and I need those games early or I cannot do my job," I point out.

"You know when you talk like that, I know you are saying things, but all I actually hear is 'blah-blah-blah-I-get-games-early-and-you-don't-blah' in place of what I think you think you are saying" Kate tells me.

"Yeah," Mark admits.  "The same thing happens to me."

"You know you guys could get games early if you started writing on the video game beat," I point out.

"Is he telling us we could get games early if we prostitute ourselves to the games industry yet?" Lynda asks.

"Yup - doesn't he sound just like the parents in a Peanuts cartoon?" Kate asks.

"I know, right?!" Lynda says, and then breaks out in giggles.  I do a slow ten-count.

"Wait, you are going to make him go off in a different direction.  We were talking about gamepads?" Mark interrupts.

"Yes.  What I wanted to know is, can I get gamepads in that deal that will match the ones I have in my gamepad collection?" I ask.  Mentally counting to five heartbeats before he says it.

"Whoa.  Wait.  Your what?!" Mark says.

"And the chum has taken the bait, the angler has set the hook, look at that thing fly into the air!" Kate cries, doing her best Martha's Vineyard Fishing Derby announcer's voice.

"Well yeah, I have a collection.  Now, I don't have ALL of the gamepad models mind you - and I don't have any of the new Xbox Elite gamepad - I am waiting to see if they version that.

"So yeah I think if I got that package I would want it to have a the Special Edition Lunar White gamepad - you know, the one with the golden D-Pad?  Or maybe the Special Edition Armed Forces one?  Camouflage is cool," I add.

"Okay you are lying," Mark decides.  Saying out loud what he is clearly thinking.

"Actually no, I am not.  Shall I run down the contents of my gamepad collection for you?"

"Oh please do!" Lynda sings.  "I've never seen him actually blow a blood vessel in his head, this could be fascinating!" she says, reaching out and caressing the side of her husband's head.

"Wow, that is cold blooded," Mark sighs.  

The Gamepad Collection
So I was not kidding about my having a gamepad collection - it started innoncent enough I suppose, but gamepads are a bit like crack cocaine.  You try just one and suddenly blammo!  You are hooked!

 At the present time my gamepad collection consists of the following:

x2 Standard Xbox One Livery Black on Black Gamepads ($59.99 msrp)
x1 Special Edition Armed Forces Gamepad ($64.99 msrp)
x1 Special Edition Lunar White Xbox One Gamepad ($64.99 msrp)
x1 Xbox One Limited Edition Halo 5: Guardians Gamepad ($69.99)
x1 Xbox One Limited Edition Halo 5: Guardians The Master Chief Gamepad ($69.99)
x1 Xbox One LE Call of Duty Advanced Warfare Gamepad ($69.99 msrp)
x1 Special Edition Xbox One Forza 6 Gamepad ($64.99 msrp)
x1 Special Edition Covert Forces Gamepad ($64.99 msrp)

In addition to the above which makes up my gamepad collection, there are the following that I really want to add to it:

Xbox One LE Titanfall Gamepad ($64.99 msrp)
Xbox One Special Edition Midnight Forces Gamepad ($64.99 msrp)
Xbox One Elite Gamepad ($149.99 msrp)
Mark's initial reaction to my collection was shock and a repeat of doubt - he felt initially that if I was not outright fabricating the contents of my collection, then I was at least exaggerating it.  So I pulled out the trusty iPad Air and showed him.  Thank you Xbox.  Thank you Microsoft Store.

For my part I don't really blame Mark the way that Mark blames Mark.  After all I am on the mailing lists so I get the official press release for each and every piece of games hardware - and game - that gets released.  So I should know all about it.  Mark gets press releases but he doesn't write on the game's beat at his paper - Garret does - so I told him he should talk to and at the very least make friends with Garret.  Right?  Right!

His next reaction was what I consider priceless...  He turned to his wife and said:

"Lynnie sweetheart, I need to amend my monthly games budget..."

"Whoa hold on there sport!" I quickly interrupted.  You are not thinking you can just go buy this stuff at GameStop are you?" I ask.

"Why not?" Mark replied.  Ah, so innocent.  So naive.  I love the perpetual newbs of the world.

"Because you can't.  And even if you could, I seriously doubt "Lynnie" here would agree to it," I began to explain.

"Okay first of all, HE only gets to call me that because I am married to him.  Second, why can't he go to GameStop and buy them?" Lynda asked me.

"Well, since you asked so nice Lynifer, I will explain...  When the Titanfall Gamepad first went on sale a couple years ago it had an msrp of like $65.  But did you notice that part of the description and name included the words 'Limited Edition' when I listed it?

"It was a Limited Edition Gamepad Lynellen.  That means they only made so many, and it was only sold for so long.  If Markus-in-Errorus here wants one NOW, he will have to pay something like $125 and that is IF he can find someone willing to sell it straight out.  Most of the collectors sell their extras in auctions because they make more that way.

"I have seen the Titanfall Gamepad go for more than $200 at auction," I add, twisting the knife.

"Jumping Jesus on a Pogo-Stick!" Lyn blurted.  "But it is just a gamepad!?" She added.

"No, it is just a Limited Edition Titanfall Xbox One Gamepad," I corrected her.  "And it will cost serious coin to buy it at this point."

Ah the joy of depression.  But the question seriosly got me to thinking about it so I did a little Google work to see what the current Gamepad Collector Market Report was, and was pretty shocked by what I discovered.

Here is a list of the more popular SE and LE Gamepads, their original msrp, and the current general market value.  Note that "msrp" stands for Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price, while "aap" stands for Average Auction Price.
  • Armed Forces SE - Available @ Retail ($64.99 msrp / $N/A aap)
  • Call of Duty Advanced Warfare LE - Available @ Retail ($69.99 msrp / $79.99 aap)
  • Covert Forces SE - Available @ Retail ($64.99 msrp / $N/A aap)
  • Elite Gamepad - Available @ Retail ($149.99 msrp / $N/A aap)
  • Fallout 4 SE ($69.99 msrp / $250 aap)
  • Forza 6 SE - Available @ Retail ($64.99 msrp / $N/A aap)
  • Halo 5: Guardians LE - Available @ Retail ($69.99 msrp / $N/A aap)
  • Halo 5: Guardians Master Chief LE - Available @ Retail ($69.99 msrp / $N/A aap)
  • Lunar White SE - Available @ Retail ($64.99 msrp / $N/A aap)
  • Midnight Forces SE - Available @ Retail ($64.99 msrp / $N/A aap)
  • Titanfall LE ($69.99 msrp / $125 to $200 aap)
  • Xbox One Wireless Gamepad - Available @ Retail ($59.99 msrp / $N/A aap)
There are other examples but they are third-party issues that do not have the right to sport the official Microsoft Xbox One badge...  So a lot of gamers (myself included) do not consider them to be either official or really legitimate in terms of collectibles.

 The Limited / Special Edition Gamepad Scene

You can't really blame Mark wither for his reaction or his feelings on the matter - sorry about that mare - because really even for the folks who are close enough to the inside to be given notice about this sort of thing, it caught a lot of us by surprise as well.

One reason it was so surprising is down to the manner in which the custom controller issue was addressed in the past.  Specifically with the previous gen hardware.  For the Xbox 360 that sort of thing largely applied specifically to the consoles not the gamepads, and it was next to impossible to obtain in quantity any specially branded or livery based gamepads exclusive of the consoles themselves.

When we think about it, today the modern games console is largely out-of-sight in the standard entertainment center, so objects like the Gamepad really do represent the livery for the console more today than ever before.

That being the case, making and marketing SE and LE gamepads makes total sense, and we can see how Microsoft - or for that matter Sony too - will do whatever it takes to help in marketing those.

Our experience has been mixed - because while the different edition controllers are not supposed to FEEL different to the player, some of them do.  Specifically every SE or LE gamepad we have used has turned out to be better feeling, and perhaps a bit more tactile in its response - than the bog standard black-on-black stock gamepad that comes with the X1.

Now having admitted that, I should also add that the Elite Gamepad actually had the opposite impact on us!  It felt LESS solid and LESS secure to us than the bog-standard gamepad.  How about that?

If you plan on getting in on the whole gamepad collecting bug that is growing popular NOW is a really great time to do that.  Considering that only a few of the gamepads are presently NOT for sale via retail, waiting will only make it more difficult.

So hey - collect - play - enjoy!

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