Is <i>Earthbound</i> over-priced on the Wii U Virtual Console?

Alex Phillimore Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-07-22 06:20:44

Is Earthbound over-priced on the Wii U Virtual Console?

If you're an average gamer, chances are that you never played cult-classic SNES RPG Earthbound without resorting to emulation. The game never came out in Europe, and while the United States got it back in 1995, it sold poorly, to the point that Earthbound SNES carts now go for over 200 dollars on eBay. The game is so rare, in fact, that there are entire websites dedicated to tracking down good prices for the carts. And so, if you're a western gamer, it is unlikely that you have played Earthbound on a Nintendo console unless you're the kind of hyper-dedicated fan who is willing to put a lot of time, effort and money into doing so. With the recent Wii U Virtual Console release of the game, audiences across the world now have a chance to play this rarity - and access its optimized strategy guide - for £6.99 or $10.

You would think that people would view that price as being reasonable for a previously unreleased (in Europe, at least) and critically-acclaimed RPG with a fairly lengthy play-time. When you consider that one of the only legal ways in which to play Earthbound in the United Kingdom prior to the Wii U release of the game was to import an American SNES and purchase the cart for several hundred dollars, £6.99 seems to be a fair price. Sadly, while some gamers have lapped up the chance to play the classic game, others have complained that the title is priced unfairly. Other SNES games on the Virtual Console are priced at £5.49, causing some vocal gamers to complain that they're getting ripped off spending the £6.99 that Earthbound is asking for.

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I don't want to make light of the importance of money, especially during this difficult economic time where people, as a general rule, are being more pragmatic with their spending. Video games are a luxury and a privilege, and it is truly unfortunate that not everyone can afford to spend an extra pound here and there that needs to be spent elsewhere. But, if you are the kind of person who can afford to buy a next-generation video game console and is otherwise prepared to spend £5.49 on a download title, I'm not sure to what extent I can sympathise with complaints that Earthbound is overpriced.

This issue raises an interesting question pertaining to the overall worth of money. Some people look at the £6.99 price tag of a game like Earthbound, hesitate for a moment, shrug and then opt out buying the game, reasoning that they don't need to spend money that could be put to use elsewhere. That same person, however, might then order a takeaway for dinner that same evening and spend £20.00 or more on a couple of pizzas from Pizza Hut - an experience that lasts about fifteen minutes and is then over. Meanwhile, Earthbound still costs less than half of that experience, and yet, in many respects, offers far more value-for-money than a pizza. The conclusion to draw from this, I think, is that some people consider certain products to have more or less value than others, and it really depends on what sort of person you are whether or not you'd value the lasting appeal of a game like Earthbound or the instant-gratification of a pizza more, if both were priced equally.

Complaining that Earthbound is overpriced comes off, at least to me, as a little petty. If you're in a fortunate enough financial position where you can afford to play games, I fail to believe that you can't stretch an extra £1.50 for a game that you'd otherwise struggle to play legally. When I consider the alternative - having to buy an ancient, dusty SNES cart from eBay that might not even work properly for $200 or more - I am more than happy to pay £6.99 to have the game in my hands after a short download whilst safely in the comfort of knowing that it will work without technical hiccups.

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Gamers who don't understand the complex history of Earthbound that arguably justifies why it costs more than other SNES games on the Virtual Console may cry foul over the fact that the game is priced slightly higher than other titles of its era, but if you take into consideration that this is one of those rare 'lost games' that never saw a traditional release in Europe (and had a very limited release in the United States) then it seems utterly fair that it costs an extra £1.50. This isn't exactly a new thing, either - rare games were released on the Wiiware service as part of the Hanabi Festival in Japan. They cost more, but they offered players experiences that they wouldn't get elsewhere unless they spent a lot of money buying foreign consoles and cartridges.

Some people might argue that Virtual Console games should all be priced the same, but this seems like wishful thinking - the Playstation Store, for example, charges different prices for PS1 games for a variety of reasons. Certain games are seen as being of a higher quality and should cost more as a result; others are more difficult to get the licensing fees for and thus need to be priced higher. It is an industry standard that games from the same system can have varying prices. In certain cases this might be an issue, but when it comes to Earthbound, one of the rarest games of the SNES-era, I honestly see no point in criticising the slightly inflated price (an extra £1.50) when you consider the inherent value of the product itself.

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