In today's highly-collectible episode of Speak Up on Kotaku, commenter Gemini-Phoenix wonders what value this generation's patch-heavy console games will hold years from now when the update servers have gone dark.
We now live in an age where all the current-gen consoles and handhelds are connected online. Some people don't have this luxury, but for the majority of us our consoles are tethered to the internet, either permanently or semi-permanently. Unfortunately, we also live in an age where it's commonplace for a publisher to release a video game unfinished or loaded with bugs, which are then subsequently fixed via compulsory downloadable patches
Which leads me to ask: Is collecting modern games pointless?
In the past, games were released regardless of whether they were polished products or laden with bugs - Some of which are now infamous for having been released with amusing errors or glitches (Zero Wing, anyone?)! Games were released, and that was final. No patches, no fixes. Unless a publisher recalled a product at retail and re-released an amended version, every copy of the game was exactly the same, and remains the same to this day. However, this cannot be said for the current generation of games, where almost every new release has had some kind of patch issued - Some bigger than others (Eg, Gran Turismo 5). The game you bought brand new, and the games we're collecting, are effectively unfinished or broken products. In the future, some of these games will be playable, but others are so full of bugs that they're practically worthless.
Has anyone ever stopped to think what will become of your X360 or PS3 once the respective companies stop supporting them? What happens once these companies decide that they no longer want to support these consoles and stop supplying the necessary patches to older games? In the case of games like Skyrim or GT5, it's a big deal!
While the games will still be playable to some extent in the future, they won't be the same experience without the patches. I have friends who play current-gen games but don't have their PS3 or X360 online, and they're constantly complaining about this bug or that bug. I keep telling them that these bugs have since been fixed and patched, but they don't have internet to download them, so they have to suffer playing a broken game. This is what it will be like in the future! Retro collectors of the future will look back at this generation of games, only to see that what they're collecting are worthless broken games.
And what of the games which rely on online servers and are online-only? You just have to look back at the last generation for answers. For example, Twisted Metal: Black Online is pretty worthless these days, except to the real die hard collectors who just want it for "completeness", and Steel Battalion: Line Of Contact is equally as unplayable. Phantasy Star Online for the Dreamcast has an offline single player mode, but the game was designed primarily to be an online experience - Unless you're part of the minority who has invested in some specialist broadband equipment, this game is also now redundant and of little use to anyone except those who want to play alone. Will anyone want to collect current-gen games like Final Fantasy XI in the future?
Looking forward, who will the future collectors be and what will they want to collect? The majority of us here are now in our 30's or 40's, and grew up with 8bit and 16bit consoles when we were children, and the 32bit consoles in our teens. We're now seeing younger collectors in their 20's collecting PS1 / N64 which they remember from when they were kids, and PS2 / GameCube / Xbox from their teens. Future collectors will be seeking to collect this generation of video games - The first HDMI generation, and potentially the last physical media generation (if the rumours of the next Xbox and PlayStation hardware are anything to go by) - But will they want to collect broken games? Especially if the X360 and PS3 patches are no longer supported in years to come...
If we were to open and play a brand new sealed SNES game or PlayStation game in 2012, our experience would more or less be the same as it was back in the day when the game first came out. However, if we did the same to an X360 or PS3 game in ten years' time, the experience would not be the same without the aid of the relevant patches - Gran Turismo 5 is an obvious example here, which has had no end of improvements added since launch via downloadable patches and updates, which have practically turned it into an entirely different game than the one initially sold on disc back in 2010!
If publishers decide to turn off their online servers in the near future (as EA seem to gradually be doing), what will become of the games from this generation? If you were a future collector, would you be happy playing a broken version of Skyrim? What about all of those games that have had additional content added as DLC, but which haven't received a GOTY edition?
As someone who has only just bought a PS3 and X360 within the last year or so, I'm already starting to struggle with older titles. Just finding some launch titles for both consoles is difficult enough, but a lot of early X360 games have long since had their online servers discontinued for multiplayer and downloading patches (Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 for example, even though PES 6 and 2008 both still have their patches available on Xbox Live)