The Value Of Midnight Launches

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After stating how rarely I buy games at launch or at full price, it’s not hard to assume I even more seldom go to midnight launches anymore. Going to the one for Super Smash Bros. on 3DS has me reexamining the value of them. Some value can still be found, depending on why you go.

Do you really have to have the game as soon as the clock strikes midnight for the day of its release? Honestly, most of the time these days even if I’m willing to buy a game at full price right at launch, I end up getting it a few days or weeks after. “At launch” for me now usually just means sort of around launch. I don’t really have that hype-related urgency anymore.

If launch is on a weeknight chances are you have to go to school or work the next day, and most games launch on weekdays, and thus you probably can’t afford to get any real time with the game immediately after the midnight launch. Even now I struggle to think how I even did that back when I attended midnight launches during school years.

I guess the pure consumerism side of midnight game launches makes sense on nights when you really don’t have anything to do the next morning. Super Smash Bros. Brawl launched on a weekend in 2008 if my calendar is right. If so, that’s how I was able to get the game, immediately go home, and play its Subspace Emissary mode until six in the morning. Metal Gear Solid 4 came out barely a month after I graduated from college so I was sort of on break. Hopped up on caffeine (courtesy of Bawls), I think I actually beat that entire game that night and the next morning in basically one sitting. I can’t do that crap anymore. Maybe if it’s something like a Zelda game launching on Friday night into a Saturday morning I might binge a few hours.

Another problem with midnight launches is the weather when major game launches most commonly land: the fall and winter. After the Brawl launch that March, at which it was something like 28 degrees Fahrenheit (-2 Celsius) , it will take a lot of convincing and some kind of guaranteed shelter to get me to another midnight launch between the months of November and April.

The main value I still see in midnight launches is really the social experience. If it’s an extremely popular game, you’re going to be there with a bunch of people who are, at the very least, highly interested in that one game. That is, at worst, a conversation-starter, and at best an activity-starter. Brawl being a local multiplayer game allowed me to spend those six hours on Subspace Emissary with a friend that night. It’s even better if GameStop actually puts a little effort into setting something up to let people pass the time. I’ve heard of GameStops now doing tournaments at midnight launches of highly competitive games. My local one for this week’s Smash launch had Brawl set up for a few matches. I think the Wii U demo kiosk had a couple local mutliplayer games too.

The really great unique thing about this past week in particular though is it’s the first time I’ve been to a midnight launch for a handheld game. For starters, a few other people brought their 3DSs and had downloaded the demo of the new game, so we could play a few matches of that too. And when everyone got their copies of the full game, enough people including myself immediately opened their copies and started playing to get two lobbies going.

So basically, midnight launches most of the time aren’t really a better way to get a game, but really just a social event.

Has any game launch successfully replicated this experience in an online or digital fashion though? I’m honestly asking here. People who get Halo or Call of Duty at midnight undoubtedly jump right into the multiplayer, maybe even in lock step with their whole friends lists. But has any game really pulled it off with digital versions? I don’t think any game I’ve pre-ordered on Steam has unlocked at midnight. Usually it’s been noon the day of release or something like that. Having a midnight pre-loaded game unlock on a weekend night would kind of have the benefits of a retail midnight launch except you don’t have to drive out to the store and freeze. Now that most console games are available digitally I hope Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, and the console game publishers see the potential here.

BULLETS:

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