I think it’s fair to say I started collecting in 2008. Before 2008, I certainly owned more games than the average person. Since my mid-teens, I had been steadily building a carefully maintained library of games, and I had become to the go-to guy for purchasing advice. I followed gaming magazines and dabbled in freelance writing (which, back then, was generally compensated with publisher-furnished games and passes to E3). It was a unique position to be in –until the seventh generation of consoles.
Before the seventh generation of consoles, a friend might have pointed to a sad, miserable stack of PlayStation 2 games when asked, “Can I see your games?” Just a few years later, that same friend would proudly display a well manicured shelf of 30 or 40 or more PlayStation 3 games. Your friend’s sad, miserable stack of games had become a collection.
What the hell happened?
1) A Cambrian Explosion of Choice
The seventh generation brought with it an unimaginable trove of variety. Never before had there been so many platforms with real, genuine difference from one and other, and never before had they all been so successful in their own right. All the major publishers supported these platforms not just with AAA heavy-hitters, but also a healthy “mid-tier” of games ranging from decent to pretty good. Indie developers also broke into the mainstream, occasionally finding success on par with their more well known contemporaries. There was just an absolute flood of games to play.
2) Creativity Flourished
It wasn’t just the volume of games, it was that many of them were interesting. Developers leveraged now-standard features such as online multiplayer, motion controls, touch screens and downloadable content to provide new experiences, and there seemed to be a real drive to do unique things.
3) Unprecedented Low Game Prices
While many blockbuster new releases retailed for $60 USD, games in the seventh generation actually enjoyed a wide MSRP range. Waiting six months and one could purchase a $60 game for as low as $20. Wait 12 months, and one could purchase the same game with all its bonus features and add-on content for $40 in Game of the Year edition. Sixty dollars on release day for Call of Duty may have been tough to swallow, but on the whole, games were remarkably cheap.
An immense range of unique games for pennies on the dollar explains how casual players went from purchasing just a handful of games to several dozen, but how did a guy like me, who owned an above-average but otherwise unremarkable library, come to own 2,400 games and 75 systems?
4) The Rise of Social Media
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube came to be powerful social platforms during the seventh generation of games, and with it, a host of personalities using these platforms to showcase their collections. Because, now, the stacks of games were collections. And the players were collectors. The terminology had become vogue.
During the early years of YouTube, existing game collectors (that is, the few people who had been collectors for years before the term or hobby was popular), shared their games in videos. It was an easy way to talk about games and build a following in a time period when fancy editing and game footage capture was expensive and out of reach for most folks.
Videos like these, boasting “100+ Xbox 360 Games!”, unintentionally egged on an audience to match those collections. And it had never been easier to do so! There had never been such a wealth of cheap, fun games. And with an inexpensive Logitech webcam, these folks could make now videos of their own.
I was one of them. I discovered the YouTube collector scene just after I started making my own videos. I wanted to match their collections, so I bought games. Then I made videos about the games I bought, and compelled others into matching me. And on it went, a brand new cottage industry the key players had no real stake in.
And it wasn’t just my little pond on YouTube. According to industry tracking firm the NPD Group (via the Entertainment Software Association), video game spending was 7 billion dollars in 2003, the halcyon days of the sixth generation. By 2010, when the seventh generation was in full swing, spending topped a record breaking 17 billion dollars.
Game collectors existed before the seventh generation, of course, but their numbers were scant and the hobby fringe. And it’s also fair to say, I’m sure, that a population of the new collectors formed in this time period balanced their other hobbies, their relationships, their wallets and their sense of being just fine. But I was unquestionably, hopelessly sucked into all this. I fed on it, and into it, and I witnessed uncountable others around me doing the same.
At the time, I had a very well paying job, a supportive significant other and a stable home. It was easy to justify my uncontrollable spending because it wasn’t driving me to the poor house or alienating the people around me.
But almost as dangerously, collecting and talking about collecting had become the sum totality of my identity. I had become so inseparable from my YouTube show’s name, TV and Lust (an inscrutable nod to my then-girlfriend), that I began to introduce myself by name in the beginning of every video to curb being called “TV and Lust” myself, and reclaim some semblance of individuality.
Just my name though. The rest of me was lost in a suffocating wave of games and the recognition owning games brought to me. And I enjoyed it.
If you’d like, you also can read Part 2, A Shot of Dopamine
Retro collecting was a little different. Interest in concurrent collecting during this period probably sparked a desire to look backward once GameStops and flea markets had been depleted and a generation of players who, now into young adulthood, found themselves with wistful memories and a little extra money. The drive to acquire Nintendo, Super Nintendo and Genesis / Mega Drive games caused prices on eBay to skyrocket, closing that avenue off to latecomers without deep pockets. Social media almost certainly played its part here, too.