As a species, we seem to love the idea of vast generational panic. The lead up to 1000AD was said, for many years, to have been preceded by mass hysteria, with prophets wailing about fiery comets foretelling the end of mankind, and terrified peasants throwing themselves at the mercy of the booming monasteries.
It’s all bollocks, of course. Much of it was imagined by 10th century French chronicler Rodulfus Glaber – effectively the Dan Brown of his era. But the myth is enticing, because we love an ill augur.
Hence, these days we’re all obsessed with the idea that physical media is dying, that dedicated consoles are history and that one day tablets will rule the Earth. True, no one has yet claimed to have seen a red comet of technological eradication streaking across the skies but, heck, it’s certainly coming.
I do wonder though, whether the recently announced Journey Collector’s Edition points at possible future for the physical format – one of completism and specialisation. If you’ve not seen this, Sony has decided to release Journey on a disc, complete with extra content, including Thatgamecompany’s previous games flOw and Flower, as well as a documentary and ‘director’s commentary’ playthroughs of all three titles. It’s a scintillating bundle. Here’s the trailer:
The collection is due for release in the US on 28 August with a European launch expected days later.
There is already something rather Fin de siècle feel about all this, as thatgamecompany is now going multiformat, ending its three project exclusivity deal with Sony. But I do wonder whether this exemplifies the future of physical media as a sort of cult, elitist platform, for those relics who still like to store their media on shelves. Like old fools. Look over at the mainstream industry and you’ll find that no major release is complete without a ludicrously expensive ‘collector’s edition’. And what are these weighty cardboard boxes filled with? Not pre-paid download cards for digital content. They are packed with art books, posters and maps – printed ephemera that expresses the purchaser’s love for the franchise in the way that no avatar outfit really ever can.
This is a format that other media have been exploring for years. The DVD collector’s edition is big business for movie studios, the many documentaries, voice-over commentaries and behind-the-scenes titbits adding value to something that most kids download for free these days. The same thing is happening in the music biz, with collector’s editions of everything from Paul McCartney’s solo output to Justin Bieber’s latest masterwork loading the aisles at HMV and online at Amazon, waiting for super fans to express – and advertise – their fawning love. Of course, re-packaging ‘classic rock’ for ageing hipsters is nothing new, but the fact that teen pop is still being promoted in this way, hints at a modest future for the shiny musical disc.
The collector’s edition preys on what may well be the last physical media purchaser: the super fan. In these days of video game pre-orders and Kickstarter revenue generation, there is a refreshed understanding of what these, ugh, ‘brand acolytes’ really cherish. And they want loot. They want stuff they can pore over and show off; and they want insight into the thing they love. I can’t wait to hear the director’s commentary of Journey because, as much as I want to retain my own interpretation of what it means, I’m still ravenous to hear Jenova Chen’s own musings.
Digital media is about incredible convenience and unmitigated access, it is a wonderful thing. But so is touch, so is tactile appreciation. Game designers have always known this – from the earliest special editions – from Leather Goddesses of Phobos, Lord of Midnight and Deus Ex Machina, to the brick-like slabs available to fans of Diablo III and Borderlands 2. Digital is the future, but don’t tell me that if you had the chance to grab a Fez special edition complete with plush Gomez, soundtrack CD, hardback novelisation and themed dinner mats, you wouldn’t jump at it. That’s not just me right? Right?