Tuesday, September 22, 2009

On the topic of video game books

A little while ago, I was in the mood for something to read, so I decided to hunt down Chris Kohler's Power: How Japanese Video Games Gave The World An Extra Life. It was only anout four years old, but it came out during the time when I was pinching pennies, and $20 seemed a bit steep for a trade paperback. So in my used book search, I was a bit shocked to find that that the average selling price had doubled, usually hovering in the $40 range. (Luckily the local library had a copy of it, although eventually I was lucky/patient enough to find a kind seller that parted with it for $12.)

About five years ago, Diamond Publishing published Street Fighter: Eternal Challenge, a comprehensive look at Capcom's series, including a full history and interviews. Around the time of Resident Evil 4's release, BradyGames published The Resident Evil Archives, another fairly thick book detailing the entire plotline and going into extreme minutiae of the history of all games prior. Looking at Half.com (cheaper than Amazon, usually), the current lowest price for Eternal Challenge is $90; the lowest for Resident Evil Archives is $50, and that's the lowest I've seen it go for in the past few months. These types of books are fairly common amongst Japanese book stores. We're seeing Udon publishing some more of Capcom's artbooks - there are Phoenix Wright and Mega Man ones coming up by the end of this year - but those aren't quite the same thing, and I'm not sure if they have quite the same draw.

Traditionally, when a book store stocks something, it has a shelf life, based off a number of mostly invisible numbers, although it's obviously dependent on sales. After a certain amount of time, if it doesn't sell, it's shipped back to the distributor (and in the case of strategy guides and magazines, or perhaps even Kohler's excellent book, since it was also published by BradyGames, they're destroyed) and the store receives a credit.

The aftermarket price of these books speaks volumes about video game culture, and how the current distribution method just doesn't make sense. None of these books had particularly long shelf lives, and I think that does a disservice to their audience. Even though publishers focus almost entirely on front end sales, the reality is that many fans of a franchise are adopted long after its initial release. How many people bought Resident Evil 5 without any prior knowledge of Resident Evil 1-4, only to find themselves curious about the rest? This happens with RPGs all the time, when the genre adopts newcomers, and these freshmen look into the canon of the genre, trying to find all of those "classic" games everyone on the forums talk about, only to find them obnoxiously priced. Even current gen games like Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne got pretty pricey...until it was reprinted, anyway.

The fact is, the shelf life for these books are probably longer than anyone really gives credit for. Yes, Eternal Challenge is a bit outdated with the release of Street Fighter IV, but it certainly doesn't invalidate all of the history that came before it. Power Up might be five years old, but there's very little of the data that has become outdated, either, since it's a history book at heart. Short of reprinting and updating these when a new release comes out - which is questionable, considering some of these are translated from Japanese originals, so it's dependent on whether those exists are not - I'm not sure of any current way that would let these live on. It seems like there's a market for these books, but the distribution method is too short sighted to take it into account.


  1. I have Eternal Challenge myself. It is a treat for Street Fighter fans since it's packed with all kinds of rare artwork and interviews about SF 1-3 and the Alpha series. I had no idea the book was worth so much actually.

    A couple of books I can recommend are:

    Arcade Mania - a pretty recent book detailing the Japanese arcade scene and it's origins ( even has a danmaku chapter)

    Capcom Design Works Early Days - an awesome art book showing Capcom's various designs for old games and plenty of obscurities like Cyberbots, beware though the book is pretty hard to come by these days

  2. This is why we'll never see those excellent Ultimania books coming over here :(

  3. This is probably why we're not getting any more Sakura Legends books. :(

  4. Sakura Legends? Isn't that a manga (or comic book), though? That's something entirely different.

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  6. Holy shit, I want that Eternal Challenge book!