My Next-Gen Game Plan (Or: How GameStop Bought Me an Xbox One)
After relaunching Oddball Update earlier this year and proceeding to write nearly a post per day about all manner of things — including tabletop games, my new realm of interest — a three-month hiatus was not exactly the ideal follow-up. I’ve unfortunately spent very little of that intervening time doing much of anything constructive. Seems like most nights, after a day’s work and playing with Connor until his bedtime, I don’t feel like I have the energy to do much more than sit around and surf the Internet. It’s rather depressing.
Sometimes, though, I actually work up the energy to play games, and I’ve experienced some true classics in the last few months. I’m particularly fond of Hate Plus, the sequel to the adorable and tragic Analogue: A Hate Story, Gone Home, a wonderful indie game that’s much more about story and exploration than shooting (spoiler: it contains none of the latter), and the indomitable The Last of Us, which is not only the PlayStation 3′s best game ever but also must be one of the best games of all time. So I wouldn’t say I’ve been just puttering around for the last three months, and I’m much happier to have the memories of these wonderful gaming experiences than any TV show or film, neither of which I ever watch anymore.
Since the “experience” of video games is my #1 hobby, I naturally spend the better part of my increasingly few spare hours dedicated to making sure I get more of it. That statement carries a lot more weight now than it has in some time, because 2013 is the year both the Xbox and PlayStation platforms introduce their next-generation console hardware, replacing the Xbox 360 and PS3 which have been around for as long as an incredible eight years. Seriously, this has been one vastly over-extended generation. You’d laugh if you knew just how little RAM, for instance, was in that Xbox 360 (hint: it’s 512 megabytes). While game developers have managed to squeeze beautiful titles like Halo 4 and The Last of Us out of these platforms, they’ve finally begun reaching the limits of what they can reasonably accomplish. Enter the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Now, I’ve talked about the Xbox One on here before, and in a not-so-flattering way. The last time I posted anything here, in fact, was just after Microsoft’s reveal of the Xbox One, which I think most gamers will concur was an unmitigated disaster. Restriction of game resale, forced online check-in every 24 hours, inability to lend games to friends, inability to disconnect the Kinect sensor, too much focus on non-gaming content like TV integration, high price point…the hits just kept coming. What happened immediately afterwards was even worse for Microsoft: Sony unveiled the PlayStation 4, which had none of these problems, and was being sold for $100 less than the Xbox One.
In a single bound I determined to convert to a PlayStation main-liner after twelve long years with the Xbox brand. Given that neither the Xbox One nor the PS4 will be backwards compatible with software from their previous generation selves, it’s extremely easy for any gamer to make a clean break from whatever platform they’re most entrenched in now, should they choose to do so. I only used my PS3 for exclusives, playing maybe a total of seven games on it since I got it in 2007. (Of course, it was also my only Blu-ray player, and a great one at that.) Now I had an opportunity to flip the table, proclaim that I was done with Microsoft, and move over to the PS4 camp, where it seemed that true gamers were not only more welcome, but were the focus of Sony’s attention.
Let’s not forget, though, that you don’t even need a game console to be a true gamer. Which is why I didn’t immediately pre-order either a PS4 or an Xbox One after they were unveiled: I’d spent all my money building a new Core i5-based PC that could handle most modern games with ease. Having gotten my gaming start on the PC way back in the 1980s with classics like Test Drive and Police Quest, I’ll always have great respect for the huge variety of games to which the PC acts as a doorway, especially great new indie games like Christine Love’s Analogue series and Gunpoint. And unlike consoles with their fickle support for backwards compatibility, on the PC I can still load up games I first played twenty years ago, most with relative ease. I can safely say that the PC still remains a very important corner of my gaming tri-fecta.
I told myself that I’d wait until 2014 to see how the PS4 and Xbox One launches shook out, and then make a choice as to which console to buy, knowing it would probably be a PS4. Undoubtedly I’d get an Xbox One later, I thought, as soon as the next Halo arrived, or some truly juicy exclusive. In the meantime, I still had a backlog of PC and 360 games to keep me busy for upwards of a year.
But the choice just ate away at me. As a hardcore gamer, one who has always felt compelled to stay near the forwardmost cars of the progress train, deliberately abstaining from the next generation of gaming hardware felt like a huge let-down. Maybe waiting a few months was the responsible thing to do, but it sure didn’t feel like the fun thing to do. And I still remember the Xbox 360′s launch day with great fondness, and the unboxing photos my wife helped me take as we unpacked the big console bundle I’d ordered from Electronics Boutique (remember them?) for day-one delivery. Who cares if most of the launch games were complete crap? It was so much fun, and I got so much more use out of that system in the following years (until it choked on the Bioshock demo in 2007 and burned up, but that’s a story that’s already been told).
By this time, pre-orders for the PlayStation 4 — my next-gen console of choice — were sold out everywhere, so I tried to console myself (ha ha, what a horrendous pun) about not having the money for one, because it wouldn’t have mattered. But then one of my usual sidework clients came to me with a proposal, and in a few weeks’ time, I had enough money in my slush fund for a PS4 — and then some. By this time, too, Microsoft had reneged on almost all of the unpopular decisions they’d made for the Xbox One, going back to full support of preowned software, ditching the “always-on” Internet connection requirement, rescinding the need for Kinect to be connected at all times, opening up the door to self-publishing, and on and on. Not only that, but I started poking around and realized that the Xbox One was still available for preorder at Best Buy or Microsoft’s own online store. With the money for a console in hand, should I pull the trigger?
To be honest, I actually did pull the trigger one night in August, but the gun jammed. I was trying to submit an Xbox One preorder for “midnight launch pickup” at my local Best Buy, which fortunately for me is right down the street about two minutes away. But I couldn’t sign into my Best Buy account, despite resetting my password — I was on my tablet, so maybe that had something to do with it — and I got so frustrated that I gave up. This was fortuitous, because just an hour later I saw a news flash from CheapAssGamer that the PlayStation 4 had just come back in stock at Amazon! It was a previously-unannounced SKU with two DualShock 4 controllers included, and it was sure to sell out in a matter of hours.
By this time it was around midnight, but I clambered out of bed and went to the Internet to do a hurried hour or two of research on the latest details surrounding both next-gen consoles. Here I had a narrow window of opportunity to pick either one or the other, and I wanted to make sure I was making the correct choice. Everything I read seemed to point to the PS4 as the console best positioned to deliver a true next-gen experience, so I hit “Add to Cart” on Amazon and slammed home an order for a PS4 DualShock 4 bundle with release day delivery. There! Come November 15th, it was gonna be Console Launch Day 2005 all over again…except with a Sony logo this time, rather than a Microsoft badge.
I still wanted a fricking Xbox One.
Call me crazy. Call me a masochist. Call me a really, really big fan of the brand who was really, really gonna miss games like Forza Motorsport, an Xbox exclusive (to which Sony’s own Gran Turismo can no longer hold a candle; sorry guys). But I definitely did not have enough money in the bank for two consoles — as it was, I would have only about $200 tops to spend after the PS4 arrived at my doorstep without any games included. I’d need at least a little extra for software, or all that PS4 was going to do was sit there and look pretty.
And then, three things happened nearly simultaneously. First, Microsoft announced the Xbox One’s release date: November 22nd. At the same time, GameStop reopened pre-orders in store for a handful of additional Xbox One “Day One” units. And then, somebody reminded me about GameStop’s Playcation coupons.
I’d earned one of these coupons over the summer, while vacationing in Michigan. I bought some 360 game or another, and with it came a coupon, good until September 15th, for 50% extra trade-in credit on anything. Even hardware and electronics. I had an old first-generation iPad lying around at home that was all but useless to me. GameStop’s website told me it was worth about $100 in like-new condition, meaning that Playcation coupon would get me $150. That was more than even Amazon’s typically great trade-in value, and without the hassle of boxing it and sending it to Amazon (plus, Amazon won’t give you “like new” dollars unless you include the original packaging, which I no longer had). Wow, $150 seemed like a lot of money for crap just lying around your house.
Then the wheels in my head really started turning. How much other stuff was I sitting on that I wasn’t going to use anymore after the next-gen consoles arrived? I thought back to 2005 and asked myself how often I played my original Xbox after I got the 360 in the door. Practically never, was the answer. The same went for my PS2 games once the PS3 arrived, even though my PS3 was one of the backwards-compatible models. I decided that I needed to stop with the sentimental pack-rat mentality and actually get rid of stuff that I knew I wouldn’t be using going forward.
So I spent one very long night at the CheapAssGamer forums, where the resident cheap asses maintain a central database of GameStop trade-in values for everything imaginable. By the end of the evening, I had a spreadsheet containing the expected trade-in value of everything I hoped to get rid of, and in an adjacent column, the final value with my Playcation coupon applied. The total added up to nearly $600. Wow…that would actually buy me an Xbox One, and then some.
Here I had my window of opportunity (GameStop’s re-opened Xbox preorder window) and my source of income. I was going to do it: I was going to get both next-gen consoles on release day within a week of each other. Holy fucking shit.
I piled gobs of crap into the car — my PlayStation 3 and every game I owned for it; half of my 360 games; my iPad; spare controllers, accessories and other hoo-ha — and trucked it all over to GameStop on an innocuous afternoon. Fortunately, there was no one in the entire store and three employees behind the counter. All three of them got involved with taking my inventory, and after a few minutes, I had a fully paid-off Xbox One preorder and two fully paid-off games: Forza Motorsport 5 and Killzone: Shadow Fall, each an exclusive title for the Xbox and PS4 platforms, respectively. I was set. And I had only just made it: it was the last day that GameStop was accepting Xbox One pre-orders.
Now, all I have to do is wait. I’ve got a PS4 coming on Friday the 15th of November, and an Xbox I can go pick up from GameStop the Friday after that (might even do the midnight launch). The week following is Thanksgiving, with four days off, meaning some game time is gonna be going down. I can’t wait.
Some people might call me foolish, but I take this stuff seriously. And since more than half of the gaming equipment I’ve ordered is bought and paid for with stuff I sold — no money spent out of pocket — I’m perfectly satisfied that this is the best deal going. Naturally, then, you can expect a full unboxing report for both consoles, and plenty of news and reviews about next-gen games as time goes on, here at Oddball Update.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got PC games to play.