A Week in the Life of a 40-Year-Old Gamer: March 18-24, 2016


  1. Roy (amiibo): $14.19
  2. Fire Emblem Fates DLC – Boo Camp (3DS): $2.49
  3. Earthbound (SNES for 3DS): $0 (retail $9.99; gift)
  4. Resident Evil Revelations (3DS): $0 (retail $4.99; gift)
  5. 3D After Burner 2 (3DS): $0 (retail $3.99; gift)
  6. 3D Space Harrier (3DS): $0 (retail $3.99; gift)
  7. 3D Streets of Rage (3DS): $0 (retail $3.99; gift)

YTD Total: $453.15


Screenshot (58)

  1. Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright (3DS): 23h 42m
  2. Super Mario World (SNES): 1h 6m
  3. Lego Dimensions (PS4): 55m
  4. Earthbound (SNES): 28m
  5. 3D Streets of Rage (3DS): 10m
  6. 3D After Burner (3DS): 4m
  7. 3D Space Harrier (3DS): 3m


Before there were games without spending caps, I was the type of player that all game companies catered to. I was the “high spender”. I was willing to purchase two or three games a month at full price, and two or three more at a discount. That added up to about $150 a month. As we come to the end of March, it’s interesting to note that my spending rate has not changed in more than two decades. In the first quarter of this year, I’ve spent almost exactly $150 a month (totaling $453.15) on games. From 1985 to about 2009, the games market built a generation of players like me, who were encouraged to revel in breadth, instead of depth. I typically play between 10 to 15 different games in a single week, and I’m happy to pay for them. I love having a huge library games to pick from that I know will be playable for the rest of my life. GameStop loves consumers like me; they need loyal customers who will drop in every week to see what’s new. In the digital realm, things work very differently.


On digital platforms that allow for constant content updates, players are increasingly encouraged to find their one game and stay there. League of Legends. Clash of Clans. Game of War: Fire Age. The focus has shifted to depth instead of breadth. Everything is now an MMORPG of some sort, with all of the character leveling and social mechanics that come with that label. The new definition of “high spender” is somebody who drops thousands of dollars a month into a single game. Interestingly, this trend comes at a time when everybody has more access to cheap or free games than ever before. Every core gamer has a massive backlog of terrific, un-played premium games in their Steam/Xbox Live/PSN library, or a stack of game boxes with the cellophane still intact. Free players now have hundreds of new options to pick from on their mobile phones every week.

So, given all that variety… I had never really understood why anybody would settle on one game, and just stay there. Now, after a month of playing Fire Emblems Fates, I am finally starting to understand. The everlasting gobstoppers of video games usually combine two magic ingredients – level-based-progression and gambling. We all know how compelling it is to level up – playing Call of Duty 4 made it impossible to go back to a time when you didn’t collect XP in a first-person shooter. Gambling mechanics include variable ratio schedules (blind packs/gacha in Brave Frontier), near misses (being one move away from finishing a stage in Candy Crush Saga), and loss aversion (fear of losing resources you’ve earned due to enemy raids when you’re offline in Clash of Clans).

But, wait… that gambling stuff, that’s just compulsion, not fun… right?


Well, for the right player, gambling mechanics are fun. Very fun. Great gambling mechanics are at the core of Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright, which is one of the reasons I poured nearly 24 hours into it this week. And it was a busy week! But the convenience of being able to carry the game with me everywhere I went – combined with the compelling nature of the game’s chance mechanics – kept me totally riveted. Where is the gambling in Fire Emblem Fates? Everywhere. Yes, it is very much a skill-based game. You are planning several steps ahead – my daughter rightly likened it to chess. But in chess, the result of an attack is definitive. In Fire Emblem, there is a percent chance that the outcome will wind up in your favor. This means that an enemy AI can have, say, an 87% chance of effectively performing a kill-shot on a character you’ve been building up for weeks… but still miss. That saving-grace miss only has a 13% chance of happening. But when that happens at a critical moment in the game, it is exhilarating. It gives you the same thrill as winning in blackjack, because as I understand it, it is the same thrill, physiologically speaking. It’s gambling.

Screenshot (46)

And beyond the core gameplay, gambling is all over the place in Fire Emblem Fates. There are loot drops on the battlefield, which occasionally provide rare rewards. There is an arena, where you can bet valuables on a one-on-one automated fight. Heck, there is even a lottery shop. And I LOVE IT. Since its release late last month, I have put 77 hours into Fire Emblem Fates. It’s easily one of my favorite games of all-time. But here’s the thing – I don’t think I could allow myself to play this game if it used an unlimited spending model and required me to use virtual currency. Since I enjoy it so much, I could easily see myself catastrophically overspending if the cost of things were abstracted.

At present, the spend cap in Fire Emblem Fates is a reasonable $97.99 ($40 for the original game, $20 for the 100+ hour Conquest campaign, $20 for the 100+ hour Revelation campaign, and $17.99 worth of DLC map packs). If you buy nothing more than the $40 cartridge, you’ll have a totally complete experience spanning more than 100 hours alone. Everything in the store is not only a bargain relative to the playtime it adds, but it’s offered as a straight purchase, with a dollar sign. No virtual currency required. And that’s the way I like it. I need to understand exactly what I’m buying, and exactly how much it costs.

Now, it seems, there is no avoiding games with unlimited spending models. Increasingly, that’s the standard model for both premium and free-to-play games. You can theoretically spend thousands of dollars in FIFA 16, Metal Gear Solid V, and even Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. But the risk of spending beyond your comfort zone can always be avoided by committing to one simple rule: never buy hard currency. I’m certainly going to spend that $97.99 on Fire Emblem Fates. If you count the Amiibo purchases, I spent more than $500 on Super Smash Bros last year. And I don’t regret a bit of it. But all of those purchases were presented as a straight dollar amount. For instance, purchasing Bayonetta digitally in Super Smash Bros cost $7.99. You just buy her. No hard currency to purchase first, and no blind packs to open. From this point on, that’s the only way I’m willing to spend in a game. Making straight cash purchases instead of using virtual currency makes it easy for me to track how much I’m spending in a game, and makes it much harder to spend compulsively. I’m okay with having the hard currency exist in the game for other people to enjoy, but I’m not touching it.

This week was utterly dominated by Fire Emblem Fates, and I think it will take up a lot of my game time throughout the year. It has finally allowed me to understand why some people choose to play just “one game”, instead of many. That said, I’m still a breadth guy, and aim to continue to play tons of different things throughout the year. I’m just going to be sure to keep the Fire Emblem Fates in my rotation at all times.


I played a bit more Lego Dimensions with my son, which was a good family experience overall, but the game is too structured and complicated for him. He’s five, and he’d really rather just be enjoying a toy box experience, which is available in the Disney Infinity series.

space harrier

On the retro side, I was excited to purchase and play Earthbound on my 3DS. I continued my Super Mario World adventure, which I’m loving more and more the deeper I get into it. And I picked up a bunch of great sale titles on 3DS, including 3D After Burner II, 3D Streets of Rage, and 3D Space Harrier. I still can’t believe how good the M2 3D conversions are… and for only $3.99 a pop, they’re totally worth adding to your collection.


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