So You Got a Bad Game for Christmas

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Got three games for Birthmas (B'day's close to Christmas so I kind of group them) - Metro 2033, Fallout: New Vegas and Need for Speed. Asked for all of them and got what I wanted. :)

I've never just asked someone 'buy me a video game please' - unless they've come with the console itself (damn you Sega Superstars Tennis) I've asked for it. And very grateful I am too. :)

absolutely brilliant article, as always. It's always fascinating, yet also hugely chilling, to see how marketers do their job!

I'm with him, this is one of the best articles I've seen here in some time. Can't say I've seen any of your other ones (I may start looking, now), but it was well-written, informative and quite interesting, if alarming.

As for me, between not celebrating Christmas and having never received a single gift in my life, I'm in the clear. This also makes me the one my grandparents (and, to a lesser extent, relatives in general) look to for suggestions. After all, they get help and still get to keep it a surprise.

So far, this approach has resulted in Metroid Prime, Portal, Torchlight, DoW2 and a few others. Actually suggested that they try some of the above, too. Surprisingly enough, this was done, and my advice basically isn't needed any more (recent advice-free picks were Arkham Asylum and Fallout 3).

See my Aunt took the awesome path and decided to get me a computer chair as she knew I was using a lawn chair at the time. Normally she gives me like 20$ in some kind of container that's a pain in the ass to open.

Well, gifts will never be the same after reading this.

I spent this whole article saying to myself, "...geez, you guys are just a bunch of professional dicks, aren't ya?"

But I get the very eerie impression that everyone who works in marketing is proud of that. Excellent article, enlightening and disheartening all at the same time. I guess the consumer can't win!

You could just tell your relatives what games you want =P
But good article anyway!

A free idea for any retailers or marketers reading. Maybe instead of that big discount bin of crappy games, that will in the long run make the uninitiated customer buy a non-game item the next year, they can start pushing points cards. Digital downloads are growing, and I am sure almost everyone can think of at least one downloadable game / DLC pack they'd like to own. The dollar entry is low, so risk is minimal and knowledge of specific game series or tastes is eliminated. The only bit of information needed is what system they have (and with pictures of the system on the packaging / cards it'd make the likelihood of getting one easy). With some different signage or packaging the points card could be an attractive low-risk purchase for the uninitiated. Same reward for the store, same reward for the customer, but an actual gift they recipient would like.

Your literally Donald Draper.

Is it wrong that I just pick like 20 things I like, ship them to the nearest family member or friend and tell them to pick out one item put their name on it and pass it to some other family member? That way I have some surprise without having to worry about getting a bad gift.

I like these columns, they are like peaking to the dark but necessary side of gaming.

I didn't care what I got. If my grandparents were cool enough to even think to buy me a game, even if it's Adventures on Cupcake Island: Icing Slayer, I'll still appreciate it.

And really, if you know your family will get you things for Christmas, why not just make a game list?

My brother got transformers for the wii.


Very good article!

Generally in my family these days we out and out ask each other what we want so we circumnavigate the whole thing that way, but until we came to that arrangement i never got a game for christmas for precisely the reasons you outlined.

I am so glad that my family tells each other what we want.
The sheer thought of having someone go gift shopping for me without knowing what I want is...terrifying.

If you dont say what you want then sure there is a surprise when you open the present but you will almost certainly be disappointed.

Double post

Fortunately those members of my family who know nothing about games accept this and give me money or a non-gaming related present. It also helps to have a list.

This year the haul was Uncharted 2 and Prince of Persia Trilogy (on the list obviously), plus a crapton of games from me to me thanks to the steam sale!

I had the best parents *ever* when it came to this issue. They got me a Nintendo when I was very little just because. After that, they did something very special: they *asked* me what games I wanted.

All I had to do was make a short list of the games I wanted the most, made sure which platform it was (for example, when the NES was still kicking but the SNES was still new, I made sure that I marked one column as "NES" and the other as "SNES"), and gave it to them. They even told me to order the games from mosted wanted to somewhat wanted.

I never got all the games I wanted and was taught not to expect them (many unbought birthday games became Christmas' games) but it ensured that my parents always got *something* I liked.

In fact, there is only two times that a gift turned sour and both weren't their fault. The first time was they bought me that Sega handheld console and it was broken out of the box (which I exchanged for Earthbound), and the second was that the title of one game was very similar to another (seriously, it was only one letter of a difference) and even though my parents pointed that out to the salesperson, whoever serviced them was more concerned about making a quick buck than making sure my parents had the right game (ironically, even after I exchanged the game for the right one, the right one also turned out less than my expectations and I ended up just exchanging it for store credit).

Now I know what you're thinking: "What about your grandparents"? My parents just told them to send me cash and I would happily buy whatever I wanted with it.

Seriously way *not* to disappoint your kids.

I'm an awesome gift giver.

I'll be 90 and still be able to get what my grandchildren really want without asking them.

SO suck it marketing!

That's nice, but how do we stop getting shovelware for Christmas? What can we say? What can marketing strategies and retailers do to help the problem? Or, from a marketing perspective, is this just seen as a good way to move products that normally wouldn't sell very well?

Tricking the naive into buying crapware with clever box art or placement in the store offer short term gains only and longterm disillusionment when grandma asks what you thought of the game she got you, and knows by the tone of your voice that you probably didn't play it much, and sensibly just gives you money or a gift certificate for next year.

The way to stop it?

Say that you specifically want certain games. Or tell them that they're better off getting something strange and new than going with the game based on a movie, TV show, Toy line, or, god forbid, Christmas special (there is seriously a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer DS game. I saw it at Wal-Mart, so there's no way that thing's fake)

That is why you request money only for Christmas. Why let other people buy for you, you know your tastes best.

Surprise is overrated. Better to ask what people want so they'll be genuinely happy with their present.

Between Steam and Amazon, I can say my making a wishlist or two is pretty much covered, for almost everything. I'll probably pick up a Batman mini for Heroclix at the end of the year, because I feel like I deserve something awesome for surviving another 6 month deployment in Qatar, and I don't think that asking for a 150+ dollar fig is a good idea.

Goddammit, I want your job.

Great article once again.

What about this? The parent or relative finds your Gamespot or some other game website account, and checks what threads you've been writing in to say which games you're anticipating and wish you had right now.

Internet-savvy relatives could surprise you with awesome gifts!

My family simply refuses to buy me video games as gifts so I've never had this problem. When I was a kid though I fell prey to this kind of marketing though...

Nice article!

I have made it clear to my entire family and nearly all my freinds NOT to buy me videogames for any kind of holiday or event. Infact I think this has worked since i have not recived a videogame or system as a gift from my family in at least the last 5 years. [1]

I tend to buy so many myself in lots of different ways (When the steam INSANITY sales roll arround i tend to hoover up everything i hadn't managed to get yet) and have such well... seemingly odd taste in games that it is really an exercise in futility for my poor family. If i want a game you can bet your breeches i either already have it, plan to pick it up for about 1/2 what you would pay for it at a later date or simply really don't want it at all.

It dosen't help that im mainly a PC gamer and find myself a little disillusioned with a large section of the mass market offerings of late.

[1] Infact the last retail game i was bought was CnC3 which is odd because i had never told anyone about my burning love of CnC... he may have been psychic.

Oh man, this year was a shovelware Christmas. My brother and I collectively got Game Party, Game Party 2 (yes, it was that bad), Big Beach sports, and Beta Brain Wave. My brother also got an aquarium simulator, but that wasn't so much bad as much as super-simplistic. The worst part is that my dad (who bought the games) asked me for a wishlist, and I gave him one. I thought he was going to get me Birth By Sleep, since I added a tag that I wanted it more than the other things on the list. Guess not. :/

At least we got gift cards from other relatives. I took advantage of a GameStop sale and got Final Fantasy XIII and Persona 4, and got Final Fantasy for free.

What about this? The parent or relative finds your Gamespot or some other game website account, and checks what threads you've been writing in to say which games you're anticipating and wish you had right now.

Internet-savvy relatives could surprise you with awesome gifts!

The thing is, if they're internet-savvy, they could probably identify shovelware much better than grandma. Or better yet, they'll know how to do research on games before buying them.

Is JP Sherman a man or a woman, just curious.

Unfortunately it's not only grandmas who do this. My little brother who could also be called a gamer bought me the "Handball Simulator - European Tournament 2010" this year. I can't understand why would he do such a thing.

I have made it clear to my entire family and nearly all my freinds NOT to buy me videogames for any kind of holiday or event.

That's the smart thing to do. Picking games is something you can only do yourself.
At best you can hand out a shopping list and which then basicly amounts to receiving money and getting what you wanted, only your family member will prolly not shop for the best discounts.

And that's why you should just make a list of games you want...

People get games? I suppose it makes sense... I just get a tshirt and socks. :P My relatives are fairly set in that regard.

Although why did you compare Assassins Creed to CoD? That's heresy, and you all know what we do with heretics..


Heh, did you see that Harley ad this year? They make fun of that stuff and tell people to buy a bike instead, was pretty amusing.

Life's worse if you're an old school gamer. People know what board games are but there are several light years between Monopoly and Shadows over Camelot. Since my wife and I both play board games every few years our well meaning relatives give us some dreadful, keep the kids from destroying the furniture whens it's raining family game. I'ld prefer socks.

Luckily my grandmother is aware of her cluelessness when buying games so every November I get a call asking what she should buy my various younger relatives.

This probably goes a long way to explaining why people would rather buy sequels than risk an unproven IP. Let's face it, marketing is out there with the objective of making us buy EVERYTHING.

We can't reliably know what games are good or bad - I arrived at my conclusion by wondering what the odds are, if my grandmother went and bought me a game this month, how likely I'd be to wind up with a copy of Dead Space 2 assuming she went shopping after it came out.

Too many games, too many variables. She will probably want to buy cheaply but still buy new. There's a good chance I am now the proud owner of the Avatar movie game.

Us gamers are uniquely familiar with the game buying experience. We have friends who share the hobby, we have years of trial and error, we have message boards, blogs and familiarity with the games produced by respective developerand publishers.

We know Activision games are the blockbusters, with high production values but questionabkle value of content - still likely to be fun. We're probably safe with most Electronic Arts titles as long as it's in the genre we're familair with. Anyone who likes Halo will probably buy anything called Halo, or made by Bungie - especially both. Anyone who likes Final Fantasy would be hard pressed to find any other game made by Square Enix that they won't enjoy to some degress.
But that's where we start to go wrong. Would I buy Dead Space 2 if I hadn't already played Dead Space? Why did I even buy Dead Space? I wouldn't have if my wife wasn't interested in it. My wife! The less experienced gamer and thereofre the more adventurous. Possibly even the more determined. I've been playing games for longer, but she plays them more obsessively, so she's probably overtaken me in actual cumulative playtime. She's probably not as cynical as me and I am far more likely to give up where she will persist and prevail.

But the point is, back when Dead Space came out I wasn't willnig to take a risk, and she was - I know know why Sonic the Hedgehog on 360 back in 2006 didn't know that out of her, but it didn't. My wife is eager to experiment with anything that looks kind of good, and I am loathe to discourage her.
We make a fairly good team - she's enthusiastic and I am real. Over the last seven or so years we've honed our gaming instincts. We play well together. She endeavours to try new things, I fine-tune her enthusiasm. I don't think we've actually missed a 'good' game in years. We've even risked skipping over some potentially exciting titles which later turned out to kind of bomb.

But that's the combined experience and luck of two gamers. On my own initiative I still bought and was subjected to Too Human, one of the most boring games ever published. I can't rely on reviews to do all my shopping for me, but I got cold feet two days before Black Ops came out and changed my prestige edition preorder down to a standard edition - and it turns out the game was pretty shit despite earning rave reviews and everyone constantly playing the multiplayer - though interestingly my friends are all migrating back to Modern Warfare 2.

Meh when I was young I generally asked for certain games for Christmas/Birthdays.

A couple random games i've received though are.

Contra III: Alien Wars from my Aunt when I first got my SNES

Abe's Odyssey from my Dad when I first got my PS. (My dad only speaks French and I have no idea why he picked it out but I'm extremely grateful, I'd never mentioned or heard of the game before.)

Prince of Persia 2008 from my old roommate.

Left for Dead 2 last year for christmas from my cousin I lived with.

I don't have this problem: being a 3d programmer, I showed them Crysis to make them see "pretty 3d graphics" because it was easier to understand than complex geospatial data processing: all they saw is "it's a murder simulator" despite I wasn't shooting anything. I gave up and they don't bother giving me any gift anymore, we're happy that way.

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