Earlier this month, my household bid a gracious farewell to Gamefly. We signed up for the service in 2009 and quickly enjoyed having access to a wide array of games for a number of systems. When we originally became members, we were on Gamefly’s two-games-a-month plan. About two years ago, we downgraded to the one-game-a-month plan. In that time (about 24 months) I think we rented around a dozen games. Rather than immediately beating a game and then sending it back, the games would sit, often unplayed, for weeks. And then a new game would come out and we’d think renting over buying was the way to go. Only then would we actually log into the service and make use of what we were paying for. As our interest in playing all the games all the time dwindled, it just wasn’t worth it for us to continue to pay a monthly subscription for games we weren’t playing, especially when that money should have probably gone into buying games we seriously cared about.
When we first discussed getting rid of Gamefly around the end of last year, I was a little reluctant to say goodbye. Because we were “long time” members, we had built up a number of rewards with Gamefly, and we used those rewards to purchase used games. In fact, over the past six years, Gamefly has been our primary source for used game purchases. Having been burned by making a few lousy choices in purchasing used games through Amazon and Gamestop, we found that discs that were vetted through Gamefly always worked (they were guaranteed to do so) and its prices were usually competitive (though our rewards went a long way in discounts). The only downside there was that Gamefly didn’t offer all its rentable titles for sale. But it wasn’t like we were trying to overload our already overloaded backlog. We simply liked using Gamefly to both try and buy games.
So why switch things up now? Well, there was the money issue, yes – why pay to keep a game for three months when we could buy the same title (if we really hope to play it) or buy a game we actually want. But I think it has more to do with, at least for me, my changing perception of video games as I try to figure out what role I want them to play in my life moving forward.
For several years, video games have been my preferred source of extracurricular entertainment. Generically speaking, if you were to place in front me a book, a movie, and a video game, I’d go for the game if only for the sole fact that video games are interactive. Not only do I get to follow a story, but I also get to participate in the action. My tastes in gaming have evolved over the years, and so too have the games themselves. I now ask more from my games, and lots of modern games can provide just that: more. More story. More interaction. More immersion. But I also want games to be akin to jacks-of-all-trades, to fill a variety of different roles, and fill them capably. I want a game to fill time, help me escape, inspire me, tackle a new strategy, challenge my beliefs, and question reality. And because I want more from my games, I’ve begun to see them investments rather than simply “games.” I want my sixty dollars to stretch far beyond a single game disc or download. I want my sixty dollars to pay for a lifetime’s worth of emotions and experiences. Now-a-days, if I don’t see a game as a good investment of both my money and time, I’m not going to buy it.
And going back to the point of this whole spiel, I’m not all that interested anymore in renting first to figure out what’s worth investing in and what isn’t. Here and now, I know exactly what I want to get out of a game, and I know where to go for what I need. Okay, so it might have taken a few decades and wads of wasted cash to realize this, but I’ve honestly never been one to play a game simply for the sake of playing it anyway.
But there’s a problem here, isn’t there? By locking up my wallet and saying that I’m only going to buy games that I see as good investments, I could be passing up any number of diamonds (and diamonds in the rough). That’s the risk. That’s always been the risk in gaming. No matter how up-to-date you are with all the latest titles, something is going to fall through the cracks. And when I first started using Gamefly, I thought that it would really help me stay on top of games; that I’d eventually fall into a rent-finish-rent-finish routine and would no longer miss out on the flavor of the week. But even if through the most fanciful means I was somehow able to turnaround a game a week, I know an endless backlog would remain.
There’s no reward in feeling burdened, and that’s what Gamefly really became. A burden to bear all in the hopes of keeping up with the Joneses. Games mean a lot to me, now more than ever. They aren’t trophies to “win” and admire on a shelf, but rather they are vessels of knowledge, effort, and wit that are also filled with the blood, sweat, and tears of the people who believe in them. I don’t have a bad word to say about Gamefly – it was a good and useful service for awhile, and it will continue to be a good and useful service for many gamers. I’ve moved on, and I’m glad to say that Gamefly played a necessary role in that evolution.
My questions to all of you, from the collectors to the non-keepers: what roles to video games serve in your life and have those roles changed over time? What are your thoughts on renting vs. buying games? And if you’re a former Gamerfly-er, what made you quit the service?