Video gaming is an expensive hobby. Contemporary consoles and high-spec PC rigs don't come cheap, and with season passes and downloadable extras from multiplayer maps to campaign extensions, new games can ultimately cost a lot more than the £40 or $60 they appear to retail for.
Collectible games from previous generations can trade for substantial sums, too – the English-language version of Hideo Kojima's Snatcher for the Mega/Sega CD goes for eye-bleeding money on eBay, and hardcore shooters from Japanese developers like Treasure can prove unobtainable to anyone with Real Life to pay for. If you fancy that Saturn copy of Radiant Silvergun right now, you're probably looking at the best part of £100. Special editions, boxed with statues and trinkets and other tat that nobody needs but some gamers simply crave, can also hold their value incredibly well.
CeX is one of the UK's biggest traders of second-hand video games. Browse its website for new-release titles and you'll usually shave a few pounds off the brand-new asking price. With some 270 locations in the UK you've likely seen one at least, and perhaps even on your travels – there are 18 CeX stores in Ireland, 43 in Spain, 14 in the USA, and one in Mexico. It handles films and gadgets too, but a great amount of shelf space, physically and virtually, is given over to video games, from the PlayStation 2 era right up to the present day.
Most of its pricing makes sense. A game comes out, and while it's relatively current the cost stays barely beneath the RRP. As the months pass so the price drops, unless there's substantial demand for the game in question, in which case CeX can charge more. You know how it goes – "Value for an item keeps changing as per the market condition." That's the line I receive from Ram in the CeX "We Care" team when I contact them to ask why, as it's been on sale since 2007 and they have no shortage of copies (188 at the time of writing), The Simpsons Game for Xbox 360 retails for £25.
Okay, £25 for a video game isn't expensive, usually. I've just recently paid around that for a disc version of The Wolf Among Us because I'm old and I like having physical clutter around me rather than relying on my PlayStation to keep all my games safe and sound inside its guts. But it's entirely relative. Twenty-five quid for a last-gen game that is fairly readily available, and that came out before greats like Grand Theft Auto IV (2008, CeX price on 360: £7), Mass Effect 2 (2010, £2) and The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (2011, £8), is incredibly steep. I'd understand, maybe, if it was amongst CeX's most popular 360 sellers – it's really not, coming nowhere near a top dominated by FIFA and Call of Duty titles – or if it was any good.
But it's not good. At all. It's a numbingly repetitive 3D platformer with questionable collision detection, bland (when it's not confusing) level design, not-so-super powers unique to each playable character, painful boss encounters, and it's not even saved by occasional instances of the show's winning humour. But don't just take my word for it – look to these Metacritic-compiled scores.
'The Simpsons Game' – trailer
I bought The Simpsons Game in 2008 as part of a two-for-£30 deal, with Burnout Paradise my complementary selection. If you'd asked me then which of the two would cost gamers of 2015 more to pick up and play, I'd be opting for Criterion's open-world racer every second of any day. That's a game of innovation, of variety, depth and compelling (re)playability. It's the game that 2014's The Crew desperately wanted to be, albeit on a larger environmental scale, but was expectedly hamstrung by Ubisoft's persistence for placing – to quote VICE writer Edwin Evans-Thirlwell – "angry bangles" all over their world maps. By which I mean too many potential waypoints for the path through the game in question to be anything but terrifically confused.
But here we are, in 2015, with The Simpsons Game costing £19 more than the much better Burnout Paradise. Hell, keeping things strictly same-year here, there are loads of games from 2007 that are better experiences (both then and today) than EA's interpretation of Springfield and its colourful inhabitants: Crackdown, Virtua Fighter 5, The Darkness, BioShock, Halo 3, Assassin's Creed, Beautiful Katamari and Lost Planet: Extreme Condition all come recommended ahead of The Simpsons Game, and that's before you consider titles that weren't available on Xbox 360.
So what the hell is the deal? It's not just CeX standing by a high price for The Simpsons Game – one seller on Amazon (UK) is asking for £500, with those adopting a more reserved approach looking for between £23.99 and £40.99. Look on eBay and (at the time of writing) there are several listings for the £10 mark – but they all have plenty of time left for bidding. I asked a former employee of CeX, Alex Cull, now working in music PR, what he made of the game's higher-than-normal pricing.
"There's usually one of two reasons why a price stays high. Either a) it still sells really well and is relatively new, and neither of those things applies here; or b) they think it's going to have mass collector or cult appeal, like Mario Party 6 or 7. I can't see that appealing here either, though, so frankly I've not got a ruddy clue."
I asked games writer ( and VICE contributor) Chris Schilling for his take. He replied: "From a quick look around, it's become rare for some reason." But the CeX stock numbers say differently, despite sellers on eBay maintaining that the game is hard to come by. Anyway, Chris continued: "I do know that The Simpsons: Hit & Run was a huge success and kept selling for months and months after its release. I guess it was the kind of game not many people buy at launch, but the enduring popularity of the cartoon meant it sold to parents looking for a cheap way to entertain their kids for a long time. Seriously, Hit & Run wasn't rare at all, but I distinctly remember it hanging around way, way longer than anyone expected it to.
"This, however? I don't really know. It's quite an unusual thing, not least because it's pretty much the polar opposite of the kind of game that sells for silly money. It's all very odd."
CeX still sells Hit & Run, released for PS2, Nintendo GameCube, the original Xbox and more in 2003. Shop for it there and it'll cost you a tenner on GameCube, and half that on PS2. CeX has 53 copies of the GameCube version in stock at the time of writing. Compare that to the 188 they have of the 360 port of The Simpsons Game. Pretty obvious which is the rarer game, isn't it. Back to Ram, to see if we can glean any more from his by-the-book response.
My email to CeX asked, basically, why an eight-year-old game that they've no shortage of still sells for £25. Ram tells me about how their business model is more based on exchanges than simply the buying and selling of products, using a Samsung Galaxy S2 as an example of an item that you'd get a great trade-in rate for at their place compared to elsewhere. (I don't have one, so I'm not about to prove the claim.) Specifically regarding The Simpsons Game, I get only this to add to the earlier comment regarding the "market condition": "The price mentioned on the website for an item is as per the demand and supply of the current market condition and decided by our dedicated team."
Suffice to say, my lines of enquiry have gone nowhere. I cannot fathom why this game is so expensive in 2015, why it's deemed to be of more value than any of the aforementioned alternatives that represent much better uses of your time and money. And neither can ex-employees of CeX nor prominent members of the gaming press. Exactly what is going on, only members of that "dedicated team" can know.
For the rest of us, the current cost of The Simpsons Game will remain a mystery as unsolved as Grand Theft Auto V's Mount Chiliad and the (Simpsons-featured) Polybius arcade game of nightmares-inducing urban legend. Now excuse me, please: I've a yellow slice of gaming detritus to cash in on before it's too late.