Video game tie-ins shouldn't feel 'cheap'

Not every game needs its own vinyl soundtrack.

Dennaton Games / Devolver Digital

It used to be that if you loved a video game, your options for showing it beyond buying the cartridge or disc were pretty limited. Now there's a whole cottage industry for gaming fandom. Want a rad vinyl soundtrack for a hyper-violent indie game? Say no more. How about an evocative statue showcasing the duality of a game's strong, female protagonist? You're covered there, too.

But for every one of the former, there were seemingly a dozen tasteless cash-ins. When these brand extensions are done right, we wind up with heartfelt keepsakes or ways to keep a game in our lives while we're away from the controller. But when a company blows it, you get crap like tacky game-branded mini-fridges.

There have been video game soundtracks released on vinyl before, but they were few and far between; 2015 was the year that they went mainstream. The year started with incredible vinyl releases for Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, Journey and The Last of Us soundtracks, but the strategy soon devolved into just another bullet point for corporate suits to hit.

Now we have games with less-than-memorable scores getting careless vinyl releases because it's just another revenue stream to be mined. It's actually kind of impressive how quickly it all happened: Wrong Number released in March for $60 with killer packaging and a download code for the game. By November, we had a bare-bones pressing of the score for Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection up for pre-order.

Publishers want to gauge interest and ensure you'll pre-order their games as far in advance as possible, so tying pricey — and limited — editions to them is one way of ensuring that. Publisher Bethesda Softworks likely knew it had the most anticipated release of the year on its hands with Fallout 4 and could've slapped the series' iconic Vault Boy character on anything -- like what Disney is doing with Star Wars -- and made a fortune.

Instead, its big-ticket item was a real-world version of the franchise's wrist-worn computer. The Fallout 4 Pip-Boy Edition sold out multiple times because publisher Bethesda couldn't keep up with demand for the $120 smartphone holster. But the hunk of plastic was a heartfelt nod to fans of the studio and franchise. The Pip-Boy wasn't some random widget from the game world. It'd been a part of the series for almost two decades, something fans interacted with in-game frequently.

Contrast that with the $200 Call of Duty: Black Ops III Juggernog Edition that features a mini-fridge from the game's "zombies" multiplayer mode. Because there's a new Call of Duty every year, each with its own overpriced premium edition and throw-away "big" item, the Perk-A-Cola fridge rings hollow. Sure, something to keep a dozen cans of your gaming fuel of choice might be genuinely useful, but at that price you'd be better off buying a regular beer-fridge for your living room.

If this year's taught us anything, it's that video game publishers don't hold much sacred when it comes to beefing up their bottom line. And that's incredibly apparent when even the best ideas get run into the ground. Maybe 2016 will fix that. Or maybe we'll get another run of hideous-looking game consoles.