Special edition, collector's edition, and limited edition releases of video games are nothing new. They've been around for as long as companies have known they could make a few extra bucks by slapping on some new box art and including a few bonuses with the retail release. But these special edition releases weren't nearly as frequent ten (or even five) years ago as they are today. It seems like every major title has to provide this second option - or in some cases (like Halo), three flavors to choose from. Obviously the cost between standard and special editions is a major factor for gamers when they look into purchasing a game, but the contents can also be a dealbreaker. I certainly can't say that I'm speaking for the majority, but what I personally look for in these so-called special edition releases is, well, something different that makes the upsell seem worthwhile. The only criteria for the titles I'm going to cover is that they have to fit in the category of a special/collector's/limited edition, where the content comes packaged with the game for this special release, regardless of where the game is purchased. This means that any exclusive content promised by one store or another does not count, nor do re-releases that come packaged with an extra disc worth of DLC (ie. Game of the Year editions).
My copy of Majora's Mask is the collector's edition version, which was a promotional stint Nintendo put on for those who pre-ordered the game. Aside from the gold-colored cartridge and the holographic cover art, there's nothing to separate it from the standard game. And that's the sort of thing people expected from special edition releases of yesteryear - a little extra flair, perhaps, but the same game they could buy otherwise. I still think Majora's Mask is a phenomenal game, and I can use the gold cartridge for some bragging rights. But the content in today's special editions are usually divided into two categories - content for use in the game itself such as character costumes and weapons, or physical objects like posters and small statues.
However, I've found a lot of people tend to complain about the mini-statues included with games like Bioshock and the upcoming Batman: Arkham City. I have to agree with such sentiments - while they certainly look cool, they are likely going to sit on a shelf and gather dust. Those that include poseable parts are usually cheaply constructed and prone to break, and it's usually a better alternative to fork out a few bucks for a more sturdily-built action figure. In some cases, though, these statue-like items can serve a dual-purpose. In the case of Halo 3's Legendary edition, the Spartan Mk VI helmet (though not wearable) slid over the protective case that housed the game and the bonus material DVDs. Not to say that the Noble Team statue from the legendary edition of Halo: Reach isn't cool to look at, but Halo 3's helmet serves both aesthetic and practical purposes.
Focused more on physical bonuses, Bioshock 2's special edition release included three posters from Rapture, an artbook that detailed characters and locations from the game as well as those that were cut from the final product, the soundtrack to Bioshock 2 on a CD, and the soundtrack to the first Bioshock on a vinyl record. To top it off the box art featured a butterfly collage of handprints representative of Sofia Lamb's Rapture Family. As a huge fan of both Bioshock games, I feel this is the ultimate package 2K could have delivered to their fans. Even if you aren't as big a fan of Bioshock, there's still a nice mix of different inclusions to merit the price tag. Similarly, the recently-released Catherine had a deluxe edition that oozed the essence of what the game is all about - a pair of boxers, a t-shirt, a pillow case, and an artbook with the game's soundtrack, all packaged in a Stray Sheep pizza box.
Not all special editions have to include physical items, though they certainly should include more than two extra characters if they are going to cost an extra ten dollars (I'm looking at you, Marvel vs. Capcom 3). Going back to Halo 3, the majority of the bonus content for the Legendary release was on the included DVDs, which presented a great deal of information on the major characters, species, and events of the Halo universe. The collector's edition of Halo: Reach went a slightly different route by including a journal penned by Dr. Halsey and a number of files, photographs, and maps that served to elaborate on the events preceding the fall of Reach as well as to closer tie the game to the Halo novels. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots saw a limited edition release that included a bonus disc which served a similar purpose - present players with a digital encyclopedia that links together every event and character from the Metal Gear Solid storyline.
While there has been a constant increase in recent years in the number of games that see special edition releases, not every one of them receives as much praise as the next. It seems some companies are now listening to their consumers and including content that not only sets the special edition apart from the crowd, but also makes gamers feel like their money was well-spent. Personally, I'm a fan of such a motion. Obviously not all of them are going to change their tune to accommodate, but that's also a big part of the reason I seek out the few special editions that I do wish to splurge on - the more one-of-a-kind package it is, the more likely I am to purchase it.