Video Game Prices: Why the $70 Shouldn't Be the New $60 – WhatIfGaming

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Who in the 1950s would’ve predicted that video games would become a successful commercial business in a couple of decades? Probably a few. If I had to guess, probably the same people who thought that we’re just that close to communicating with Martians. Either way, I remember the days when the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 were the newest kids in town.
I used to game either on my computer or a friend’s PlayStation 2. I also remember the frequently told folklore that video game prices in the 80s were astronomically high. Almost every time the topic of video game prices is brung up, you know that economy and politics are about the door.
But with all the words spoken in that conversation or argument, the questions asked remain unanswered. Were video game prices actually higher than they ever were?
To a degree, the closest and most stripped-down answer would be yes. Adjusting the past’s prices to inflation and comparing them to today’s standards, the direct conclusion would be that games are cheaper than they are in the present. But I would argue that it’d be misleading to stop just there…
Inflation. Better known as the sensation of pain to the middle and low classes since people stopped bartering. Economic inflation affects the value of almost every good you can imagine. Since money is a universal good that has a known value and is accepted worldwide, inflation can affect the entire globe and destroy the economy once the wrong cards are played.
It’s been increasing rapidly for the past few decades. As inflation panders, the value of money decreases. And so does its ability to sufficiently be accepted as a payment for the same good over the years. Because of that, you can’t buy a cup of coffee for the same amount of money it used to buy you in 1940.
But with video game prices, something seems odd. Video games have had stable price tags -some got way cheaper- since the commercial birth of this industry. To put this into perspective, we’ll be comparing the first Super Mario Bros and Tetris with Cyberpunk 2077. A little odd, but bear with me.
If you had any suspicions about something not being right, you are right. From the table above, it is only logical to suppose that games were more expensive back then. But how can small retro games from the 80s cost more (at their time) than a triple-A would cost today?
There’s a multitude of reasons for that. Cartridges were expensive to produce and write over -also the reason why Nintendo Switch games are higher in price-. Also, The short life span of a video game in the market then.
But one reason that remains staggering to me is the median salary. According to a 2013 article from the Washington Post, a family dwelling in the United States in 1989 was able to earn more in median salary than a family in our current day.
Of course, since the article might seem outdated, I checked statistics on today’s median salary in the United States. The earnings don’t seem to loom anything close to 1989.
The conclusion is; because some games did cost $70 back then, and people could afford them, that doesn’t indicate that an average 2022 family can afford it too. Although inflation puts things into perspective, adjusting the prices to inflation doesn’t seem to indicate affordability or willingness to buy a $70 game in the meantime.
Keep in mind all the statistics, prices, and salaries apply to the USA. The prices may differ and so do the median salaries. Some places had an increase in the median salaries, while others are pretty much the same, if not worse than the USA.
Okay, so if the publishers need to fathom affordability before they put their game on the market, why don’t video games cost less then? This would make it affordable to the best of degrees. Wouldn’t it?
It does make video games affordable. At least in theory. But one aspect of the forenamed equation lies overlooked. You see, video gaming is a capitalist business. To be frank, it’s one helluva booming business. According to Statista, in the year 2021 alone, consumers within the United States spent around $51.69 billion on video games exclusively.
This and I’m yet to mention the other dominant markets like China, Japan, and the United Kingdom. It’s only logical to assume that publishing corporates and developing firms [in a capitalist society] need to make a profit margin. They are compelled to assign paychecks to actively working employees, developers, and programmers.
Video games are assigned budgets. Therefore, the sales of said game need to compensate for the budget spent during development. I know I’m explaining basics here, but sometimes it’s essential to explain how to pronounce “apple.”
The predominant picture of big corporates is that throwing millions into a big project is a safe investment; it’s always prophesied to deliver some form of revenue. It’s always taking the risk of losing the community’s interest. Sometimes it’s risking unsatisfied critics and players, which directly affects how the game performs.
Note that sales figures are not the only thing that puts food on a developer’s table. In the last couple of years, we’ve been witnessing an uprising of free-to-play games. Admit it, you probably had one, hell, maybe even addicted to one. Some paid games even go free-to-play. First thing that comes to mind is Fall Guys going free a couple of months ago.
So if some games can go free-to-play, why can’t other games have lower prices without impacting the developer? The answer is fairly simple, some games, mostly online, cannot keep a regular player base due to other game releases or a specific trend’s death. In this case, it’s always better for the game to go free-to-play.
Only then would the developer be able to get more players running their game, which also means more people are susceptible to subsidizing the developer by buying microtransactions.
For games of a larger scale, the online component is not always present. Games like Marvel’s Spider-Man don’t possess the luxury of an online feature that would provide a stable player base. And with it, some sort of durable source of income -even if the game stopped selling copies-.
Since microtransactions, if present, won’t be as beneficial as being integrated with an online component, a game like God of War, unless there’s a fruitful sale, can’t lower its price than $60. Lowering the price can project a financial deficiency to the developer, meaning possible cuts in future budgets.
Sometimes worse, it could lead to pay cuts and layoffs. That is, essentially, because the budget of the game needs to be covered before the developer’s corporate can turn any profit. Some developers went exhaustively bankrupt due to their games performing horrendously in the market, most notably THQ. It’s arguable if this is the biggest reason, but it’s undeniably a contributing reason.
Remember, greater affordability doesn’t automatically mean that people will generate interest in the game out of nowhere. It just means that people who already have an interest in the game can eagerly buy it without the need to break their piggy bank or cut their dinner for the weekend.
So the developer needs to add a marketing budget over the development budget. Marketing is naturally required to be efficient and directed at the right audience. Otherwise, the game will perform poorly. Video game prices need to be not as high as developers can charge but as high as people are ready to pay for what the game features.
Budgets play a cardinal role in determining a video game’s price. Although some developers adopted the free-to-play business model and succeeded, it’s not a popular scheme among greater first and third-party developers. The bigger the game, the bigger the budget, leading to the more costly the price gets.
Ubisoft recently talked about raising their prices for bigger AAA projects to $70, starting with the anticipated Skull & Bones. This one statement, in particular, does not resonate with me as a surprise. Ubisoft discussed a couple of years ago that Skull & Bones and more projects following it would be called quadruple-A games (AAAA).
Ubisoft thinks of Skull & Bones as a bigger game in size than the usual triple-A title, which is arguable until the game releases. But if what they stated about the game is true, then don’t be surprised at the price of it. You’ll probably be going to see bigger AAAs, or as Ubisoft wants to call them, AAAAs, to be at the price of $70.
Wait, you really want this? You’re rather directly subjecting yourself to corporate greed. Okay. If video game prices go up to $80, It’s crystal clear to me who to blame. Multiple questions are to be asked in an attempt to answer this first question.
“Is it worth it?” it’s the first question that you have to ask yourself when thinking of buying a game. How large is the scale of the game? What does it provide that I want? Mostly a fun experience is all you want. Sometimes you want a game to be expressive and artistic in its nature. That you’ll find, maybe not so common, but you’ll manage.
You won’t explicitly think of those questions out loud because it would be ridiculous. But you momentarily figure out the answers in your head once you feel like you want a new game. Some games are basically not worth the $70. Since calling names would be deemed impractical, The Last of Us Part I remake has a considerably exaggerated price tag.
The game is practically not the standard definition of a remake, per se, but neither is a remaster. Since Naughty Dog already remastered the game once, it’s probably not in their best interest to ship this game as a “remaster of a remaster.” Gameplay mechanics were upgraded, and some even changed.
But the entire story goes unchanged. The Last of Us Part I remake is the same game as the remaster, coupled with improved visuals and a “greener” environment. It would be hypocritical of me not to mention the engoodening accessibility features. But that doesn’t explain the $70, is Naughty Dog charging extra for accessibility features?
Is Naughty Dog charging extra for graphical improvements? Because multiple remakes and remasters have been released prior, and they cost around $40-50. These remakes were fantastic looking. Yes, I’m talking about the Resident Evil 2 remake.
The closest answer that would seem logical is that Sony needs to charge more for AAA games to compensate for the costs of manufacturing the new generation consoles. That answers the question, “Why does God of War: Ragnarok cost more on the PlayStation 5?” But that doesn’t really explain why a “remake” would cost that much.
Nevertheless, the game is being pushed for the hefty price of $70. This had an undeniable effect on the sales figures for the game, particularly in the United Kingdom.
The Last of Us: Part 1 is narrowly No.1 in the UK physical retail chart this week. It’s a remaster and not a particularly big launch. It’s sold around half of what last week’s Saints Row managed. This is purely physical sales
I thought it would be cheating to call it an underperformer. There are too many causes to contribute to the remake near flounder. First off, a PlayStation 5 exclusive, narrowing the game’s availability. Second, a launch for the hefty price of $70, restraining the community’s affordability. Third, already low expectations.
Ironically, the game barely sold half of what the Saints Row reboot managed a week before, although Saints Row had a considerably disastrous reception. All of this could be proof that remakes of games released in less than a decade are not usually what everybody is looking for when they have $70 in their pocket.
One might argue that people already buy games digitally all the time. That’s probably half the truth. Why? Physical copies of games still sell to this day. In fact, according to GSD, physical copies of games for the PlayStation 5 are predominantly selling more than digital downloads. The rate varies over time, but generally, it looms between 26-36%. And it’s probably increasing.
While the game was already playable, Naughty Dog decided to remake the original The Last of Us Part I. Since there’s an upcoming show expected to air on HBO, I might lean to believe that it is too early to judge the game’s performance.
But I don’t have any reason not to believe that The Last of Us Part I’s price will take a slight dip to adjust for newer audiences swarming the games. Supposing that the show would be a success. Which I honestly don’t doubt will be a success.
One thing every developer was hoping to achieve back in the day was longevity in the market. The very last thing they would want is for their video game to stop selling copies. Most tools that would support longevity didn’t exist back in the day, like the online component, DLCs and expansion packs, and regularly updated content.
How long do games live? That answer is very dependent on the game itself. And also on what the game serves. A game like GTA 5 lived for over nine years, and my guess is that it will continue living for years to come. At least until GTA 6 releases.
A video game dominantly selling copies, even making it to the top charts more than nine years since its release, would feel unreal to a game developer in the 80s or the 90s. Games used to cost so much primarily because there was no other option than the already existing developers. Atari, Nintendo, Sega, and others were dominating the market with no competition.
Probably because video gaming was considered childish and/or for nerds. One game could be played over 90 times until something new was released because there just wasn’t that much. It was all looking tidy until video games that weren’t arcade or platformer finally started rolling.
Games aimed at mature audiences like Doom and Grand Theft Auto revolutionized the industry forever. With each step and year extending the longevity of video games, they got a little cheaper. And since games aren’t necessarily dependent on components like cartridges, that helped reduce the cost of developing games.
Will the developer prefer longevity over charging an extra $10? There are only two ways down this alley. And let’s be genuine here, are you ready to pay a whopping $70 for a game you will ditch within a couple of weeks of playing it?
I briefly talked about how narrow the competition was then. But have you ever asked yourself how many video games are released per year? A formidable question that we have to use statistics to answer again. According to Statista, in 2021, nearly more than ten thousand games were birthed to be published on Steam. Keep in mind that this statistic is conducted only on Steam.
Of course, quality control on Steam is a little disputable, but if we exclude all the Anime Girlfriend VR Simulator type games, we’re still left with a great number of games to compete with each other on the PC exclusively. For other platforms, a good amount of video games, usually big titles, release annually, and prices go as high as $50-60 per game.
What makes a developer think that people won’t be overwhelmed by the number of games to buy? They know well what people are actually thirsty for. Do you want a story-driven game that plays like a movie? The Last of Us Part I and God of War. An RPG that plays like a blast and irritates you like a.. blast? Elden Ring, presumably.
I can go on, and I assure you, I’ll probably never finish at this rate. But a game has to be competent enough. The developer needs to do as Rocksteady said once, focus on what they can deliver best. That’s how you attract players; they’re expecting the game to be a unique experience.
Most triple-A developers are aiming for the same sky, which is realism. Some games market themselves with photorealistic environments. Some others try to exceed that sky and push the hardware to its limitations, conditioning their gameplay to components of realism. Or sometimes surrealism.
The point here is that for a game to have a higher price, it needs to market itself with something special and remarkable. So it can compete with games of a lower price or even of the same price. It’s blatant to put out a video game with such hefty prices, yet nothing new to present but minor advancements.
Indie games are a breeze of fresh air in this industry. They are games typically made by people extremely compassionate about games. Independent developers are usually closer to their community than bigger developers. Which does make sense for some sort of reason.
And because indie games naturally cost less to develop, and for the most part, they cost less to buy. Sometimes indie games are incredibly successful that they dominate other larger games. When I think of an indie game this year, Stray is the game that comes into mind incipiently.
Stray is what the community exactly deserved, something unique, something fun. And above all, something worth its price. The game proves to some extent that indie games can thrive while contending against triple-A games.
The point here is that the market is not a complete proprietorship of publishers like Nintendo, Rockstar Games, Activision, and Electronic Arts. There’s no reason not to believe that people are more susceptible to supporting indie developers by buying two to three games for $70 than a corporate with one game for the same price.
It’s not like indie developers are incapable of producing anything close to AAA games. If anything, more AAA titles have proven to us that we’re in dire need of something new. And to be honest, I’m sick of repetitive side quests that consume more time than the main story.
When a game is being marketed as content-rich, maybe it’s then you know that It’s most likely going to take 60-110 hours to finish. Repeating the same quests over and over, collecting the totally unnecessary collectibles. And even with all of this, sometimes they even play as unfinished games.
Games like this are undoubtedly likely to go on sale. Why? Well…
Video games go on sale pretty randomly, don’t they? I mean, if the game performs poorly, it’s relatively apparent that it will go on sale soon. It has happened before, and it will keep happening. Then, on the other hand, video games with great performance in the market also go on sale sometime. Sometimes it’s ridiculously cheap, or even for free..? How does that make sense?
It has to do with the projected amount of sales from the get-go, the demand for the game, customer satisfaction, and initial reviews. You should know that the game’s release price is getting lower at some point. Publishers and developers often raise the initial price of their products, especially if it has a high demand.
Mostly to profit as much as they can from people willing to pay for the product’s full price. However, that plan isn’t always as successful. Some games suffer bad reviews on release, which results in poor sales. Which also results in angry people. It’s almost a windmill that doesn’t stop spinning without interference from the developer.
In that case, developers need to either soak the loss or depreciate the price of their video game. Lowering the price, in that case, is not at all inefficient. It might help the game sell better and make more profit than it would’ve if the price had stayed fixed.
You definitely remind me of the good old days. Probably not so good, neither so old, but I couldn’t help but look up headlines of news and YouTube videos about Fallout 76. This is 2018 now, the 14th of November, to be precise.
The long-awaited intellectual property of Bethesda Studios, Fallout 76, just launched. The game got mediocre to poor reviews from critics, but it seems like the community didn’t like it as much. Rating it as low as 0, the community decided to make Fallout 76 a parable for the entire industry.
To this day, Fallout 76 maintains a low user score, running at 2.8 out of 10. Not just that the game was “creatively bankrupt,” but the multiplayer of Fallout 76 was a disaster. People of all sorts couldn’t escape the ban hammer for playing the game too much.
So to unban the people who are willing to return again without paying the game’s full price, Bethesda demanded that they would write a 500-word essay on “why the use of third-party cheat software is detrimental to an online game community.”
Cheats and exploits, bugs and glitches, Todd Howard, and Bethesda’s customer support were all an indication that they would depreciate the price of the game. Don’t believe me? I know how surreal this sounds, but what’s on the internet never goes down.
If you were Polish and happened to have looked at PlayStation 4 controller thumb grips at some point, you would probably find a retailer selling the thumb grips bundled with a free copy of Fallout 76. The entire price of the purchase didn’t exceed $5.
This shows the level of desperation that developers can achieve while deprecating the prices of their games to sell more copies of them. Bethesda also depreciated the sacred code of customer satisfaction.
They broke it so hard that the entire internet put hating Ubisoft on hold for a couple of months so they could participate in witnessing one of the most catastrophic launches in video game history.
Although video game prices correlate with sales figures, they do not always exhibit that the game suffers from poor performance. Have you ever heard of summer and winter sales? It’s kind of hard to miss, actually.
Games at Steam’s winter sale are amazingly cheap. Video game prices sometimes go down by 75% or even possibly more, from indie games to AAA titles, all are discounted. Now, if the developer really needs the money to compensate for the research, development, and overall company costs, why do they sell games so cheap?
See mi amigo/amiga, video games cost money to develop, but the cost isn’t typically fixed for a particular material that games are made of. Some games cost under $50k, and some over $250m. Also, once the developer compensated the budget and made enough profit [although no profit is enough], they can sell the game for a nickel, and they would be profiting from it.
Once you pay for the budget and offset the general expenses, any money is profit-money. Also, sometimes games make more profit when they’re cheap than when they’re at their original price. Especially if the game has good demand [but not enough to motivate people to buy it for the full price].
You can sell up to sixty thousand copies of a certain game for the price of $10, and you’ll roughly make the same amount of money while selling ten thousand copies of the same game for the price of $60.
How can they be sure that they’re selling more amount of copies? Usually, it’s when the game is slowing down in the market, and the figures are a bit steep.
We briefly spoke about demand. So the basic rule in business is that there is supply and demand. In video game development, you don’t specifically require supply; since games can be published digitally with no costs other than small royalties to the distributor(s).
Demand for video games has a consistent relationship with interest in the game. If your game is uninteresting, the natural reaction would be that people are not going to buy it. The demand inherently cools off over time. A game developer usually desires the demand for their games to be high for as long as possible.
But one nifty strategy to raise demand for the game is to make it on sale. Sales propel themselves, with the power of people rushing in to take a piece of something cheap. On the positive side, the community got themselves a great deal. They leave unequivocally satisfied. There’s no negative side to that, really.
There’s a rule of thumb in the business, an equilibrium point if you may. Where the supplier needs to profit the most from the product [or service] while keeping demand as high as possible.
So games with low demand that can sell more copies and turn a profit will go on sale. From a certain standpoint, this is the only way a game would sell more without pressuring the developer.
Lowering video game prices too broadly will consequentially increase demand, but the profit won’t be as sufficient. Raising prices will depreciate demand. And with it, the profit sinks indefinitely. Here the demand is also innately intertwined with longevity; as long as demand is steady for longer times, the game prolongs its lifespan.
That’s a great question, one with no unequivocal answer. This is the same question that has the community in half right now, people who say it will and support the price rise, other people who say it won’t while antagonizing the idea of a price rise. Some people are agnostic about the topic. Some people just don’t care.
While all answers are borderline contentious and barely conjectural. The true answer lies within the developers’ hands, corporates that have the upper hand. While they only decide the prices of their video game, they have a big weight in the competition.
What about me, you ask? Maybe you didn’t ask, but I lean to believe that video game prices will not be having a permanent makeover. Games develop, they evolve, and they grow bigger year after year. In the past four years, we’ve had games show that developers are an extremely ambitious bunch.
Hardware limitations [and maybe salaries and budget constraints] are the only thing that stands between them and delivering the experience they dreamt of experiencing in games. That being said, the developer can achieve all of this with only $60. I also believe that publishers find the $70 more a “state of the art” situation where it’s the ongoing trend in the industry.
We’ve heard multiple stories of painfully problematic workplaces where employees and developers are treated inadequately. Overworking, pressure to ship unfinished products, sexual harassment and abuse allegations, discrimination, and the list of vices and scandals go on.
When I know that the extra $10 I’m paying is exceptionally unlikely to be spent on a developer’s wellbeing, a raise, or compensation in lieu of the destructive managemental climate surrounding them, I don’t feel pleased with myself for giving the corporate extra.
Some developers recently took the initiative to decrease or eliminate frat management styles. Rockstar Games, since 2019, has constantly been fighting internal crunch culture. Ubisoft has been attempting to stop sexual transgressions in its offices since 2021, following multiple rumors and allegations of sexual harassment.
Yes, there is a bright side to this, I would suppose. But the problem of unfinished products still stands. The same situation applies to games that bring nothing but frivolous features or ones that explore no new technical accomplishment than any $60 game.
Remember talking about games not attaining any new technical attributes that would make it cost $70 like a millisecond ago? Well, it turns out the category of “not worthy” doesn’t just apply to games that don’t present anything new.
We can briefly evoke each genre or type of game that shouldn’t really cost $70, but they most likely will. Keep in mind the next bit of the article will be based on personal opinions and speculations.
Do I really need to explain myself here? Annual releases lack the slightest of changes. Occasionally they change their old engine to a new one, but it’s not like it happens every year.
I can assure you no one in their right state of mind will go: “Oh, it’s the newest Madden NFL game. I wonder what gameplay features it will bring compared to last year’s Madden NFL!” Mainly because people probably don’t punctuate when they’re thinking, but also because it’s the NFL.
You don’t expect them to reinvent the wheel by presenting soccer in a game about football. The most the developers can do is add better 3D models, update teams [if it’s a sports game], optimize the gameplay experience, and present more accessibility features.
Reboots are not included. Remakes and remasters shouldn’t really aim for a price higher than $60 at max. Why? The audience that remakes and remasters are aimed towards is usually the ones that paid for the game and enjoyed it. But sometimes, in some cases, Remakes can and should be $60.
I get that it is supposed to be the definitive way to play the game, but if the game is many years old it should have a bit of a lower price by now. And definitely not $70.
Seriously why? Microtransactions, by far, are second to none as the most hated aspect in video games with full prices. By full prices, I meant $60. And people have been saying that for a while now. I presume people won’t be very happy about a $70 game that comes with microtransactions.
Microtransactions can be and are already acceptable in free and cheaper games. Some free games capitalized on purely cosmetic microtransactions, and they are pretty much rocking the market. Epic Games with Fortnite. Riot Games with League of Legends and Valorant.
Also, Tencent Games with the 900ish something free games that are under their proprietorship. I believe if a publisher or a developer decides to settle on the “trendy” video game prices, they should let go of some aspects as a consequence. The last thing anyone would be looking for in a $70 game would be microtransactions, and undoubtedly not paywalls.
Although one could make the argument that they shouldn’t be released in the first place, I’d recommend publishers give the developers the needed time to finish their games. Probably because people become disgruntled way too easily. And to release incomplete video games that happen to be $70… I think that would be a headache for the PR.
I specified which type of games shouldn’t cost $70. Now let’s talk a little broadly. Why games, in general, shouldn’t cost $70? And why won’t it be the norm? The main point of the article which had been described and explained throughout the entirety of this article. You can consider this a very condensed TL;DR.
We’ve come a full circle. I would assume that’s because the topic is one broad topic. Yes, the argument that games should cost more than $60 is irrelevant and invalid. So is the argument that the price raise is “long overdue.”
With more developers announcing that their games will sell for $70, it is apparent that the market will cater to that price tag for a while. It seems that we are stuck between greed, global inflation, and gimmicks.
Corporations worth $multi-billions netting hundreds of millions only from microtransactions that claim to be financially scarce that they have to increase the prices of video games. The budgets didn’t change. In fact, nothing changed. The game is bigger, hypothetically, yet it brings no significance to the experience.
I will not deny the possibility that I might be biased on this subject. But enough of me and my hypotheses… What do you think about the current video game prices? I would love to hear from you down in the comments.
Loved your take on the whole situation, incredibly well-written piece Yousef!
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