It might not feel like it–especially with the avalanche of titles across all platforms constantly threatening to whittle our bank balance to zero given the chance–but video games remain one of the best value forms of entertainment going. Bloated summer blockbusters might deliver three hours of entertainment for the price of a movie ticket (remember those?), but even a modest gaming investment blows Hollywood’s latest out of the water as a sheer value proposition.
Downloading classic literature for free online is the only thing that comes to mind which can rival gaming in value-for-money terms. However, Humble Bundles and other pay-what-you-like collections (like the remarkable Itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality which included over 1700 games) mean that Austen, Dickens, Twain and the rest of human history’s finest out-of-copyright authors arguably find themselves displaced by digital libraries of legitimately-obtained video games.
Over the last decade or more, rising development costs have shaped the forms games take and we’ve become intimately familiar with methods companies employ to make money beyond the initial sale. DLC, F2P models and games-as-a-service have all come about in an effort to keep players engaged in an ecosystem as long as possible in order to recoup investments and make a tidy profit. For many industry onlookers, news earlier in the month that Activision is upping its MSRP to $70 for PS5 games–a jump of $10 on its current generation titles–has been a long time coming.
Paying a premium is something Switch owners have had to put up with thanks to the so-called ‘Switch Tax’ levied on many third-party releases on the system–often for ports of older titles that are available much cheaper on other platforms–but Nintendo is another company that is fiercely protective of its pricing. First-party titles are rarely discounted outside of carefully crafted promotions (the Game Voucher program, for example). On Switch we’ve seen more sales experimentation than ever before from the platform holder, but it’s still not worth waiting months after launch for Nintendo games to drop in price; they don’t.
While the thought of paying $10 more for new releases might be hard to swallow, especially given the current economic climate, there’s no denying the ballooning cost of large-scale development over the last few console generations, with team sizes for the average AAA release absolutely dwarfing those of two decades ago. Taken with the context of inflation and rising costs across the board, it’s remarkable that games haven’t gone up in price like movie tickets.
In fact, video games are arguably cheaper than ever before. Back in the 1990s, partly due to Nintendo’s licencing fees and preference for pricier cartridges, it wasn’t unusual for Super Nintendo games to hit the £70 mark in the UK. Grabbing an issue of N64 Magazine off our shelf confirms that early N64 title Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was retailing for £70 in November 1997. And, lest we forget, 70 notes could buy a small car or a modest semi-detached house in the ’90s.
You might be able to remove every other triangle from a Toblerone and charge the same for it, but that’s more difficult with a video game
Jokes aside, £70 in 1997 is the equivalent of £128.36 in 2019 money (according to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator – 2020 data is unavailable at present). Games have been getting comparatively cheaper just by staying the same price. You might be able to remove every other triangle from a Toblerone and charge the same for it, but that’s more difficult with a video game, especially sprawling single-player experiences with fewer opportunities to monetise beyond the initial buy-in. The Final Fantasy VII remake on PS4 is a good example of a game that has been altered and edited into separate parts in order to be made financially viable in the twenty-first century. Chocolate hasn’t changed much in the last twenty years; the same can’t be said for video games.
Economic factors including minimum wages, cost of living, local taxes, currency fluctuations and more come into play in different territories, but the US has generally been the cheapest place to play video games for a long time, and this remains broadly true. If we take a modern example, flagship title Breath of the Wild costs $59.99 on the US Switch eShop. The same game in the UK will set you back £59.99 (which works out at $76.46 at the time of writing), Eurozone gamers pay 69,99€ ($80.52), and Japanese players pay a surprisingly reasonable ¥6980 ($65.32). Compare that to $80+ for Chrono Trigger on the SNES back in the day and we’re not doing too bad.
Bearing all this in mind, and looked at with a rational head, a general increase in game prices in the near-ish future is to be expected. There’s no indication that Nintendo is planning on changing its current pricing at the moment, although it’s probably worth preparing ourselves for. Would fans refuse to pay $70 for, say, Breath of the Wild 2, Metroid Prime 4 or other big first-party games likely to come towards the end of Switch’s life cycle? Personally, we may not like it, but we’d pay it.
It’s that type of thinking that Activision is banking on, although it arguably feels like more of a slap in the face coming from that specific publisher given their in-game monetisation methods. NBA 2K20 offers a fine game of basketball, but one riddled with systems designed to get players forking out after the initial layout. The deep 95% discounts offered on both 2K20 and 2K19 show the significance of in-game purchases, and for an annual series which for many players leans far to heavily into its microtransaction mechanics, there’s an argument that the MSRP should be going down, not up.
for an annual series [like NBA 2K] which for many players leans far to heavily into its microtransaction mechanics, there’s an argument that the MSRP should be going down, not up
It’ll be interesting to see EA’s strategy with FIFA in the next generation, but the same principle applies. There remains a huge amount of money to be made from sports fans who buy a console purely to play annual titles. While Epic is taking the Fortnite route with Rocket League and transitioning to a free-to-play model, Activision and EA will continue to have their cake and eat it for as long as people keep buying sports titles on a yearly basis. A $10 increase on an annual iteration feels steep, but much like Nintendo first-party enthusiasts, it’s not going to stop sports fans from paying and playing.
It would be something if the additional profit generated went towards employee benefits, alleviating crunch and tangibly improving the work environments of workers contracted by these studios, but somehow we doubt this extra revenue will have much of an effect for people working on these games. We’d loved to be proved wrong.
Ultimately, given the context of the industry, it’s tough to begrudge a prospective price increase, although it’s frustrating to see the NBA 2K series leading the play. What do you think, though? Would you be prepared to pay more for games in the coming generation? Does it depend on the type of game? Let us know in the polls below and feel free to share your thoughts on price increases with a comment.