Massively Overthinking: Are modern games too cheap?

This week’s Massively Overthinking topic is a submission from reader and commenter camelotcrusade, who takes the industry’s current fight over monetization in a different direction from lockboxes. “Are modern games too cheap?” he asks, probably slowly reaching into a can of worms with a wicked gleam in his eye.

“When you think about it, many other things we buy have increased in price over the last decade but AAA games are still expected to be a maximum of $60, with many of us waiting for sales (or for free-to-play). Meanwhile, games everywhere are adding shops, post-release content, and DLC galore with increasingly aggressive pricing models. How much of this is to make-up margins they can’t capture up-front? How much should an AA game cost in 2017? $75? $90? Is there a price point where lockboxes, gambling, and in-game stores could focus on value-add instead of survival? And how did we get here? Whose fault is it? And how do we get out of this, or is ‘would you like a game with your store’ the future as we know it?”

Let’s talk money!

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): While games are mostly the same price, you forget the trend towards deluxe collectors editions while also going digital. Deluxe versions of games gives companies ways to pad the bill, while digital helps them cut costs. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I bought a physical MMO CD. Maybe the last one was Wrath of the Lich King?

It’s not an MMO, but one of my favorite games (Undertale) is by an indie developer, and I suspect his ability to finally move out of his parents’ house isn’t from his ability to sell his game but push merchandise. Not only is he getting cash from his game and game music, but t-shirts, plushies, and now emoticons for a popular Japanese messenger service. It’s something AAA game companies can pull off too, if the game resonates with its audience. I’d bought a few Asheron’s Call things from the Turbine store back in the day, plus some World of Warcraft stuff, and that’s just MMOs.

For digital content, I feel like we’ve seen people eat up DLC and skins, especially when it doesn’t kill the playerbase or threaten competition. I’m probably sounding like an old record, but seriously, look at Overwatch. It’s massively successful, but mechanically, the game’s OK at best, struggling in the pro scene, and has a sinful way of releasing most of its lore (out of the game!). That being said, I feel like that last reason also works as a strength: It makes the world more accessible to casuals and even non-gamers. Blizzard gets to skip balancing scenarios and units in favor of animated shorts that help drive up sales of merchandise. It’s a little scary to think about until I realize it also further pushes gaming into the mainstream consciousness.

It’s the fault of companies like EA that prey on people’s psychology to make light content that continually asks for a gate fee and upkeeps. The recent Battlefront 2 debacle is a good, recent example of this. Like Overwatch, its a full priced game with lockboxes. However, BF2 also is largely a multiplayer game, gates actual content, and allows the content wall to be bypassed with real money. It’d be one thing if the content were just skins or horizontal progression (i.e., being able to change a powerful but slow sniper rifle into a medium strength, rapid reloading one a la Splatoon), but it’s raw power.

We may all feel differently about grinding, in that some love it and some hate it, but gamers in general have shown that they strongly dislike games where people with the biggest wallet get the biggest advantage. Developers constantly try to tell consumers that their game won’t do that while still selling stat-granting items in their stores. I’d say blame the consumers for buying things, but I don’t believe most consumers monitor their behavior or spending habits half as well as modern marketing teams. It’s like blaming a deer for getting shot in the woods: It doesn’t stand much of a chance against its predator.

Sadly, self-monitoring is one of the best ways to get out of this. Taking to the streets (or social media) when you realize how abusive these companies are helps too. Supporting business models you like (and also taking that to social media) furthers this. I don’t think we’ll be stuck with digital stores with a side of game as the norm, but we’re in a quick-sand filled jungle at the moment, and it may be awhile. I think focusing on making a good games, AAA and indie, followed by fair, non-stat-associated bonus content (in both digital and physical options) is going to continue to propel good games forward, not only in terms of making their developers a nice profit, but in societal awareness outside of the gaming sphere.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): It depends. As camelotcrusade noted, AAA games are being built completely cognizant of the fact that pay isn’t frontloaded anymore; they know they are going to milk DLC and microtransactions later, so if anything, they’re more expensive to the end-user than they ever were, but the fleecing is spread out. Those studios aren’t selling games, anyway; they are evolving IPs into unstoppable forces, so they don’t care whatsoever about their effect on the rest of the market.

A/AA games are offsetting their lower prices by backloading content and quality, and thus we’ve see the rise of early access and the slow death of the mid-budget MMO.

I do think that gamers have become jaded when it comes to ballooning marketing budgets and dirty tricks, and that’s made many consumers far less willing to pay through the nose to be fleeced some more on the other end. The frustration for smaller studios, I know, is that the brunt of that loss of consumer trust is borne by them when it comes to business models, not by the megacorps that drove the trend in the first place. (And yes, I blame the megacorps.)

There will always be games that eschew the “would you like a game with your cash shop” model. We need to pay for and play them and not fund the scum. You have to support the people who are doing things the right way. It is the only way out.

Darn it.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): This is going to be long; I apologize in advance. But it’s a complex question, even if the simple gloss is that it’s not so much that games are too cheap, just that our expectations of value and price have advanced at a different pace compared to costs. I don’t think a simple “have games cost more” is going to fix things because what games cost is no longer as simple as the box price.

It’s entirely accurate to say that the price of $60 for a new game hasn’t budged much over time; I remember paying that for a brand-new game when I was in high school, which was nearly 20 years ago now. A lot of other things have changed their prices since then, but game prices have remained fairly fixed. What hasn’t stayed the same is the price of hiring a programming team, and perhaps more importantly, how long that team is expected to keep working on the game after launch.

MMOs, in some ways, broke this as soon as they started existing. Buying an SNES game meant that I got the game, and that was it. There would be no further updates, not that I expected them. That meant that the team who developed Legend of Dog Punters 3 could immediately start working on Legend of Dog Punters 4 once the former shipped, often times using a modified core from the previous game. With an MMO, though, you’re expected to have the game still running in a year and still have to develop based on that game. Online connectivity meant that games were suddenly expected, more and more often, to be supported after they launched.

Seriously, expansions make a lot more sense when you realize that, in some ways, they were always a patch on a business model that already wasn’t working.

Beyond that, the cost of making a game didn’t just go up with inflation. More and more people are required to make a game that can keep pace with contemporary games, for much the same reason that you’d have a very limited audience selling a new car with ’75 stylings. That’s not to say that every single game needs to have graphics so realistic that you can see every bit of stubble on a male character’s face or every single twitch of the female lead’s eyes as she facilitates his emotional development, just that you need to at least be seen as keeping some pace with modern games on a triple-A budget. If you want to put out a credible modern FPS, you simply can’t release a game built around sprites and basic vector mapping.

So games cost more to develop because of inflation, they cost more to develop because of features and graphics, and they cost more to develop because of expected longer tails. You can even see the roots of this in the 32-bit console era, when “longer” became a selling point for a lot of games, and the runaway success of Final Fantasy VII meant games would sometimes ship in multi-CD cases that contained only one CD. That appearance of bulk made a difference.

Oh, and let’s factor in one more fun element: It’s very possible that at this point, your company is noticing that you’ve hit a certain barrier in terms of how many people are going to play games, period. As long as you have a certain box price, a certain list of hardware requirements, and a certain social image, you’re not going to get more players.

So what’s the smart move? Remove some of those barriers. And that box price is definitely a barrier, but that brings in a new problem, where you’re making a more expensive game and expecting it to make more money while costing less. And so we get lockboxes, and nasty free-to-play schemes, and lots of other things that are still engaged in the messy business of figuring out how you can make games cheaper to get into while making more money in the long run.

Can we just make games more expensive? In part, this isn’t going to work simply because the long tail of service is part of the problem. Selling five million copies of Battle for Azeroth is, in all likelihood, not going to pay for a year of World of Warcraft updates, two years of server maintenance, and so forth. And that’s assuming that there are no issues that require extra development or patch time, no unexpected problems, and so forth. People get tetchy enough about paying extra for collector’s editions that usually actually contain some extra stuff; selling an expansion for twice the price is not likely to earn goodwill and buckets of money.

That isn’t to say that stuff like Star Wars: Battlefront II isn’t being mismanaged to all hell. Here we have a pricey game I am absolutely certain cost a lot to develop and has a lot riding on its success… and the publishing company has already shot it in the foot in terms of long-tail support because of early and aggressive monetization. By poisoning the well, EA ensured it’s less likely that the game will actually make money.

What can actually be done? I think we’re going through a period of some growing pains with regards to budgets and what can reasonably done; it’s very possible that the current model of “very big budget for a blockbuster game” isn’t actually going to be sustainable for much longer. But I don’t think that just asking for more money is going to fix the problem, especially when so many other games are competing for attention and eyes. One of the things that I’ve said repeatedly is that subscription MMOs have a problem of needing a base to sustain them when their competition is everything else in the world; asking for $15/month can feel like a lot when I can get 90% of the same experience over here for $0/month.

The trick, as was discussed the other day, is in making people feel like they want to spend their dollars on this game. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): It is bizarre and disheartening to see the falling profit margins in fixed-price video games result in more and more aggressive revenue streams. MMO players are no stranger to these, of course, but now it’s really spilling over into all areas of the market with little consensus of the best approach and price points.

Personally, I am not willing to spend over $50 to purchase a game, and if I do drop that much, I expected it to be a “premium” experience with no cash shop tomfoolery. I really don’t mind buying expansions, but I am disgruntled at the practice of withholding content from a launch version to sell to players later at DLC (EA is the undisputed master of this, but that studio is far from alone).

Frankly, I feel that these AAA titles are a runaway train that are not worth the bother of pouring so much resources into them and requiring a large return. That reminds me of the collapse of Hollywood blockbusters and the insanity of gambling with so much money on an unsure return. That’s why I’m more than glad to turn my attention to smaller, leaner studios and their games which can be made for a lot less and don’t require as aggressive a monetization scheme to support it.

Your turn!

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123 Comments on "Massively Overthinking: Are modern games too cheap?"

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miol
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miol

If you don’t need extra ressources for the implementation of lockbox systems or to artificially stretch out shelf lifes to milk them longer, studios would be just as fine!

Woetoo
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Woetoo

Too cheap? My first reaction is “Yes. Surely?”

Then I think “Witcher 3”.

I can’t help feeling that those developers that follow their passions and succeed end up delivering WAY better games for lower costs than those that follow the money and succeed. Bad games, no matter their origins are always (mostly) going to be bad games.

With a few notable exceptions, I’m not sure the AAA market delivers good games any more. Profitable usually, yes. Artistically pretty, sure. But phone your friend to say “you must play this” levels of fun and enjoyment. Hardly ever.

More passion, less accountancy please. Because with passion and imagination, two guys managed to write a game into less memory than most modern developers can fit their game’s desktop icon into. (Elite).

Start delivering better games, and my answer will be a resounding yes.
Until then, I’ll stick with a “meh, maybe”.

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Iain B

Yup, CD Projekt Red is a perfect example. And they’ve promised to keep it up with Cyberpunk 2077

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Peregrine Falcon

I don’t believe for a second that “AAA games are too expensive to make.” Companies in the past have always figured out ways to save money and still deliver a decent product, and the game industry needs to do the same.

Buy/license a decent game engine instead of building a new one from scratch for every single game. Focus on making good game-play instead of making state-of-the-art graphics that do nothing to improve the game.

Build dev tools that allow the devs to quickly create new content by generating a map and then dragging and dropping items/NPCs on to it so that 4 hours of new content doesn’t require 1,454,734,568 man hours to build.

If AAA games truly are too expensive to make it’s because game companies aren’t being smart about their production process. Period.

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Still Can't Ban This

EVERY engine needs modifications, and many times it is more cost/time effective to custom build. Your concept of how content creation works is laughable. Your entire post tells me you’ve never even made a mod for a game.

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yoh_sl

I’m not convinced that the box price not shifting with inflation is to blame here, not entirely.
I think it’s a corporate culture thing. Look at Monster Hunter World, besides a few collectors editions, it doesn’t appear to have any bad business practices.
And Path of Exile has had a fantastic free-to-play model for years now.

You don’t have to use bad business practices to turn a profit.
These companies are choosing to employ bad business practices for short term gain.

Even if the box price did increase, there is no guarantee that they wouldn’t still be using bad practices in addition to the raised price. Because they don’t just want to just turn a profit, they want all the money.
Wanton greed is not a bug, it’s a feature.

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Zen Dadaist

Nah, everything else is too expensive!

Alfredo Garcia
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Alfredo Garcia

The pricing of goods and services, as well as what people will pay and what they say they will or will not pay for them, is as much psychology as economics. Value is an entirely personal metric. As such, I’d rather get greased up and wrestle a shoggoth than try and pin down some objective numbers for what games should cost.

As far as I can see, this whole EA/Battlefront 2 thing (and microtransactions generally) is a more or less free market working as designed. Would I like corporations to behave in a more customer-focused manner? Absolutely. Is that going to happen in most instances? No. That being the case do I think that there should be government regulations in place to deal with and limit bad actors in the gaming industry? Yes. Particularly when attempts to obfuscate predatory practices is involved, as that speaks to intent.

Anyway, will be interesting to watch all this as it shakes out over the next few years.

Skoryy
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Skoryy

Yes, yes, yes, this is exactly the conversation we should be having! Recognizing the situation’s bad is one thing, but you don’t fix anything unless you figure out how you got here and how you plan on getting yourself out of the mess. A month’s subscription, or a gift card, to camelotcrusade for asking this. And one for Eliot for hitting a lot of points I had been pondering on in his answer, and one for Alex Malone for giving us another excellent point of view.

One thing that hasn’t been brought up yet, but I think is vitally important in the discussion, is the evolution of the gaming market in the age of F2P. Check your app store, your console store, Steam, what have you, and there are a multitude of Free-To-Play options available. I blew my mind reading Damien Schobert on Twitter describe mobile F2P sales being successful if 5% of the players actually paid cash. 5%! Now think of that when you’re looking at your favorite game’s cash shop and/or lootboxes.

I don’t have hard numbers. However, I can consider how many players that, once upon a time, may have grudgingly paid up front for a new release, only to now gleefully play F2P games without having to pay one thin dime. Now combine them with other players who balance spending hundreds of dollars on a AAA title versus far less on a B2P/F2P title. Throw in the collapse of the mid-market game and the embrace of gacha by AAA, and I can make the educated guess that the bottom on the gaming market’s been bottoming out for the past decade. Gamers that were reluctant to pay, now have a plethora of options where they don’t have to pay. The big titles are basically embracing the only reliable source of cash left: The whales.

Where this is going, I wish I knew. Gacha’s been merrily trucking along in Japan, and America sold its soul to Vegas decades ago. Even if we did go the Maude Flanders route, I can easily see AAA titles countering by going full Lexus: “You want the ultimate gaming experience? Pay up.” And the whales and whale wannabes will.

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camelotcrusade

Aww, thanks. And a thanks is more than I expected and by far enough to cheer me. 😀

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Witches

They are too expensive, everything else in the digital world gives you more for the same amount, the same 100€ that bought me a 1TB HD now buys me a 3TB HD with better tech, virtually every piece of hardware gives us more for the same price.

A car costs more because the parts that make it also cost more, the whole argument that server space costs more blah blah blah, is just a consequence of them not buying stuff they can afford to save money, money that never seems short when they have to invest in stuff like 3d that may well be the future of gaming but definitely isn’t the present.

I remember when one of the arguments was that games had to be printed and packed etc, games went digital but that didn’t make them any cheaper, i pay for the physical disc and box the same i pay for downloading it, using my own bandwidth that i also pay for.

The only thing that will come from a raise in prices, is another raise in prices, lockboxes will not disappear, dlc will not disappear, season passes will not disappear, the nickel and diming will continue but now you will pay more upfront.

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Josh

Personally, I think there’s just too many AAA games released, which dilute the market. Not only does this cut into the profit of game makers, but it also means that we often get badly made games from developers that are stressed about pumping out more and more content.
I really just wish the game industry would slow down and focus on making better games instead of just more games.
And this really does just apply to AAA, big budget games. Having a lot of low budget indie games that are more experimental and diverse not only allows for creative games to have an outlet, but it also allows AAA developers to see how gamers respond to various types of innovations without investing in something that’s a huge loss if it fails.

amkosh
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amkosh

I remember when games cost 19.95. Then 29.95. Then 34.95. Then 39.95. Then 49.95, and now 59.95. So increasing prices is not a new thing. It has been stable for a while now, at least the AAA level.

People think price is set by taking the amount it takes it make it, all the middlemen, and then adding a modest (or not so modest) profit and then you have the price. That is not the case. What determines price is simply what the market will pay. Video games are by definition non necessities, and as such they have a fairly elastic demand curve. Price goes up, sales go down, price goes, to a certain point, because not everyone will buy/use a video game. I’m simplifying things here too, there are many other factors on price.

However, I’m comfortable sayin this: What a game costs to make has nothing to do with its price. What a game costs has everything to do with whether the game is made or not.

Let’s say you make a product, a widget. You do all the math, all the surveys, comparable analysis, and apply all the art of pricing a product. You come back and determine that your widget can at most be priced at 60$, has the best sales/revenue ratio at 45$ and you has a minimum sale price of 40$.

You’re manufacturing team then comes back and says initially the widget will cost 60$ to make, and that over 5 years it will decrease to 45$.

This widget would never be made. While it is true, eventually it will be profitable, the time to reach a profit would be long. Also you have to consider opportunity cost of the investor giving you money for this. He/She is going to only fund projects which give him/her the most potential profit in an opportunity.

Same thing with games, if the cost to make a game is so high, the most likely thing that’s going to happen is the game won’t get made. If it does get made, it will be made with with premium monetization. It will be designed to get you to want those extras. You can call it P2Win if you want, but in reality, all the studio and publisher is doing is getting as much revenue as they can to maximize their profit to keep their owners happy, and most importantly investing.

If that bothers you, ask yourself this: Do you work for free? I doubt many of you do. I also figure most of you like getting raises. Why is it any different for the owners? The other funny thing is many of you are quite probably “owners” of EA, either directly, or more likely indirectly in that your bank, insurance company, etc own funds that invest in those companies.

Swifty
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Swifty

First computer game I bought in 1983 was on tape, and cost $9.99….$25 in today’s money.

Swifty
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Swifty

The most I would ever pay for a game is $60. I also hate cash shops.

taradyne
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taradyne

I really appreciate this question being asked in a public forum. It will be an unfavorable one, but it’s been my opinion for a long time that the cost of gaming has stayed too low for too long, thus training generations of players to not appreciate just how much it costs to make the games they like to play.

I’m not talking about huge bumps in price, more like $5 this year, $5 more next time, a couple more bucks for subscription, etc. Over time this would increase the price of games and more importantly, train the purchaser about the cost of this hobby.

The other thing I think developers are missing the boat on is the trial account. You want to get more kids into your game? Make a free trial account available. Put limits on it that cap either levels or access but keep the fun in. And make your subs worthwhile. If I love a game, I’ll sub years in advance!

I’m not a fan of lootboxes but I know for some players, this is a gambling thing they love to indulge in. There are all kinds of ways to make minigames; lootboxes is just one. Increase the options for addictive/acquisitive game features and players will pay for their fun.

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Robert Basler
styopa
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styopa

Answered: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHSso2vufPM

(Jimquisition. He’d be intolerable to watch if he was even marginally less informative.)

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Hravik

I thought of this very same video.

Andrew Ross
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Andrew Ross

…I kinda want to change my reply to “What Eliot said.”

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Jon-Enee Merriex

I agree with camelotcrusade, I think your thoughts were great. I think a lot of people agree with you. And you bring up a myriad of valid points. It is hard, if not impossible to get away from the fact this SWBF2 issue is 100% greed on EA’s part, but that may not be the case for others game devs/publishers.

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camelotcrusade

Lol, I appreciated them both, Andrew. Thanks for your thoughts.

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Jeremy Barnes

Games could cost $500 and they would still stuff them with lockboxes. Would I play more for a game that completely swore off lockboxes (and I believed them)…Yes.

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Paragon Lost

Yes, I do think that they are under priced today. With what an mmorpg offers, the cost it takes to develop and maintain one and add new content? Yep, under priced.

Edit: As an side and off topic. Anyone know what happened to Karl? I’ve not seen him post in months and months.

Swifty
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Swifty

Well, MMORPGs used to have subscriptions, to cover on going costs. So $50 plus a sub and NO cash shop is a win-win. Can’t wait for Pantheon to bring this model back.

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Veldan

CU will probably bring it back before Pantheon. Mark Jacobs said since the early days that CU won’t have a cash shop (and he’s one of the few people I trust to speak truth on this)

Swifty
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Swifty

True. Is CU more PvP based? Really looking for a pure PvE world to live in with friends.

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Veldan

It’s PVP, but in such a way that it’s more appealing to traditional MMORPG enthousiast. No twitchy action combat, no arenas, no ganking people while they’re questing. Just a large world with 3 sides fighting over territory.

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Michael18

Games like Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup or TOME, yes!
AAA games? No.

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camelotcrusade

Thanks for fielding the question, MOP, and to all the commentators adding their views.
Naturally, you guys got me thinking. ;)

I liked all the comments, and found something to agree with or think about everywhere. Rather than repeat all that, I’d like to digress into data for a moment.

While I agree it’s not apples to apples, the price of other entertainment hasn’t uniformly fallen in the same period. Movie tickets have gone up a lot (over 30% in a 10 year period). Data:
http://www.natoonline.org/data/ticket-price/.

Similarly, music concerts have also soared: http://www.omaha.com/go/music/concert-ticket-prices-have-soared-in-the-past-years-but/article_f43cc7c0-ffe5-5c7c-8e86-17398bb75c48.html.

But both of those offer an in-person experience digital can’t replicate, so they keep charging the $$$. Which means games don’t really go into that bucket, do they? They’re digital entertainment, and if I leave theaters and concerts to compare digital music and digital movies, then AAA games look better off than music but worse off than movies.

Music was riding high until digital got big (around 2001) and then it crashed and never recovered, the “pricing fat” having been squeezed out, seemingly never to return. Music Data: https://blog.thecurrent.org/2014/02/40-years-of-album-sales-data-in-one-handy-chart/

In contrast, the price of digital film is all over the place, and generally *more* than the DvDs were, at least at release. I couldn’t find one chart to summarize, but I found lots of articles asking why they cost more than DvDs and citing copyright, platform exclusivity, licensing, and other factors as keep costs favorable to producers and retailers over consumers, such as the way they premium-price new releases to avoid overly cannibalizing theater sales

Taking it back to games, while they aren’t as bled out as music, they also don’t have anywhere near the level of control we see with film. AAA games seem to be in 60 dollar limbo (again, no chart, but I found many references citing that price from the 90’s to today) but if we look at the average price on Steam: https://galyonk.in/pricing-on-steam-67d1e040b543

… we see that fewer than 1% of games are at that 50-60 AAA price, but they comfortably sell the most, and they make the most money. And so, here we are.

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Jon-Enee Merriex

Great post. Steam has a massive platform. The reason every game developer wants to be on is because Steam will get your content in front of tens millions of eyes. So offering something for $5 x 100,000 can help pay for the development of the game. However, let’s not get it twisted. That’s not going to get you over the finish line. You can maybe pay for the development of one game but you’ll likely not end up with enough to fund your next. Some rare games hit but most just make their money back.

In fact, there is a rather nefarious thing happening on Steam where developers are releasing games, swapping assests and re-releasing the same game with another name because they know if they have 5 games on Steam they can make 5 times the money. This is happening because selling a game for $1 just doesn’t cut it for most studios.

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McGuffn

Very good points. I think the reason games aren’t more expensive is that games are clearly disposable and the market is severely oversaturated. And MMOs are partially to blame for that. If you’re playing UO for 20 years or WoW for 12 years or something how many more games are you going to need or even have the time to play.

On the disposable end, look at all the steep price cuts on basically new games: titles that have been out for 6 months to a year. That’s driven on the industry end by multiplayer and “games as a service” (they want more people using the service) and on the consumer end by a complete glut of games already on the market.

http://www.pcgamer.com/the-number-of-games-published-on-steam-could-top-5000-this-yearthe-most-ever/

Estranged
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Estranged

Distribution costs have been slashed tremendously. Console cartridges had very expensive physical memory. CDs/DVDs cut that cost greatly. Digital is even cheaper, once established.

My question:

Why does a physical box cost the same as digital?

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Doctor Sweers

Around 2009 I believe we saw the price of digital increase to match the box copy of a game. We once enjoyed a $10 discount on digital versions of a game. It does not make a lot of sense to me…

Estranged
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Estranged

True!

Mitzruti
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Mitzruti

because it wouldn’t go over well with customers to charge them an extra physical tax.

Estranged
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Estranged

They punish digital customers with the inability to trade their console games, versus physical.

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Doctor Sweers

For me, a game such as Madden, The Show, 2K, or a deep MMO, $60 is a bargain. Take a game such as ARK, which I have enjoyed quite a bit over the past few years. I have logged 373 hours into the game (a considerable amount for me!). I paid ~$30 plus another $20 for an expansion of the game. With $50 invested spread out over 373 hours, I am looking at $.13 per hour of entertainment. Even if I were to play a game for 10 hours, I’m still looking at $5 or $6 per hour of entertainment. What’s cheaper than that? TV/Netflix/Hulu/Amazon? While I am not including all elements in the equation (internet access, cost of TV/Computer, etc.), games are one of the cheapest forms of entertainment available today.

I’d hate to see games increase in price but that’s likely due to paying the same price $39-$59 for the last ~25 years.

Estranged
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Estranged

Interesting. Buy a solid game with replay value and you have a tremendous bargain. However, for the same price, you can buy a clunker.

This doesn’t happen in other industries, like Entertainment/gaming.

All cars don’t cost the same, for instance.

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Doctor Sweers

Very true. How interesting would that type of business model be by charging extra for a top rated game? Pay by the hour? Seems like that was a thing at one point in time:)

Estranged
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Estranged

Doctor! No! $400 gaming bills! #triggered

All kidding aside, I don’t mind paying a subscription or premium for a superior product.

That is one reason I like DLCs. If the vanilla player doesn’t like the game, they aren’t stuck paying for more content.

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Dug From The Earth

I hate this discussion every time it comes up because on its own, it almost has merit, but in comparison to other things, it doesnt.

Movies also cost millions of dollars to make

A ticket costs 8-14 dollars depending
A blue ray costs 20-30 dollars depending

Why should games, which can have similar budgets, cost so much more?
More so, why are companies trying to make consumers believe that we should be paying MORE than we already are paying now? (ie: more than 60)

1 Reason – Greed.

Oh, and one marketing strategy, is to pander to the “caring” side of consumers to make them think that poor little EA has to eat and pay for rent, and needs to make a living. So please buy the Deluxe version for 90 dollars instead.

Companies will tell us anything at this point to convince us to give them more money.

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Still Can't Ban This

Games don’t have the audience size that movies do. Games don’t have the lifespan movies do. What hit game from 10, 20, 30 years ago is still selling today?

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Alex Malone

Just a quick one, but games DO have the audience size that movies do, at least from a financial point of view.

The games industry overtook the film and tv industry, in terms of global revenue, back in 2012.

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Michael18

> What hit game from 10, 20, 30 years ago is still selling today?

Last game I bought was Pool of Radiance, just 2 weeks ago. Released 1988.

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Still Can't Ban This

Which means that of the ONE platform that can support such a broad catalog of older titles, you are still an extreme minority. Did you buy it at Walmart? No? Why? Because no one is buying it. Meanwhile, from about the same time, we’ll see plenty of copies of say Tim Burton’s Batman movie for sale at Walmarts because it IS still selling.

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Michael18

I wouldn’t compare games and movies, at least regarding this aspect. Movies today are more or less what they’ve been in the 80ies. But games in the 80ies have been in their infancy.

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Dug From The Earth

You might be right. Games may not have the audience size of SOME movies. And yet, movies that have a smaller audience still cost the same. You dont hear movies with 100 million budget, that only draw in 20% of the big crowds, saying they need to charge 25 dollars a ticket.

Added to the fact that the number of video game consumers is going up dramatically each year, i wont be surprised if it soon gets to a point where just as many people play games, as they do see movies.

So it might warrant nearly a 6x increase in cost of the game in comparison to a movie ticket, but it no way in hell warrants an even BIGGER one.

What hit game from 10, 20, 30 years ago is still selling today?

Um, the NES classic and SNES classic say hello

Mist also says hello.

Im sure GoG.com could also share some data with you as well.

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Roger Christie

Movies that have small audiences don’t cost 100+ million dollars to make. If they do, they’re considered colossal flops and generally result in people being fired, studios going out of business.

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Dug From The Earth

And you think this also doesnt happen in the gaming industry?

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Still Can't Ban This

The NES Classic is not “someone today goes out to buy a copy of Grand Theft Auto 3”, but nice try. With the exception of SPECIALIZED HARDWARE like the NES Classic, how many people bought Super Mario Bros 3 this year? Ten years ago? Twenty? How about Double Dragon 2, or Super Street Fighter? is Myst still a hot seller? Games, with rare exception, do not have a long tail like movies do. %1 or less of a market is not the market.

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Dug From The Earth

The NES Classic is not “someone today goes out to buy a copy of Grand Theft Auto 3”

Says who?

I bought a SNES classic for the games. Specifically 3 of them.
How is that ANY different than going out and buying the Alien collection on Blu-ray? Or buying a copy of GTA?

The medium it comes on doesnt change the fact that its an older game that Im spending money for.

We are going to see this more an more in the future. Companies finding ways to bypass technological roadblocks that before, prevented us as gamers from going back and doing EXACTLY what you suggested isnt happening… which is buying older games from 30 years ago.

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Still Can't Ban This

it is very different in that if older games had a long tail, you wouldn’t have to buy specialized limited edition hardware for them, they’d be readily available like in demand products such as older movies are. If the SNES Mini didn’t exist, how many SNES games do you think would have sold? Is WalMart not stocking SNES carts because they hate money? You’re mistaking an outlier gimmick for being representative of the whole. The SNES Mini selling well does not mean catalog titles sell well.

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Dug From The Earth

And its to the point, where for the cost of a new game, you get a device that emulates and allows you to play said older games, without an issue. Again, the delivery method isnt what matters here. I paid 50 bucks for the original zelda back in the day, and… recently, I paid 60 bucks for the SAME game, with the bonus of getting a few others. Its not a different concept to buying old movies. The number of current audience members is the only drastically different thing

And that concept is going to continue to grow and evolve as time goes on. More and more systems are backwards compatible, and more and more pc games are being remastered to work on modern PCs.

I reference Baldurs Gate, a PC game that is 20 years old, that I personally, just recently bought the enhanced edition of, and played through again…. and, I STILL paid more for that than I do for a movie ticket.

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Still Can't Ban This

Even if the number of gamers increases annually, there is again the issue of “nobody today is buying Super Mario Bros 3”, but every day someone is buying a Star Wars movie from the 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s. Video games don’t have the long tail, and unlike movies they’re splintered across proprietary platforms. You’re also forgetting about things that movies have like broadcast licensing profits that video games can’t have.

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Dug From The Earth

Video games are growing a tail… they are just vastly behind that of movies

TONS of people watched movies 30 years ago.

Where as the gaming community 30 years ago was super small compared to today.

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Jon-Enee Merriex

To me, this column would be a lot better if it included thoughts from people who’ve actually made games. Instead, it contains theories from people who’ve never had to lay somebody off just to get a game out the door. Which, in my opinion, has been the fallacy of this whole conversation on sites like MassivelyOp. At no point has the staff actually involved people who may actually know what they are talking about. They have passed conjecture off as fact because they are players who don’t understand how the market, or making a game, actually works.

It’s frustrating because you make comments like “I am not willing to spend over $50 to purchase a game” which has nothing to due with the core question. That’s an opinion based on faulty information.

“That’s why I’m more than glad to turn my attention to smaller, leaner studios and their games which can be made for a lot less and don’t require as aggressive a monetization scheme to support it.” Here’s another opinion that is hurting the industry because you don’t understand how things actually work. And this is actively hurting the companies you say you want to support. Why? because you know the price of everyone but the value of nothing.

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camelotcrusade

Yes, but all MassivelyOP columns are based on the perspective of the writers and commentators and aren’t claimed to be data-backed, industry think-tanks. I am 100% with you that the industry needs more data and learning that is shared with and among it. But also think there’s room for sites and communities like this one, and saying they don’t have value without “real” data or experience is pessimistic.

Having a channel into what consumers actually think (vs. your own reality) is very valuable for industry and company analysts to know, and if those parties think their influencers (like MassivelyOP) are doing it wrong, there’s an opportunity to engage. Or they can ignore it, at their peril, which neither stops it nor helps anything.

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Jon-Enee Merriex

I think I wasn’t clear in my first post. Other than Justin’s entry which I found wholly baseless and trite, this is the type of thing I think we need more of. My statement was, this WITH people in the industry discussing the topic would make this column a whole lot better.

I’ve been a Massively reader for a long time and since moving out from AOL the site has turned into a gossip rag from a really high quality – independent – news source. I lament that a lot. But every once in a while they do things, like this column which I love (despite my mostly negative reaction to Justin’s input) that could really go far into diving into this issue. Instead, it reads like a bunch of gamers who are too poor to afford the games they want to play. Where it could have been an in-depth look at the issue from many sides.

It’s just something we don’t have that in a very real way Massively used to do. Honestly, on this issue and the issue of lockedboxes, Massively has done little to put it into a fuller context. Though, admittedly, this column has been probably the best they’ve done so far to do so. I just wish it went farther. Mostly because I think we all are painfully aware that this is a MAJOR issue for gaming right now as whole and we’re all trying to grapple with what this means and where we should go.

We need a New York Times for gaming. We just don’t have it. I get the Massively writers don’t like lock boxes, but they are not telling the whole story and that is the part I find most annoying. There is so much nuance being willfully omitted. So it ends up being ALL GAME COMPANIES THAT DO THIS ONE THING ARE GREEDY AND SHOULD FAIL.

Estranged
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Estranged

Those greedy bastards run ads on this website.

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camelotcrusade

I like this column, too.

I also understand the frustration. I know what it’s like to be yelling into the wind about data and research… I worked for a research company that was built on the idea that consumers don’t do what they say they will do, but what they say is predictive of what they will do. I believe something similar is true when it comes to what gamers want vs. what companies are doing. There are should many voices in that conversation, and the absence of this one is deafening.

Having said that, it’s not the only voice that matters, so I don’t mind seeing the others (YMMV, as you have made clear).

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Veldan

Well, enlighten us? Your post says several things are wrong, but doesn’t provide any explanation beyond “you don’t know what you’re talking about”.

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Jon-Enee Merriex

I’ve written pages about this on this site before. With detailed examples. They get ignored, so meh.

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Veldan

Fair enough. For what it’s worth, I found your posts on this page worth reading.

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BalsBigBrother

I am shocked that they don’t cost more than they do at this point in time if I am being honest. I like a bargain as much as the next person but I also have no issue with paying for something that may have taken years and a lot of effort to create either.

For me there isn’t a universal fair price so I just use my judgement on each game and what I think I can get out of them in terms of fun. Sometimes I get it wrong /shrugs I am not perfect, I learn and get on with my life.

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Carebear

In the free market there is offer amd demand.. i am sure if companies could increase the cost they should do so.

The problem is that MMO success is determines by how many players they have..

Box price is a barrier, set it too high and you will discourage potential buyers and your game will have less players and “so its not a good game” by mmo standards.

Set it too low and you will have problem make a profit or even pay the bills, which then lead in another way of make money, which often results to lockboxes.

So mmo companies must find a sweet spot between price and attract more players.

Also dont forget the distribution.. it was much more costy for companies to destribute their games.. now digital downloads are very popular and cost almost nothing to the company..

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Veldan

You mention an important point: in MMOs, players attract players. It’s more favourable than in many other game types to have a cheap (or zero) box price, because that means more people, which in turn will make the game more attractive for potential new players.

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Jon-Enee Merriex

This fails to take into account marketing costs which has skyrocketed while distribution costs have fallen. And at the same time, most of the larger scale games still come with a physical distribution plan. So while you reduce costs in one area costs in others have increased.

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Carebear

there is still a distribution plan but is much much lower, both in number of copies and the actual cost… Its seems that distribution is only for advertising now, instead of actual distribution…

I still remember getting early wow expansions, TBC and WotLK… we were almost a hundred of people in our local store at midnight, waiting for doors to open. Now there is no one, cause most people either order it from a major web shop or just buy it digital.

I am not so sure about the marketing cost though.. there are much more “free” marketing places now that there were before… Basically internet have skyrocketed and most people using fansites, blogs, etc to learn for games.

I remember I was buying PC Master every month, to find out new games, upcoming games, read reviews and previews… I have not bought a single magazine the last 10 years. Not that fansites and blogs are not marketing, But you are not “forced” to use the few famous sources anymore.

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Jon-Enee Merriex

That fact that you think there is a such thing as “free marketing” speaks volumes. Companies are paying top dollar per acquisition.

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Carebear

The reason I set it in quotes is because I dont think is free.. as “free marketing” I mostly mean the “word of mouth” advertising which is tons better now with the internet than it was in early 2000 for example

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Jon-Enee Merriex

Again, “Viral” is a myth. People think, oh if it’s good people will talk about it. This thing doesn’t happen. It is rare for any game to get a viral lift. I’ve spent the majority of the past decade trying to discover this secret. The reality is, sometimes, the right person (with a sizable fanbase) catches a game at the right time and spreads it wide and a game will take off.

The rest of the time the game companies are paying people to make it take off. So for you the player it looks viral, but the reality is that person who’s talking about it got paid by a game company to do so. Do you think Arnold Schwarzenegger actually plays that game? He doesn’t, he was paid.

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Carebear

I agree with this… but by word of mouth, i wasnt talking about famous youtybers, or actors, etc.. but the regular gamer who will talk about the game in the various game forums..

I started playing wow because a friend of mine was playing and he told me 100 times to join the game because is awesome… i didnt start it because i saw an actor advertise it. Average gamer opinion is much more respectable now days, cause we know that everyome else is payed to tell you good things

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MesaSage

I sold many copies of Zork back in the day for 40 bucks so I’m constantly amazed at how little inflation has happened in the industry. On the other hand, the wages haven’t kept up with inflation. I knew people who were making more driving a backhoe in 1978 than make in a lot of tech jobs now.

So, are they too cheap? Perhaps, but if they want to sell copies they have to be in touch with the buying power of the average gamer. Like it or not, the whale strategy makes games available to a larger number of people than otherwise would.

You can shut down the whales if you want, it doesn’t mean we’re going to get more or better games. Just different ones.

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A Dad Supreme

On the other hand, the wages haven’t kept up with inflation. I knew people who were making more driving a backhoe in 1978 than make in a lot of tech jobs now.

This was almost everyone though, not just the tech jobs. Wages were low across the board and didn’t keep up with cost of living for most people.

The thing is, the people they were trying to sell $60 to were already making less than those with tech jobs, so you could only get so much out of that market before it topped out. Companies just decided to start with the highest amount ($50) that they could get away with.

It’s like when you go to buy a car. The salesman asks “How much a month do you want to spend a month?” They find the top end you’re willing to pay not that you can afford, then charge that. That was video games right from the start.

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MesaSage

You give the industry too much credit. Most of the guys I knew in the 80’s were packaging this stuff after hours with disk duplicators, paper inserts and baggies. They knew little more about supply and demand than the average retail clerk. They just knew that Broderbund and Sierra were selling for 39.95 so that was the going price. Nobody even knew who the consumer was because there was no online, no software stores and no research companies telling them how to price games. They just did what everyone else did and hoped to make enough to make another game. All this other stuff came about because MBA’s gotta MBA.

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A Dad Supreme

“in 1978 than make in a lot of tech jobs now.”

“…packaging this stuff after hours with disk duplicators, paper inserts and baggies. “

No. I don’t give the industry too much credit. You misspoke.

You said guys in tech jobs now make less than backhoe operators did in 1978. That’s not the industry standard for either job.

Backhoe operators make about $40k average now. With overtime and killing themselves they can make more but they aren’t making what today’s tech workers make.

There is no way guys in 1978 was making more than today’s backhoe workers so by logic, they really can’t be making more than today’s tech workers who make more already than today’s backhoe workers on average.

You described people “packaging things” and such. That is not a “tech job”. That is a shipping, warehouse worker or clerk job.

The fact that those jobs you mentioned are in the tech industry doesn’t make them any more “tech” than the janitor that cleans the toilets at Blizzard is also “in tech”.

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MesaSage

I’m not sure you actually read my posts. In any case, nice chatting with you.

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Mewmew

Far more people actually buy the games now than they used to though. I believe that the $50-$60 price point it started at was too high at the time and meant to cover the more limited amount of sales a game would get. Now that same game gets far more sales and across the entire world as well. For PC at least (and increasingly so on consoles) a huge percentage of them aren’t even physical sales, they don’t print up boxes, CDs / DvDs, manuals, and have all these shipping costs. They just sell a digital version of the game we all download, saving them tons of money and yet the cost of the games in digital format is still the same.

A good selling budget priced game can make a company rich (Minecraft). So don’t tell me that the millions of copies of games 3-4 times the price aren’t making enough money at their current price points.

Not everything has gone up. Other things that have increased in number of sales like movies have gone way way down in price from what they originally sold at.

A game today at $60 makes a company plenty of money if it sells okay. The problem is that they see so much more money, over the top whale spending on mobile and other games that they all want to get a piece of. So all these DLCs and lock boxes and such aren’t because the companies are hurting for money, it’s because no matter how much they make they want to make more.

There are of course flops that don’t make enough, but in general the $50-$60 price point is fine. Their sales increased how much and the prices never went down. Their costs were reduced how much by digital and the prices never went down. They now make all sorts of extra with DLC, lock boxes, so many other things, and yet the prices still haven’t gone down (unless it releases as a free to play game to begin with). At this time the price point shouldn’t increase and there is no reason to because of all the extra sales and cost cutting that digital made happen.

Could they just sell us a full game without all the DLC and such at a higher price point? Yes, and they do that actually. They sell us the game and then a “Season Pass” which normally is what actually gives us the full game. So basically many full games cost $30 more than they used to.

I just woke up and my brian isn’t awake yet, so I’m not really that great at making my points right now, but they’re basically there :P

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A Dad Supreme

Far more people actually buy the games now than they used to though. I believe that the $50-$60 price point it started at was too high at the time and meant to cover the more limited amount of sales a game would get.

That.

Games were already the top end of entertainment, up there with theatre (actual theatre) tickets, plays and that kind of stuff. Even sporting events to major league teams had $12 seats.

The only room for price increase were the “Collector Edition” type boxes but they had to actually offer you something, which usually were more tangible, physical things.

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Darthbawl

My problem is this: you go buy $60 AAA game-of-the-month and think that’s it, I’m done spending on it. Then they pinch you for paid DLC, expansion, up to a zillion different editions, [paid] lockboxes, etc. Now my wallet is empty and I’m out a good $100+ easily. And yes I DON’T have to buy all the extra stuff but the game companies sure make you feel like a heel if you don’t buy it all. [or the game is not complete w/o all the extras]

I tend to buy something after it has been out for a little while and goes on sale. Current $60 games are far from being too cheap, the opposite in some cases.

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Carebear

thats why usually I avoid EA games… because not only the cost a lot to buy, but then they sell so much more things… and you feel like you bought a dumb down version of the game.

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Bryan

I actually thing the SWBFII issue is in part (and only in part) due to the fact that EA has to pay for the IP and the development of the game. So while there is a large in built audience due to the IP they have to pay a lot for the IP. On top of that it’s hard to go the cosmetic for cash way that most prefer because due to the IP they are greatly restricted in outfits and changes to the main selling point the characters of the IP(Marvel Heroes suffered from this issue as they had several instances of announcing new characters only to have them delayed as the art was not approved by Marvel). Thus to a degree in this case EA is stuck when trying to further their profit through a cash shop they have to sell something and the easiest and safest is cosmetics but that is not really feasible in a purchased IP like Star Wars.

I’m not going to cry for EA that they have this issue they were almost certainly trying to take the easiest route to the most money. But I think people should be cognizant that they were forced by the purchased IP toward this route.

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Witches

A toy maker invented the yellow lightsaber, this fabled difficulty because of the IP only happens now with EA and back then with SOE/Daybreak, by sheer coincidence both companies mismanaged their biggest in house IPs.

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Armsbend

EA’s entire business model is placed on the back of licensing. It is not my problem that EA chose to avoid creating their own IPs in favor of putting a sports star’s face on their model.

Should Activision not be rewarded more due to the fact they have a writing team that has to create an entirely new vision, character, storyline all from scratch? Should I care that EA makes the same money as Activision does doing none of those things – instead taking a well rehearsed Star Wars universe? I don’t.

Because EA licenses big names they have to do lockboxes rather than make a game everyone wants to play. It sounds really stupid doesn’t it?

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Alex Malone

So, I’m 32 and have been a PC gamer since my Dad first brought home a Pentium 286 in 1990. I’ve owned a ton of consoles too. In short, I have a hell of a lot of experience playing computer games of all shapes and sizes. I am also a software developer and have worked for a mainstream games company in a QA role.

What I have noticed in myself and others of similar experience is an unwillingness to put up with shit. When you first start gaming, you have no experience so you take everything at face value. You are continually experiencing “firsts” – your first shooter, your first online game, your first kill, your first RPG, your first companion, your first dungeon, your first race…..

Each of these initial experiences are exciting and fun, regardless of the quality of the game. We’re filled with wonder and eagerly await our next experience.

Then the next experience comes along. We’ve seen it before so the excitement is less, but we still enjoy it. Over a long period of time, we will experience games of immense quality as well as utter garbage. We see how to do things right, and how not to do things.

Fast forwards to today.

When I see a new game is coming out, I take a look at what it offers. Given my experience, it is usually easy to spot the mistakes that have been made before it is even released. Even if there are no mistakes, chances are there is little innovation. I am constantly left with the feeling that if I buy a game, all I’ll get is the same experience I’ve had before but with updated graphics. To me, that isn’t worth paying full price (£40), let alone more.

I believe this is now the crux of the matter. The average age of a gamer is ever increasing, which means the experience level of the average gamer is also increasing. This makes us more cagey buyers. It also means more of us are able to look past cosmetic improvements to examine the fundamentals: does it provide good gameplay? does it deliver a good story line?

The answer to the problem is, in my opinion, greater innovation. The top end of the games market has stagnated really badly over the last 10 years – the money involved is so great that nobody is willing to take risks – but unfortunately the top end of the market has cannibalised the majority of the mid-sized developers, so very little comes out from them. That leaves only the indie developers to provide us with innovation, but due to low budgets the quality is often low, the marketing non-existent so the ideas rarely transition from the indie scene to the AAA scene.

How we achieve innovation is a whole other kettle of fish. If you take a look at all the big dev companies out there, they are either being run by suits who don’t know gaming that well, or by guys who have been in the industry their whole lives. There is no clear career path for budding game designers, its kind of an all-or-nothing job. So, most people either go in via the QA route – start in QA, then try to shift into general managerial roles, become a producer and eventually get noticed – or they go in via a specialised route – learn 3D modelling, become a modeller, get promoted to senior so that you can be included in management meetings.

The problem with both routes is they take years / decades to achieve. During that time, whatever initial innovation you may have had has been lost. You become institutionalised. After a few games, your will to live gets crushed by crunch times, poor decisions by the suits and unfair abuse from your passionate playerbase. You have no idea how soul crushing it is to actually be involved in the development of a AAA game, to spot significant issues with the design, report it up the chain and to be ignored. So, the innovation never arrives and all we ever get is new IPs based around the same gameplay we’ve been seeing for 15 years.

plasmajohn
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plasmajohn

I mostly agree but disagree about “innovation”. I like trinity-based PvE. I have a preference for action-combat but I can deal with tab-targeting. If I find a solid game that punches those buttons I’m golden.

But that’s the rub. We simply haven’t gotten anything solid in years. SW:TOR and Wildstar should have been runaway success stories but they pooched the transition to a live service. In both cases they lacked even a modicum of operational experience. Customer Service for both was and still is atrocious. Both development shops acted like they were being directed by stoners. (Yah, whatever maaaan, ship it.)

The problem with these studios is that they’re treating their online offerings like disposable games. MMO’s are an entertainment service. Holidays and weekends are your prime time. Having the studio go silent in December is utterly backwards.

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Jon-Enee Merriex

This is my life, man. You are describing it exactly. LOL.

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April-Rain

I think the box price is way too high and its almost doubled in the last 5/10 years, Games use to be £20/£30 and I use to buy 5/6 PC games a month, now due to tight budgets and a family I may buy one a year as the price is now £50/£60 for the base game, add another £20 for season passes.

Adding in game loot box shops is just insulting to paid for games and I will not buy games with that bollox in it and i don’t believe the excuse of games are too expensive to make they are just getting greedy and making excuses(Activision patent shows that) as a quality game will make a fortune on box sales just like witcher 3, the current situation we have seen this last year just puts me off gaming altogether and for me to say that is insane as I have gamed almost everyday for the last 31 years.

I am now reduced to steam sales and code sites to play the games I want to around a year after release, I usually pick stuff up for £10 or below. Or I will pay the sub on origin for a couple of months and play the games there, that is one good thing EA do at least.

I may just stick to the games I already own which is around 200 on steam with the majority unplayed, but most are humble bundles so I don’t if some are just a waste of time lol.

The only big game on the horizon that I will pay a sum for and probably pre-order is cyberpunk 2077, unless they stick a cash shop or loot boxes in it………

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Alex Malone

I’m not sure on the PC front as I didn’t own my own PC for a while, but I remember buying new N64 and Playstation games for £45 / £50 in the mid-nineties. So, I’m not seeing any price increase in the UK personally, most new games in a box are still £40-£50. I think new PC games have actually dropped a bit – I never pay over £40 for a brand new PC game – purely due to reduced cost of digital distribution.

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Grave Knight

Well if game companies didn’t need to invent the fucking wheel every new game adding mechanics and pushing the graphics as far as possible maybe they wouldn’t be spending so much time, energy, and resources on the damn game. It’s cheaper to make Final Fantasy XII today than it was when FF12 came out (and I meant FF12 as is, not how it would look if SquareEnix did a HD Remastered Remix Reboot VR or whatever).

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Wilhelm Arcturus

The revenue opportunities past the box have grown over the last decade as well, with DLC, then season passes, then deluxe editions, and now cash shops being levered into the mix. Meanwhile, the percentage of the $60 box eaten up by retail channels and the cost of good sold has gone down with the advent of digital delivery.

None of which has made the average game any better. There is still a lot of derivative unimaginative crap being foisted off on consumers at $60 with all of the estra revenue trimmings mentioned above, and that is the problem. That is always the problem. A good game, something that really captures people, will sell by word of mouth for $100. Spaceship Warlock, an early CD-ROM game, was $99 and required a $400 piece of hardware to play back in 1991. Yet it sold pretty well because it offered something people hadn’t seen before.

So my response to any suggestion about raising the price of games is simply, “Make a game that is worth it.” If you can’t make something I really WANT on day one, then whose fault is it if people wait for things to go on sale on Steam?

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Jon-Enee Merriex

I can name so many really wonderful games that no one has heard of because word of mouth rarely works that way. This idea that “If you build it, they will come” is BS. Ask your friends how many non-AAA studio games they’ve ever played and you’ll find one or two that have. Generally speaking, people who have the microphone to turn games into Minecraft are few and far between. AND games becoming viral are the exception, not the rule.

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Wilhelm Arcturus

Which has what to do with video games being too expensive or too cheap? Do you think the industry standard price for an AAA being $90 would have changed that one iota.

Nobody said “if you build it, they will come.” I certainly didn’t so don’t put words in my mouth.

If the games you are thinking of didn’t sell, there is a reason, but the list price for video games probably didn’t enter into it. More likely YOU thought they were good, but they weren’t really that good, different, or interesting at all. We all want things we like to succeed. The problem is that they were probably just more unremarkable titles in the huge pile of crap on places like Steam.

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jay

I honestly don’t think it has much to do with the box cost of games. While I understand bandwith, IT, CSR, etc all take money (and lots of it); I don’t think a simple increase in box cost will cover all of that going down the road. So it takes either a sub fee or microtransactions to cover it.

Now the question is, the pricing with the microtransactions. How much of it is profit, and how much of it is just to cover the operating costs? Until a MMO studio actually makes it books public (which will never happen) we’ll never really know. Look at WoW, they have a sub fee and still have micro transactions on top of it. Yes they are all ascetically or service oriented, but there is an argument to be made that because you pay a sub, all development on a game should be 100% free beyond that.

The question is, what sub fee would an MMO like WoW have to charge so that it could offer all of the items found in it’s cash shop free in game, (ie. have no cash shop) while still covering all of it’s operating costs, and turning a bit of a profit. Would you pay $30 a month to have to shop?

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Jon-Enee Merriex

This idea that “profit” is the problem is so flawed. Without “profit” you have no money to make the next game. Businesses exist to make a profit. Now, if game studios were like movies where the profit goes into the bigwigs pockets I’d understand, but the majority of the time that isn’t the case. The profit goes back into developing the next game or adding on to the current one for most game studios. Even Activision reinvests the majority of their profits back into making more “Great Games That Sell”.

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Alex Malone

Its not as simple as altering the price to cover costs. In some cases, lowering the price will actually increase income as more people will be willing to pay that price.

This is exactly how LoL operates – they give away the full game for free and don’t charge much to unlock heroes on a permanent basis. Everyone feels like they are getting value for money so most people feel happy unlocking heroes. The result has been a crazy amount of money, something none of their competitors have been able to match despite producing better games.

Unfortunately, hardly any MMO devs have experimented with price. I mean, what if ESO had only originally cost £3 / $5 a month for a sub? That is a significant saving over other sub-only games and such a small amount that even if you didn’t play for a month, you wouldn’t really care. They could have still charged for expansions later on and we’d feel that our £3pm is about right to cover server costs. I wonder how many extra people they’d have gotten with a lower sub price?

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Simon F

My opinion on the whole thing is that no, games aren’t too expensive. Some could be more expensive, sure, but I think the main issue is the amount of money that is spent on the games. I feel like some games have way too much money spent on them. What Eliot Lefebvre wrote is what I can most closely relate to.

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Jon-Enee Merriex

I hear this, and then at the same time there is a loud roar of people pissed DICE only made a 4 hour campaign mode. DICE made the choice to spend the majority of their budget on multiplayer and not increase costs by doing a huge single player and yet, people don’t want to buy SWBF2 because the single player sucks (oh and the original game didn’t have single player… so go figure).

mosselyn
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mosselyn

I don’t think the box price is too low, but I also don’t think the current expectation that most gamers play for free and the whales support the game via the cash shop is sustainable or good for any of us.

I’d rather pay a sub to give the developer a sustainable basis on which to maintain and improve the game than rely heavily on the crap shoot of a sometimes questionable cash shop. I’d even be OK with a sub and limited cash shop. I’m tired of games limping along on cash shop sales, obviously under-resourced.

Games are very expensive to create and maintain. We should suck it up and pay for what we’re getting. “Curse those greedy game developers” doesn’t fly for me, either. Game developers and publishers are exactly as greedy as every other company we pay. Of COURSE they want to make more money, and that’s just as OK for a game developer as a car manufacturer. (Or not, I suppose, if you don’t care for capitalism.)

Gaming is a luxury. Luxuries cost money.

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Veldan

I think the point is that a higher box price as a substitute for all the current shady monetization practices is simply not viable. I’d personally happily pay $120 instead of $60 for a good online game, but let’s be honest: even if we all paid an extra $60, that is not going to make up for the whales who are currently spending $10,000+, or the even bigger fish (blue whales?) who are spending $50,000+. With the current budgets, I don’t think it’s possible to set a box price that’s high enough to cover expenses, yet low enough for many people to buy the game.

It’s a pretty sad state of affairs, but the only way I can see this changing at all is if governments start regulating lockboxes as a form of online gambling. Which isn’t entirely out of question anymore, my country (The Netherlands) has finally started looking into it this week, presumably because of media coverage of Star Wars Battlefront 2 lootboxes.

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Jon-Enee Merriex

At least on some of the games I’ve worked on, I do believe that if ALL the players paid a higher price point it would outweigh what the whales pay.

Remember for most free to play games only about 5-10% of player pay. Of that only about 1% are paying those massive sums. So if ALL players paid a fair price (which would be nearing $100) then yes, we could be having this discussion. But that’s not really what’s happening.

I worked on a game where we offered items for the actual cost and not in a random box. This meant the prices were higher than the competition. No one paid us.

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Veldan

But how many players would you lose by raising that price? Say you have an F2P game with paying and whale percentage like you said… if that had been a $100 B2P game, what % of the players would never have showed up?

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Jon-Enee Merriex

My statement was not about the realities of capitalism, but about the realities of – in a perfect world, people would pay what the thing actually costs. If that happened, and everyone paid the value of the game that played it, then yes, you could get away without the whales.

Of course, in the real world, this wouldn’t work because the majority of players would jump ship to another game because they don’t want to pay that much for a game – even if that is the actual value of the game. Therefore, you get companies coming up with lockboxes and other gimmicks to get people to pay.

Honestly, if people would simply pay to play the games they like – any amount really – a lot of these schemes would go away because the issue is no longer “how do we get people to pay us” and becomes “how do we create something people will pay us more for”.

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camelotcrusade

Honestly, if people would simply pay to play the games they like – any amount really – a lot of these schemes would go away because the issue is no longer “how do we get people to pay us” and becomes “how do we create something people will pay us more for”

I wish, but to take it back to the capitalism point, we still have the problem that companies are driven to maximize profits for shareholders and/or themselves. Now that they are aware of additional revenue streams (i.e., lockboxes, in-game shops, etc.) one point of view is that shareholders would be within their rights to demand they include these schemes whether they are “necessary” or not, purely to maximize value. So I think we would still see it, barring regulation or consumer backlash with financial repercussions (as opposed to just noise).

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Veldan

Ah, makes sense. Yes I guess that’s the problem, many people don’t want to pay what the game actually cost, so whales need to make up for that, which means studios need to create a reason for whales to spend a lot, which means lockboxes and P2W.

Without inside information, it’s impossible to distinguish between covering costs and greed though, and it seems most people always assume the latter is responsible for shady cash shop practices. For all I know it could always be the former.

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Jon-Enee Merriex

And I think that is where game studios fail. There is a level of secrecy since a lot of these companies are publicly traded. But the reality how can a consumer feel anything but jilted when they have 0 visibility into what the thing costs to make.

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Armsbend

I believe one of the tricks that came out of the move of developers to change the price from $50 to $60 was the fact that they will commonly tout production costs of either a new IP or a leap into a new tech – like a new console requiring completely new code/engines. They tout those exceedingly high numbers as a marketing tool. See? We spent $200 million so you’ve got to check it out! Right?

Google ‘games with highest production costs’. Most are well over 5 years old. They are putting less and less into the games themselves and more into adverts. You can see it in the ever present declining quality of the industry across the board.

The thing they rarely do, if ever, is talk about next year’s sequel. The one that took a fraction to make because it was basically a re-skinned version of the year before’s game with a bit new VA, some new map configurations that could be lifted from 30 years worth of shooters and some new ad muscle.

So they will gladly talk about ballooning costs but never will we hear about savings due to year after year sequels.

$60 is fine. In most cases too much. Why is it my problem that one developer hits the billion dollar jackpot on lootboxes but another guy can only sell his meager 1 million digital copies at $50/unit. *sadface* This type of overwhelming greed that has infected the industry – the sense of “well that guy made this much so I should make that much” – has overwhelmed the industry and society to the point where any and all value on art, society, goodwill or a human’s worth is put into dollars and cents. It’s a travesty on being in my humble.

Do you make games because Notch bought a mansion in Beverly Hills or do you make games because you really liked Mario when you were a kid? if you are the former frankly I’m as unconcerned about your fortunes in life as I would be of any passing piece of floating trash I see flitting in the wind on the other side of the street.

Maybe I had a coherent thought in my rambling I don’t know.

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Robert Basler

I used to make sequels at EA (FIFA/Madden/NBA etc.) and rest assured, they aren’t that much cheaper than original games. There was almost zero art re-use year-to-year. Programmers and front end fared a little better. QA effort is the same every year.

On a sequel, every year you get a set of new features from the designers that go through programming, art, front end, and QA. The relatively small PSP/Wii games I worked on would be touched by a hundred people. When we did a new game it was the same engine with a different design and art on top and people just worked harder to add the “new” and still put out the game in approximately the same amount of time (maybe a little more if it was really ambitious) because that was what we were given.

I liked it, the people I worked with were remarkable.

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Tobasco da Gama

Nailed it. The whole thing about AAA games being too expensive to make without stapling gambling systems into them is basically an outright lie. Publishers want to collect infinite long-tail revenue with the minimum of up-front effort and expenditure, that’s all there is to it.

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Goronmon

Google ‘games with highest production costs’. Most are well over 5 years old. They are putting less and less into the games themselves and more into adverts. You can see it in the ever present declining quality of the industry across the board.

This sounds like a pretty big assumption to make. I would argue that we rarely get any specific data about the costs that go into AAA games (or really, all games, even indie titles). Most of the time is vague references more towards a scale (twice as expensive as X, etc) than anything like a actual number.

And even if it were true that “Companies used to give production costs and now they don’t”, I don’t see how that has any relation to “That means that they are spending less on development and more on marketing”.

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Armsbend

I am making the assumption from observing balance sheets, two decades of obsession with the industry and practical knowledge.

For one TINY example. Let’s look at cost at revenue at the company we are discussing: EA

http://investor.ea.com/secfiling.cfm?filingID=712515-16-111

Cost of revenue (page 44) and operating expenses from 2014 to 2016 is either stable or decreasing. Just one example that took me a few minutes to reference. I could easily find many more examples across many different developers – if I was so inclined (I’m not at the moment).

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Jon-Enee Merriex

This is the problem with this argument: EA is selling MILLIONS of games. You took a look at the 1% and said, everyone should be doing this because EA can. However, that fails to take into account that the other 99% only sell about 30% of of their market share – if that – while having the same costs or more (because EA can consolidate costs or get reduced costs based on volume).

Add to that, the fact that EA’s costs clearly show they spend more on research and development than on marketing or licensing fees. In fact, year over year, they’ve INCREASED development costs and DECREASED marketing costs. That’s based on your data proving EA is an evil corporation. OK, EA’s still an evil corporation, but the data doesn’t say what you are saying.

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ThreeSpeed

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Armsbend

Gazillion right? That’s a developer I hold with absolute zero respect or integrity.

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A Dad Supreme

“When you think about it, many other things we buy have increased in price over the last decade but AAA games are still expected to be a maximum of $60, with many of us waiting for sales (or for free-to-play).”

False equivalency.

Just because prices have increased on “many other thing we buy” over the last 10 years doesn’t mean the equivalent have raised, or even raised a substantial amount.

Video games were always a high, premium level entry for entertainment. You not only needed the game, but you had to have consoles or a computer which was expensive, internet access, etc. The buy in meant games had to be at a price that was already at or near the top for profit margin.

Things like movies, music, cable TV, etc were fairly cheap and could absorb price hikes. I don’t think games can demand the same price increases of 10-15% per game. That might change with things like the Actor’s Guild union agreements for voice actors and companies use that as an excuse to raise prices, but overall there isn’t much room to hike video game prices. Very few are going to spend $70-$80 for Standard edition games.

People can just wait out games and pick them up a month or six months later at a heavy price drop, which you can’t do with other forms of entertainment so easily.

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Armsbend

So right. Another thing I’ll find is people like to say because they might play a game 100s of hours and watch a movie once or twice that games should cost more per hour than other entertainment because…they hate themselves I guess.

I bought albums decades ago and a few I’ve probably listened to a few 1000 hours of. Should I feel bad I only paid $15 for the album at that time?

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A Dad Supreme

Even music adapted to less revenue by altering the delivery method.

They started selling those CD singles with just one song on them at first until now where it’s digital downloads at varying prices based on the “quality” or “fame” of the music from free to .99 to whatever. Unknown artists can’t sell a single for $3.99 while a star can.

If it’s not that way in music, movies or other forms of entertainment, I don’t think it’s right for games to say everyone gets $60 regardless of quality/fame of title especially in a non-unionized industry.

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Veldan

For what it’s worth, I buy quite some albums (yes, I buy CDs in these modern times), and I do sometimes feel a bit guilty if I bought the most basic edition and end up loving it and listening it for many hours. Usually I attempt to “pay off” my guilt by blindly preordering that artist’s next album.

In the end it’s because supporting with your wallet is a thing. I want to support good stuff more than bad stuff, so if I paid €15 for something amazing and also paid €15 for something that wasn’t very good, it feels wrong.

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Armsbend

It’s crazy to feel guilty for enjoying something. If I was an artist, any kind of artist, I would be ecstatic at the fact that not only someone found me, was willing to pay their money for my stuff and on top of that listen to it over and over again? What is better in life of a real artist really?

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Veldan

Yet, I feel like there should be a certain proportionality between how much I value an artist and how much I (financially) support them. Does that make any sense? Maybe I am crazy.

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A Dad Supreme

That’s logical thinking. I’m guessing you want to pay them enough that they are able to keep pushing out your favorite product, but not enough that they get so large they ruin your product.

That’s why I bought SWBF2.

I love Star Wars and value the IP. I love the gameplay of Battelfield, even though I hate PvP in typical MMOs.

So I buy the game at what I felt was a fair price ($48) but I won’t buy cash shop items, even the cosmetic ones.

That way, I ensure by purchasing the game that I send a message that I value the artist’s product at a fair price, but I won’t overpay for a ridiculous pricing scheme designed to make me “level faster”.

To me, it’s the logical way of getting what I want while sending the message about what I don’t want.

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A Dad Supreme

Exactly.

I don’t feel guilty if I get a new car at $15,000 off and the guy before me paid sticker. Nor do I feel like I have to buy extra accessories because the car dealer gave me a great deal and I enjoy my car so much.

I think it’s my INTP personality though. I’m more ‘logical’ based and not ’emotionally’ based, which can be a curse at times.

But it keeps me from going broke by “giving” to everything and everyone who asks for anything without question.

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