The pricing game and its current effects on the video game industry
The price to be a gamer can be a hefty one: the standard retail price for a video game is $60 plus tax in the United States, and that’s after purchasing a console or building a proper gaming PC.
As a game enthusiast, you follow the latest video game news, which likely encourages you to buy more games. Overall, that means more money spent. So the debate on how much a game should be worth is important: should games continue to be priced at $60? What makes a game worth the $60? Does how much you pay for a game effect your impression of that game? How is the evolving digital game landscape and indie scene affecting the industry?
Does the Price Tag Affect Your Experience?
Besides the effect of prices on your wallet, it’s important to also think about the possible effect the price you pay has on the enjoyment of the game itself. Is it possible if you pay full retail price for a game you’ll end up enjoying it more than if you got the same game for $40?
There's a term called cognitive dissonance, where your thoughts or actions are in conflict with your beliefs and attitudes. It’s a something our minds do to reduce the stress of decisions we may not be fond of, such as convincing yourself that the lie you told your boss isn’t too bad because you’re one of the hardest workers anyway. To bring it back to gaming, cognitive dissonance relates and helps combat buyer’s remorse and that feeling of regret from a purchase, usually because the item itself was too expensive.
In the case of sticker prices, it may be possible that you’ll enjoy a $60 game more than if the game was $40 simply because you’ve convinced yourself that you paid more money for it, so it has to be good. Of course, it also depends on the quality of the game and even the buyer’s finances, but it’s something to consider when discussing the current retail prices of games. If games were brought down to a more manageable number—right now just buying two new games in the same day costs $120—would buyer’s remorse, or convincing ourselves that we made the right choice, be as much of a factor?
What Makes a Game Worth $60?
The inevitable question is what exactly constitutes a game to cost the standard maximum. Development and marketing costs aside, many would argue that the length of the game plays a big role in what can legitimatize a game to be the full retail price, but that’s also a slippery slope. On one end of the spectrum, you might not want to pay $60 for a game that only lasts three hours, but you also don’t want a game to create nonsensical filler content for the sole purpose of making a game “long enough.”
An RPG usually promises their consumers over 100 hours of content, thanks to sidequests and leveling up. If you’re to compare that to a Call of Duty game whose campaign is only five hours long, in terms of length alone that game should not be $60. Yet the hours spent on multiplayer can come close to the same time marker of a roleplaying game.
A while ago Hideo Kojima had to defend the two-hour length of Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes—though in this instance the game could cost anywhere between $20 to $40, depending on the platform. Developers expressed contempt over the situation, scolding fans for not considering the experience likely justifies the price.
There is no set formula for determining price estimation, but what is certain is that there shouldn’t be a dollar per hour value used to determine the price of a game, either by developers or consumers.
The casual mobile and tablet market are doing their part to change the perspective on length and price. At a panel last year at the Develop Conference in Brighton UK it was stated, “The likes of social and casual games, particularly the cheap games available on mobile, have changed the expectations of gamers. By gamers paying less money, there’s less need to create 10-hour-plus gaming experiences, because consumers no longer feel shortchanged.”
The Effects of the Digital Age
People tend to forget that video games in the 1980s and early 90s were much more expensive than they are today. When you convert NES games costing $50 then, it translates to $80 now. If anything, in relation to the past, game prices are at the cheapest they’ve ever been, despite the cost of game production going up every quarter. Game prices have remained steady for over a decade now, with small fluctuations here and there, but that doesn’t mean things aren't still evolving.
That said, because of ever-growing dollars attached to game development, companies have tried to establish new ways of attracting consumer money. Downloadable content is now the norm, as are season passes. For a long time we suffered through online passes until juggernauts like Electronic Arts realized it wasn’t the best option and axed the entire program. As companies continue to develop new ways to get more dollars, there are some new factors in play questioning the norms. Free-to-play games, microtransactions, and even Steam sales are at the forefront of changing the video game price landscape.
For the Fullbright Company, Steam sales specifically played a big factor in their pricing approach. Steve Gaynor, writer and designer of Gone Home, explained how they saw a backlash on the game primarily for its price in relation to its two to three-hour run time. “We [the Fullbright Company] priced the game planning for Steam sales. We have a price that we think objectively is a fair price point if it's an experience you find valuable. But for people who are on the fence, a couple months after release it was $10. And in the holiday sale for a while, it was like $5. That's a reality in the online download market now.”
As strange as it might sound to price a game based on future holiday sales, Gaynor stated a large profit for games come from Steam sales, up to 75 percent. Thus, when factoring in profit and what the developer deemed their game to actually be worth, they priced it accordingly. And it just proves how influential Steam is to the evolving digital scene; especially as giants like EA, Sony and Microsoft try to get on that floor as well.
Ubisoft has already stated challenging the status quo with their “B” games, titles that have less production costs than AAA games and have an indie flare. Valiant Hearts: The Great War and Child of Light are priced at $20 each, ranging anywhere from six hours to ten hours respectively, and have been met with critical acclaim.
How Soon Can We Expect a Drop?
Evolution is a slow and timely process, especially when the industry has become comfortable with the standards it has set in place. But as the digital space continues to challenge the median, there will be alterations to the ecosystem. Ultimately the consumers speak with their wallets, and the shifting landscape is making it hard for publishers and developers not to take notice.