The pricing game and its current effects on the video game industry
The Effects of the Digital Age
People tend to forget that video games in the 1980’s and early 90’s 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 it’s not 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.