Is Video Game Retail Pricing Reasonable?

Posted on Tuesday, December 6th 2011 at 10:20 p.m.

Not content with the content…

After putting nearly 40 hrs into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and feeling like I have only begun to scratch the surface of the main stories and plot lines, it feels like this story is writing itself. I purchased this game for $59.99 plus tax on day one and feel like I not only got my money’s worth already, but that I owe some back. I paid this same price for most of the titles on my shelf as I play a lot of games and often grab them close to or on the day of release. The issue is, that the amount of content, the available customization tools and the overall quality of the story and gameplay are so high that it makes me question whether I should be paying more for Skyrim, or less for many of the other games. We obviously are hoping that the latter part of that statement is true.

Price points for games seem to be arbitrary numbers set around launch for a system based on what the industry believes we will feel is fair. Of course it can very from system to system, as many Wii titles launch at lower price points than Xbox or PS3 titles. To be fair in that scenario we are paying more to offset the cost of the system hardware and development and a system like the Xbox or PS3 sells at a net loss for most of it’s life cycle, recouping the cost via licensing of each game sold; similar to how a cell phone contract might work in terms of offsetting the cost up front to make it up via ‘service fees’ over the next several years.

But are we getting what we are paying for? Some games are taking up to 5 years to develop and providing 10 hours of single player content. Then charging additional fees for DLC to extend that experience. Comparing that amount of content to what Skyrim offers and suggesting that the same price point is justified doesn’t work for me. Even if the delta is only 5 or 10 dollars, it should be there. That might even move more copies off the shelves to help make up for the long development cycle.

Other ways to save…

Change may be coming, or is it? With the advent of more digital distribution, game developers are able to cut some distribution costs by being able to skip the addition of packaging and physical media. Servers and bandwidth aren’t free, but can be amortized across a LOT of downloads and when offered through a service like STEAM, the infrastructure is stable and only getting cheaper as it’s offerings and customer base grow. This has led to some games being offered in this format at a discount, but that philosophy has yet to hit the console market. With talk of cloud offerings in the next generation, maybe these price drops will be coming?

One of the biggest benefactors of this new digital distribution model is independent developers. Smaller groups and one man studios have been able to leverage this digital medium to skip the big distributors and offer their products directly, at a severely discounted price. This has led to more creativity and a much broader available audience as these games can be played in smaller chunks on a broader range of systems. And the games themselves can be smaller and mobile. Look at what has been done with the wonderful world of very Angry Birds.

Super model…

So what do we do if we don’t want to pay $60.00 for a game? Don’t pay at all! now I am not saying steal your gaming pleasures, I am saying try the world of free or play cheap with micro-transactions. Games like Realm of the Mad God allow you to play for free in a browser. Meanwhile there are numerous free-to-play mmo’s such as D and D Online let you experience a ton of game while only charging for additional content or to unlock additional character slots or levels or in some cases gear.

This newer business model has allowed for games with large amounts of content to flourish and deliver a great experience to gamers without the forced initial investment. Moreover, you get to play the game and see if you even like it, without spending your money at a brick and mortar store where returns on open products… well this is a family site so I will choose not to use my adult words here.

What can I do??

What I am suggesting is that the industry perhaps should take a look at what it is expecting from consumers and maybe adjust accordingly. To pay the same amount for a sub-par movie tie-in as for Skyrim seems absolutely absurd. How about Brink? Or HomeFront? I know that less successful games will then drop in price more quickly but they should not start at the same level as a game like Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto in the first place. The game quality is lower, the overall content is just not there.

I understand from a business perspective that when a game is cheaper than another it sends some message of “Why?? Is this game less good??” But if the industry makes the shift and we are conditioned with the new pricing pattern it will work out and there will be less disappointment. And hey, that might even help to cut into the used games market that developers are concerned about.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to make sure I still have my Twisted Metal copy on pre-order…

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