On Video Game Prices

Save for the early years of my existence, when the Playstation 2 and the Xbox were the dominant home consoles, video games have consistently released at the same price point – sixty dollars, that price being established and accepted with the release of the Xbox 360 back in 2005. Given the poor present state of the world, with constant crises and economic and societal upheaval, it seems only inevitable that video game prices should see an increase, such an increase being further justified by the rampant inflation now gripping the world, the dollar worth less and less, even the most basic of necessities seeing an escalation in price. And not only is the escalation in video game pricing inevitable, but it is also a wise, honest maneuver, one which would benefit the consumer, being freed of deception, exploitation. Some publisher reticence is currently justified, certainly, in that in this precise moment an escalation of prices, particularly if the escalations are dramatic, could dissuade the consumer from purchasing their product. In three years from now, four years from now (or even sooner if one is an optimist) economic matters will improve and stabilize, this stabilization making more palatable an overall increase in price. A trend is already emerging, publishers relying upon deceptive practices to somehow justify titles releasing at the seventy dollar price point, the especially greedy even offering titles in excess of one hundred dollars, even as the “incentives” employed to encourage purchase are trivial and mostly valueless; character skins, in-game currencies, pre-release access, crafting materials or experience-boosting items: these objects, so pointless, are being pushed as valuable objects – herein is the greed, herein is the exploitation; presently, the industry is suffering, placed into an admittedly difficult situation, though one which could be mostly resolved if publishers were more transparent with their playerbase; instead, they are preyed upon, most susceptible to exploitation being those who feel somehow guilty or unfulfilled if they do not purchase the more expensive additions, those who perceive those additions as somehow essential to the experience. The industry, then, is in a pivotal moment, the new generation of consoles approaching its second year on the market. When these consoles are completely dominant – something which may occur only two or three years from now – then publishers can establish in earnest the validity of raised prices; consensus must be reached, as such consensus diminishes confusion.

Great economic variation is in place, there of course being a lower class, a middle class, and an upper class, though this is somewhat of an oversimplification. Reflecting this stratification, the lower classes may be most impacted by an escalation in game prices, even if that escalation is only ten dollar or so; for some individuals, then, ten dollars is a hefty sum. I have heard anecdotes of more youthful players who must rely upon a formula of sorts to convince their parents or providers that a video game purchase is a wise purchase. “A film costs such and such dollars an hour,” they might say, “while a video game costs such and such dollars an hour. In almost all instances, video games offer greater value, offering lengthier journeys in addition to offering more memorable, interactive experiences.” This formula is certainly coercive, possessive of great validity – today, a movie ticket costs roughly ten dollars, while the average filmic length rarely exceeds two hours, meaning each individual hour of entertainment costs five dollars. If the youthful player is in a position of poverty, if they must rely upon this formula to justify a game’s purchasing, they are speaking true – video games are brimming with value, the average open world game of today easily exceeding fifty hours, sixty hours, the more expansive open worlds – see Skyrim, or Fallout – regularly offering hundreds of hours of entertainment; the initial economic hurdle can seem difficult to overcome – in the moment, sixty dollars can seem like a massive sum when placed alongside a ten dollar movie ticket, though ultimately, if that sixty dollars is spent, the average player is offered great enjoyment, enjoyment which has the potential to dwarf in length the common film, a book’s purchase. The formula is not always this swaying, certainly, in that many games are characterized by brevity – not every game can or should be a Skyrim. Even still, if the experience lasts only three or four hours, if the cost ratio is closer, still that experience is more engaging, owing to the interactive nature of video games, their greater potentials for cerebral and emotional engagement. Another barrier is in place, though, in that the player must invest in a console, but given the release of the new-gen consoles, the antiquated nature of the older generation, the acquisition of an Xbox One or Playstation 4 can be achieved at minimal cost – there is little reason not to make this investment.  

Not every game, of course, releases with a full sixty dollar price tag, a fair amount instead releasing for ten dollars, fifteen dollars, indie titles especially clinging to this reduced cost, making such titles more appealing to the average player, economically impoverished or otherwise. Such reductions do not automatically equate to inferiority – indie games, with their highly experimental nature, can offer compelling, profound experiences which major AAA games completely and deliberately ignore, such games clinging also to the derivative, showing a poverty of imagination of creativity. A stark rift is in place, then, and it is fantastic that these experimental titles have the tendency to release at such discounted rates, particularly when purchased titles fail to resonate with any given player, an occurrence which is somewhat commonplace if a game is radically experimental, having a very niche appeal. But these titles, even if they have the tendency to fall flat, still exist as the antithesis to the stale yearly releases, which are not only stale but which are increasingly overblown in prices – indie contributions are immense, cannot be overstated, and their lowered price point means more and more interested players can partake of these experiences without feeling excessively frustrated if a particular game is uninspired or simply incompatible with the player, their video game preferences – five dollars is not some staggering sum, and thus its wasting is not particularly painful. Illustrating this point, I often think back on one indie title in particular – Dear Esther, a title I played on PC. The game, if it can be called as such, was disastrous, characterized by hyperlinearity, seeing the protagonist and player character move in essentially in a straight line, true gameplay mechanics completely absent, while all the while pretentious dialogue plays, the developers seeking some sort of emotional engagement, though ultimately failing. Had I spent fifteen or twenty dollars upon this game, frustration would be immense; it was an overall poor experience. But having lost out on only five dollars or so, it is difficult to grow excessively frustrated. No one likes to squander money, but if that squandering is quantitatively minimal, the sting is lessened.  

Rather strange is the occasional arbitrariness of video game pricing, such arbitrariness most observable when examining games released for handheld consoles, such as the Nintendo DS, the Playstation Portable, or their respective successors. For these systems, the vast majority of titles released at the forty dollar price point, a price which is reassuring to the consumer, certainly, though a price which is not always justified – sure, handheld consoles will never be as graphically or technically excellent as a title released on a home console, but aesthetics aside, handheld games, like indie games, can offer profound – and impossibly lengthy – adventures. Each individual Pokémon game, for instance, can offer the engrossed player potentially hundreds of hours of entertainment, as they can shiny hunt, strive to complete the Pokédex, or merely reattempt the central challenge with a new team composition. Similarly, Monster Hunter long thrived on the Nintendo 3DS, before making the transition to home consoles, each individual game in that series offering an almost impossible amount of content. This overflowing of content, then, only serves to illustrate the arbitrariness of video game pricing, or at least illustrates the fact that pricing is not directly related to game length. Ultimately, then, the consumer benefits, being able to partake of these epic sagas at a drastically reduced rate of twenty or so dollars: handheld consoles, like the Nintendo 3DS or the Playstation Vita, certainly have their place, being valuable additions to the industry, offering robust experiences and offering them at a far reduced price. Given this, it is tragic that these consoles have faded from prominence, and similar devices, with similar functions and ambitions, shall likely never emerge. The Nintendo Switch is of course Nintendo’s greatest concern, and expectantly, games released for that system cost a full sixty dollars, sometimes more, meaning the inviting nature and price of GBA, DS, or 3DS titles have completely evaporated, to the great detriment of the player; in this regard, the future seems bleak, and a true successor to the 3DS would absolutely be welcome, particularly if the forty dollar price point could be maintained, though this is somewhat of an unlikely occurrence, tragically yet naturally. Still, one is hopeful handheld consoles will not disappear outright, for such systems have much to offer the common player, being valuable.  

The swelling popularity of mobile gaming is also observable, a considerable portion of mankind possessive of smart phones, and, accordingly, having access to the myriad games and experiences present and purchaseable on the App Store, or similar such services. Mobile gaming is generally like unto some untrodden territory for me – I know very little about that frontier of gaming, though the knowledge I do possess puts me at odds with that method of entertainment. Before obtaining my 3DS, I can recall downloading Bastion, in search of entertainment during a rather protracted journey. The enjoyability, admittedly, was immense, the game overall compelling and profound. Some years later, however, I replayed the same game on console, and the experience here was drastically different, was drastically improved – in many, most instances, then, home console games will always offer a better experience to the player than a mobile port of that same title would provide the player; it is an inevitability. Games released for mobile devices specifically are different affairs, though still great limitations are in place, such games fully dependent upon touchscreens for control. But this is not meant to be an attack on mobile games or mobile gamers; it is simply an analysis of price. For the mobile gamer, fifteen dollars is considered as some staggering sum, being an immense, almost insurmountable hurdle, easy to understand when considering the widespread nature of free to play games, which have a very prominent place in the mobile gaming sphere. The disconnect, then, is immense, mobile gamers standing at odds with more dedicated gamers, that latter class eager and willing to spend sixty dollars or more on a title, while the former class shudders to spend five dollars, ten dollars; the industry overall is divided, and while it is easy to dismiss mobile gamers, who have a skewed perception of video game prices, at least they are playing, at least they are purchasing, those purchases helping better the industry, though the lining of corporate pockets also emerges on account of their actions, on account of their unwavering dedication to any particular title.

Free to play titles, though, must be regarded with ample cynicism, for it is within these games that exploitation is most potent, where publishers exert their commanding greed. Studios and publishers must make a profit – that is simple economics. But the matter of going about that profit is all wrong. Given the nonexistent barrier to entry, it follows that alternate revenue streams need be incorporated – it follows that microtransactions need be incorporated. A principled gamer may approach these titles with dignity and respect, saying something to the effect of, “if I grow truly engrossed in this title, I may visit the in-game store, perhaps to aid financially the publisher, all the while obtaining useful gear and items. But I must set limitations on my purchases, say sixty dollars. That will be sufficient.” This is noble in theory, though in practice it is rarely adhered to, no matter the diligence and dignity of the resolution maker; once an in-game store has been visited, once in-game currencies have been purchased, a sort of vicious cycle begins, this class of player sometimes prompted to pour in more and more lavish sums – here is an almost addictive quality, a quality which free to play games foster and encourage. Tragically, though, such in-game stores are no longer exclusive to free to play games – consider Immortals: Fenyx Rising or any of the recent Assassin’s Creed games. These various games all include in-game shops, boasting sometimes visually beautiful and graceful armors and armaments, all purchasable with in-game currency. Crucially, though, these marketplaces are never excessively intrusive, meaning that in some instances the average player may complete one of these titles without so much as looking at the marketplace, can complete the game without spending a cent over the purchasing price. This cannot be said of mobile games or games where those in-games stores are pushed fiercely, are highly intrusive, to an irritating, unnerving extent – therein lies greatest publisher greed, pop-ups appearing with great regularity, encouraging a visit to the store, encouraging the purchasing of currency, some bundles of buyable in-game currency exceeding one hundred dollars of real, tangible money; it is bleak and despairing. Money must absolutely be sought, but it must not be sought in some an underhanded, cheap manner, such underhandedness being detrimental to the consumer – in many ways, then, whether speaking of free to play games or purchasable games which do have marketplaces, games devoid of currencies are not only more straightforward, but also benefit the consumer. Instead, games like Grand Theft Auto V do not only sell the base game as singular entity, but they also sell the base game coupled with in-game currency, in this case shark cards. If the game were bought as single product, not supported with such superfluousness, the marketplace might rightly be neglected. But if the player begins the game with a relative abundance of currency, understandably they will visit the marketplace, wherein they will likely buy additional currency – microtransactions generally are ruining the industry, disadvantaging consumers dramatically.  

It is impossible to change or erase the effects which mobile games and free to play titles have wrought upon the industry – indeed, they must not be erased, despite their corrupting status. The most readily observable ramifications of their popularization are manifest in video game prices, an unclearable rift emerging – one class of gamer, the mobile gamer, is hesitant to dispense with more than a very paltry sum, while console gamers are content to pay in excess of sixty dollars, many of them with ease, unthinking; the divide is sharp, immense. It is difficult to imagine some widespread increase of prices on the App Store, no matter inflation, its extent. But it is probable, indeed almost certain, that traditional home console titles will see an increase in pricing, and that is a mostly wonderful thing, in that it will hopefully inspire publisher transparency – no longer are three different versions of any given title released; instead, perhaps one version releases, or another version packed with content which is actually worthwhile, like a bundling of season pass content with the base game. The reaching of such a consensus will incalculably benefit everyone involved – publishers, developers, and players. The shift may be initially unpalatable, though this hesitancy will hopefully deteriorate, as realizations are made – if milk has gone up by a dollar, is it really so odd to assume video game prices will increase, too? No. It is largely a matter of logic, economic logic. Development costs, also, have no doubt skyrocketed in recent years, and it seems generally natural that video game prices should reflect that increase: no one wants their favorite developers to capsize or disappear outright, and an increased selling price will no doubt be to their benefit. If publishers could dispense with their greed, could discard their fanatical obsession with all things financial, very positive would be the results. No longer would they feel obligated to bundle with the purchase completely frivolous, superfluous content; instead, they could sell the game as game, as was so often the case in the past and even in the not too distant pass – immense, sometimes distressing changes are being made, and with great rapidity. While it is initially startling to upend a pricing principle in place for over fifteen years, upon rumination such alteration’s justification is readily apparent. Once that hesitancy is surmounted, spectacular will be the results. Mobile gamers will likely continue to be subjects of exploitation – it is impossible to avoid this fate owing to the dominance of free to play titles on those platforms – though hopefully corporate greed for the home console and PC markets will dissipate – dissipate but not disappear, for disappearance is an impossibility. The optimist, though, would look to the future with hopefulness, seeing an increased price point as saving or preserving the industry. The cynic, though, may view such escalations as abhorrently bad or unjustifiable, seeing in the future no resolution but instead continued exploitation. It is easy to be consumed by this cynicism, but all must cling to hope – in a scant few years, matters will not be necessarily resolved, but total resolution will become a more and more tangible possibility, as universality of opinion grows more encompassing.

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