The Problem With Video Game Prices

Source:  Xbox Live

Source: Xbox Live

Software is a fickle beast. Whether it's Fallout 4 at $60 or a copy of Bastion for $3.99, There is always a price to pay for these fun digital experiences. But does the price of a game truly correlate to the enjoyment of the product? Why don't developers ever charge more than $59.99 even when their product 'deserves' it? And most importantly, why don't I want to pay full price for games anymore, even if they are cheaper than they (arguably) ought to be?

As gamers in an age of changing purchasing landscapes, Game of The Year worthy digital-only releases, and less congruence across the board due to fewer publishing gatekeepers, we need to be honest with ourselves and think about what we're paying for, how we're paying for it, and why we're paying as much or little as we do. The conscious and subconscious actions we are taking with our purchasing power affect the industry and need to be addressed. Here are my thoughts and experiences.

The most recent flash sale for the PlayStation Network was chock-full of outstanding Indie games for cheap. It was then that I picked up The Vanishing of Ethan CarterBastion, DiveKick, Costume Quest 2, Flower, and more all for about $28.50. I would have splurged more but many of the titles on sale had previously been available for free* (depending on how you look at it) as a PlayStation Plus subscriber.

Source:  Steam

Source: Steam

As I began playing Bastion, I realized something that profoundly shocked me. I hadn't paid for a single game at full price in almost 6 months! As someone who is an avid supporter of developers big and small, I couldn't believe that I had unconsciously neglected titles in favor of waiting for them to be on the next Flash, Steam or Humble Bundle sale. 

There are some obvious reasons for why I wouldn't be willing to pay full price for games. Considering that I buy and play so many, it simply wouldn't be plausible to drop $60 every time something new comes out. Even if I were to only buy smaller indie titles, which are generally my go-to's, my gaming tab would still add up to the several hundred or even thousands of dollars if I were to splurge every chance I had. So from one perspective, my frugality is very justifiably pragmatic.

However, there is a part of me that thinks I have become accustomed to a 'more-for-less' model where I can get the games I desire for the price I want by waiting to play them at a later time. There are two factors that play into this mindset; the first being that a game's value does not diminish by not owning it on its release date. I never feel as if I am missing out by not buying full price or on day-one. The second, that the current gaming market has so much to offer, both old and new across multiple platforms, that there is no need to be playing the latest and greatest. These characteristics provide an easy solution to a thin wallet and a strong desire to game; play great older titles now and get around to the newer games when they become the 'old' games.

Source:  The Witcher

Source: The Witcher

While I don't necessarily love this facet of my gaming habits, it plays a significant role in my purchasing decisions. I want the $60 experiences from big name studios like Naughty Dog and Insomniac Games, but why not spend $5 and try out Little Inferno? Sure, Far Cry: Primal might be around the corner, but is that game really going to be as much fun as Rocket League, a game I ostensibly got for free via PlayStation Plus? At this time in my life and with the resources I currently have, I won't be picking up those AAA titles. I'll be booting up titles I never got around to at release, such as The Banner Saga, Psychonauts, and StarWars Battlefront 2, and have a great time playing games as good--if not better--than what's releasing this month.

There is something to be said for the idea that AAA games should adjust the strict $60 price tag both upwards and downwards; but both come at a cost. Colin Moriarty, Co-founder of entertainment company Kinda Funny, in an interview with Shannon Studstill, head of Sony Santa Monica, entertains the possibility of games like The Witcher: Wild Hunt and Journey charging more for their premium experiences. Moriarty details how The Witcher would be worth more to a consumer due to its large amount of quality content, while Journey could have a higher asking price due to the quality of its brief but profound experience.

I believe that time spent with a game does not correlate to its enjoyment. However, at the same time I would have never given a game like Journey a chance if That Game Company had asked for $25 or more, as opposed to its initial $15. I care far more about the quality of the content that I play than the quantity, but because the consumer who has not experienced the game yet cannot decide how subjectively great or terrible something is, it is not advantageous to either party for a developer to charge a premium. In the same vein, I would have been outraged with my purchase of The Witcher: Wild Hunt if I had thrown $80 to $100 CD Projeckt Red's way; not because they don't deserve it for their outstanding game, but because I played The Witcher for roughly 15 hours and I was more than happy to never touch it again. Breaking the mold by charging more is asking for the mainline consumer to opt out of buying a product altogether; and the lack of The Witness, a well regarded $40 puzzle game, in my Steam library is proof of that for myself.

I may have these sentiments because I am a bit jaded by the 'good but not great' AAA games trend I have felt to be true of the last few years and I am aware of this bias. On the whole, however, it is seeming more and more plausible that the ever expanding catalog of quality games and access to games through subscription services (PlayStation Plus and Xbox Gold) is creating a culture of less expensive content and gamer entitlement. Despite this, my tastes are not universally one sided. There are still plenty of $60 games I look forward to purchasing in the coming year, with Final Fantasy 15 and the rumored NX Legend of Zelda game being at the top of my list, but they are fewer and farther between than they have ever been.