One of the biggest criticisms game consoles face is not just the cost of the hardware itself, but also the price of the software we play on it. Throughout history games have always been, in consumers’ eyes, pricier than that ‘should’ be. We can buy a movie for less than $20, so why can’t we buy a game for a similar amount? They’re distributed on discs just like movies, they (usually) have less people involved in the production than movies, and games in the past have broken the $1billion mark, just like movies…
While it is undoubtedly true that as games become more advanced the production costs will rise, it unfortunately also means that less people need to be involved in a games production (ie, mo-cap technology replaces hours and hours of hiring animators to do the same thing). Add to this the amount of people who now digitally download software, and the question has to be asked:
Why is the price of games still rising?
Previous and Current Trends
Yes we could take in to consideration inflation, but that only accounts for a small portion of why our games cost so much.
When the Xbox One was released games would set consumers back around $60, which is almost double what gamers would expect to pay for a game during the 16 bit era. Add on to that another 8 or so years from 2013 when we will no doubt hear some news on Xbox Two (Project Scarlett), and it’s likely that we will see games costing around $75-$80.
Gamers will be outraged and will question why.
But they will still pay it.
Think about it: Games will most likely be downloadable only, which means no manufacturing, handling and shipping costs, so surely that would affect the price? There are now less people involved in a games development due to advances in technology, shouldn’t that also affect the price in favor of the consumer?
It’s supply and demand. We know the price of everything we want is going to continue to rise a little faster than inflation, and because we’re so desperate for the next big game, we will begrudgingly pay it. In fact, some gamers would agree to pay more for software for the pure convenience of being able to download it without having to leave the house.
Since Project Scarlett is supposed to have games that play on Xbox One and Xbox One S, there needs to be a lot going on in the background for one title to make that generational leap back and forth. This extra effort will have to be reflected in the price.
During the Xbox 360 and Xbox One era of gaming, you could understand why downloadable software was the same price as the physical copy. Microsoft wouldn’t want to hurt the relationship between themselves and the retailers selling their games and consoles, but as consumers begin to accept a Steam style ownership system and physical software becomes obsolete, the price of downloading the latest game should be lowered, even if it is only the cost of the money saved from not having to package, ship, store and everything else involved in producing physical discs.
But, and it pains me to say it, this will not happen. Cutting out the middle man won’t encourage a price slash, because Microsoft will see the money saved as extra dollars in the bank without having to raise prices. Even if Microsoft save $1 for every game sold that they didn’t have to produce, that’s still millions of dollars extra in revenue a year. We won’t see a dime of that, and for most gamers they won’t even realize, but cutting out production/design/shipping/storage (and everything else in between) costs just means that Microsoft will make more money.
Netflix is massively popular for their ability to stream movies and television shows to you instantly. We can do that with games now too, so how does that effect the pricing? Well it does so by allowing for rentals or subscriptions instead of straight purchases for your games. We all know Microsoft is a big fan of cloud technology, so this would be a logical step for them and for the Xbox 2 (Project Scarlett) as much as many gamers would prefer their physical discs (myself included).
I'm not going to say for certain that we'll switch to a streaming-based game console for the arrival of the Xbox 2, but it's still a possibility in my eyes . Even so, that type of scenario could result in a subscription model instead of individual game purchases.
The Elephant in The Room: DLC and Season Passes
Base games may only cost $60 but trends in the industry are making it so games cost a lot more, and I'm not talking about collector's editions. I' talking about Season Passes that entitled you to the game's downloadable content as its released. In some cases, these are ten or twenty dollars in many cases but others have been as high as $40 dollars! That's a total cost of $100 for the game and the season pass, but I won't mention any names (cough, cough, Batman Arkham Knight, cough).
You could argue that you don't need the season pass, but what happens when it contains additional story, or in the case of Mortal Kombat X, additional characters? Some people just resist and go on with their lives, but people like me feel like those things are needed to enjoy the game to its fullest potential. So it's almost as if I'm forced to buy it if I want the full experience.
The worst part? Often times there is additional DLC outside of the season pass! Think you got everything? Think again! More content comes out and it's a la carte. This trend doesn't show any signs of slowing down, but with one season pass in 2015 costing $40, I have to wonder where the line will be drawn. Sometimes these things fizzle out after a few years, but as long as people keep buying them, they'll keep making them. Let's just hope they keep the base game at the usual price and maybe consider putting all of the DLC in the season pass and not just "most of it."
What About Kickstarter?
Here's an interesting player in the game of, well, games. If you haven't heard of Kickstarter, then you literally live under a rock. No offense to those who actually live under rocks of course. Kickstarter is a website where people can pitch projects (video games or otherwise) and have them funded via investments from backers like you or me. Think of it as "paying it forward." In this manner, developers can get all the funding they need from the gamers, give them the game and free stuff in return, and just skip the whole publisher thing.
Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? Well, there have already been Kickstarter-funded games released on multiple consoles. Independent developers are using it as a means to get their games on Xbox without needing help from a publisher, and Microsoft has been welcoming these independent games with open arms on the Xbox One. Not only have these games been getting funded, but Kickstarter has pulled in millions of dollars in recent years towards game development projects. Could this be the democratic future of gaming? Will gamers throw down cash to invest in projects and receive the game for free when it comes out? Maybe, but it's hard to say it will go that far. Still it's a possibility.
Putting it All Together
As you can see, we have options. Some are expensive, some are here already, and some are a little scary for those who don't like change. It all comes down to how the Xbox 2/Project Scarlett will deliver games. Will they be digital, streaming, or old fashioned discs? Once we know this, the answer of price will fall into place. In the meantime, we'll keep watching and making observations because that's what we do.
Of course, we're not alone in this speculation. Weigh in with your own thoughts, opinions, and theories in the comments below!