Game prices should probably go up, but now isn’t the time to do it

Either hike up the base price or rely on microtransactions – not both

What we pay now for a new, shiny AAA video game at the end of this console generation is pretty much what we paid when the Xbox 360 was new. I can’t say much else has been that stable over the last decade and a half. In the same time span, for instance, the cost of a cinema ticket has almost doubled. So has my weight. Time leaves a mark on us all, I guess.

You’ll hear some suggest that this is why a video game price rise is dramatically overdue, and I’ll admit it right here, at the outset: I agree. Though prices have remained static, development costs have not, and as modern games continue to astonish us, we can’t expect studios to keep innovating if we’re not prepared to fund it.

With the cost of making games reportedly doubling with each console generation, it’s probably time to accept that things have to change and that no business can expect to be profitable if costs keep rising, but the consumer price remains static. It’s simply good dollars and sense.This is often the rationale given for why the industry has standardised “player recurring investment” (PRI) – the industry’s idiom for battle passes, DLC, microtransactions and other in-game purchases, like those “surprise mechanics” (aka loot boxes) so infamously touted by EA.

Star Wars Battlefront II
Star Wars Battlefront II. Credit: EA Dice

Consumers haven’t swallowed it all – there’s been significant pushback, particularly in response to “time-savers” sold to circumvent in-game grind that only exist to sell the fucking time-savers in the first place – but generally, content seemingly cut from the base game, and later repackaged and neatly resold to us as DLC is accepted, albeit begrudgingly. Studios needed a way of generating additional income to cover those skyrocketing costs and if we won’t pay more for games… well, the money has been found elsewhere.

If companies like 2K or Activision were habitually losing money – and I specifically name 2K and Activision, because they have each broken free of the pack and intimated that the base prices on some of their next-gen games will increase – I’d understand this. I’d be sympathetic. But let’s be clear: they don’t.

They continue to make billions on the back of that £60 base price and all that delicious player recurring investment. Most are making more money than they ever have before. Yes, gamers might have it better now in some respects – I’ve already talked about how free next-gen upgrades were inconceivable just a generation ago – but a handful of pro-consumer options do not negate a decade’s worth of insidious gambling mechanics, in-app purchases and loot boxes.

You want us to pay for DLC and season passes? Sure. I get it. You want us to pay extra on the cover price? Yup, I’m okay with that. But is it fair to ask us to do both?

NBA 2K21
NBA 2K21. Credit: 2K Games

Yes, I appreciate that it very likely costs more to push the boundaries of next-gen gaming, but the record-breaking profits and groaning bank balances of CEOs signal that these companies don’t need that extra money. I’ve tried examining the debate from every corner and have listened sincerely to dissenting viewpoints, but it doesn’t matter how many different ways I try to cut and rebuild it, I always end up at the same word: greed.

And lest we forget, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, too. As of 27 August, almost 200,000 workers in the UK have lost their jobs, and a further 9.6million remain furloughed, most of whom are struggling on truncated salaries. Meanwhile, over the pond, more than 40million American jobs have been wiped out. Sticking an extra tenner on the cover cost of games, which have been the only means of companionship and escape for many during lockdown, in the middle of an economic breakdown is at best a lousy look… and at its worst, it’s a predatory one.

Shovel the likely additional costs of next-gen on top of that – neither Sony nor Microsoft have been particularly taciturn about their pricing plans, even though the launch is now supposedly just weeks away – and things are about to get considerably more costly for the average gamer.

If publishers want to increase the base price, they need to cut microtransactions – yes, even “just” the cosmetic ones. And if we don’t want to pay more? Well, then I guess we’ll have to make our peace with shitty season passes. But don’t let anyone convince you that we should be doing both. Not while publishers continue to post record profits. And definitely not while the world scrambles to recover from a second “once in a lifetime” recession.

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