How Much Should a Videogame Cost ? - Looking into the next generation, should retail prices for games go up or down?
How much should a videogame cost to buy? I'm torn on this question.
Before launching into anything, I should clarify I'm talking about a AAA game, physical copy, at retail. Part of me thinks the current £50 RRP is right and that, where possible, we should be pouring money back into development studios so they can keep making games and, ideally, financing riskier projects. Another part of me thinks £50 is too much to spend and that it'd be better if games were cheaper, so as to encourage punters to try new things. The £50 price tag is one heck of a high barrier to entry. At that price, kids, young adults - hell, even adults - can only afford five maybe six game purchases a year. And whenever it comes to buying their next, they are, understandably, going to be looking for a sure thing - they ain't gonna drop that kind of money on something by Goichi Suda.
Taken reductively, it comes down to the question: "Do I want consumers to be able to take more risk or developers?"
But of course, it's not that simple. If the past 25 years of videogames have taught us anything, it's that companies who sell their games at £50 aren't always the ones to try new things. My idealistic view that pumping money into developers will enable them to make different types games is just that - idealistic. In reality, that kind of financing only encourages studios to think more business-like, and businesses, naturally, are adverse to risk. When Call of Duty sells, people make more Call of Duty, is basically what happens.
On the flipside, cheap games won't necessarily create braver consumers. I'm talking a little from personal experience here, but when I find myself browsing Netflix, a super-cheap service that gives me access to frillions of different TV shows, I still find myself watching the same things. Same goes for Spotify. I have basically all the music in the world on my phone, but I'm now listening to Yeezus for the eleventh time, because I know I like it. Cracked knows what I'm talking about.
Even when things are cheap - even when they're in essence free, as is the case with Netflix - we still look for what we know we like. It's not only to do with money. We like watching/playing/listening to things we enjoy, so we're bound to seek those out; even though Left 4 Dead 2 was marked down to £1.75 on Steam last week, I didn't get it because I know I don't like zombie games.
So, I'm back to that question: How much should a videogame cost to buy? And I have to remember also that, despite all this pontificating and moralising, there are practical implications as well. I might say "yeah it'd be cool if games were cheaper" but AAA development costs are going up and so lower price tags aren't going to work. Any other solution, as the backlash against Microsoft proved recently, isn't going to come easily either - consumers aren't ready to give up any freedoms. In all honesty, it seems like prices can only stay the same.
Developers aren't going to volunteer any reductions because costs are going up and, at the end of the day that £50 price tag has worked fine for years. At the same time, they can't bump price up - consumers, rightfully, wouldn't take to it. The question of how much a game should cost is academic, because we'll always be faced with the unchanging reality of how much a game must cost.
The one way I can think to drive this down is also idealistic and impratical - bin technology. If the gaming industry were less interested in successive graphics and rendering tech, if critics and punters were less impressed by shiny new visuals, games wouldn't need to cost as much. It's our collective obsession with high technological standards which is driving game-makers to spend all their money. if perfect animation, realistic weather and clear textures weren't such a priority, developers simply wouldn't need to fork over as much capital per game.
But these things are marketable and grabbable - it's easier for PR to communicatie how amazing looking a game is than how emotionally resonant or intellectually engaging it might be. And so the cycle continues.