Are games just overpriced?
Every so often a huge game like Skyrim or The Old Republic or Modern Warfare 3 comes out. They charge $60 and we accept it because its the standard price for a high-quality, AAA title. In these situations I think most people don’t mind because there is a significant premium associated with these titles and we all accept that they will be the most popular (and time consuming) of the crop. They keep that $60 price tag for months, even years at a time.
Then other games come out at the same price point and only weeks later we see their price-tag slashed in half. Duke Nukem Forever had a huge build-up of hype and had a lot going for it in terms of word-of-mouth prior to the game’s release. Had it been a great game I think it would’ve retained its initial price tag all the way until Christmas. Instead it was awful and people barely touched it even when it was on sale for $10 on Steam only a month or two later.
What’s difficult to gauge is that sweet-spot where a game isn’t over-priced, nor does it look cheap. Pricing a game too cheaply makes it appear of poor quality to the window-shopping gamer. However, when a game’s price is so low only a month later, doesn’t that just make it appear even poorer in quality? It seems to me that publishers haven’t quite figured out this decade’s price-point for games because there is just so many ways to price it these days. The days of the cut and dry $60 price-tag seem long gone.
Currently this is the landscape of game pricing, all things considered:
- Premium, AAA, new release games at $50-60
- Smaller, AA releases for $30-40
- Indie or downloadable titles for $10-20
- Mobile app games for $1-5
- Free-to-play games with markets that sell in-game content for anywhere from $0.50 to $100
- Not to be forgotten: used games that usually are marked down only about $10 from the new price.
This seems to be the standard for the way games are priced, there are many options, but every publisher seems to think that their latest game deserves a full-blown AAA $60+ release price. To those people all I have to say is: You’re not all Blizzard, you’re not all Bethesda, get real already.
I think this is the major problem: publishers feel shoe-horned into believing that if they price their title less than the big boys, they will lose customers who see their product as inferior when its not. Sometimes that may actually be the case (I personally thought this with last year’s Dead Space 2, which had limited sales even with their $60 price tag, but probably would have benefited from a competitive price-point, it was promptly lowered only months later). But more oftentimes its because a product just doesn’t have the reputation, content or production values of a Blizzard/Bioware/Bethesda product.
Recently, Serious Sam 3: BFE released to the modest price of $40. I didn’t buy it right away, but I nearly did. The unfortunate timing of the release was right when I was about to start playing a handful of other games bought. I decided to wait it out and only about 3 weeks later I found it for $20 on Steam’s holiday sale. I couldn’t really fathom why they decided on such a huge cut only weeks after release, but I jumped on the opportunity. In this case I think it was just great marketing, but I also have to stand back and think about this. With so many other major releases, even when $40 felt like a fair price I waited because the time-value just wasn’t there. If I purchased at full price right then and there, I’d never get to play it, so it would be a complete waste. The back of my mind knew that in due time it would be on sale, so not purchasing just felt like a better move and playing the games I’ve already bought a better idea.
As for the quality of the product, I think publishers need to get a little better of an idea of how the public will react to the final product before slapping $60 on it. Had they gauged that Rage would be recieved with a mixed reception, I think a $45 tag would have been much more appropriate from the start. Those who disliked the quality at full-price could look at it from a different angle and say “you know for $45 this game isn’t half bad.”
The biggest wrench thrown in the current AAA title game price engine is the free-to-play and $1 mobile games that are quickly becoming more popular. DotA 2 is going to see some less-than-stellar reception if it decides to go the $60 route, as the obvious competitor, League of Legends, will be right there to say: “we already have an established community, our game is free and we have about 2 years worth of added content built up.”
But the biggest thing that could have been siezed upon, at least in 2011, would have been the online-focused games like Battlefield 3. Compared to a well-established title like Modern Warfare, BF3 barely made a drop in the bucket. Yet, if they decided to release a multiplayer-only version of the game, without the unneccsary singleplayer mode for, say, $40 then I think they would have seen significantly more adoption from people that saw the game as just another shooter or those who didn’t see a reason to buy when MW3 was just on the horizon. Money can be a main motivator and I just didn’t see the fully-priced BF3 with a pointless singleplayer game as bringing a lot from the CoD camp over.
I personally thing 2012 is going to be a big year for changes in game pricing. Experiments in social games, free-to-play and mobile apps are starting to turn in their results and they look like positive ways to go. My hope is to see much less games start at $60 only to drop by half weeks later.