Editorial

We’re Not Paying Enough For Video Games

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I want to talk about the value that gaming provides, and explain why it may be time for things to change.

If you think about it, the cost per hour of gaming is relatively low. Sure, you have the high initial investment of your console/PC, but after that it’s the cost of the games that you have to worry about.  When you consider a game that could have 20 hours of gameplay all the way up to sprawling RPGs touting 100+ hours of content, it’s easy to see why some developers go bust trying to make enough money to stay in business from making a product that can literally take years and years before it’s ready for release.

This is all the more worrisome because the $60 price point of triple-A games has not changed in over a decade. The Xbox 360 was largely responsible for the $60 ceiling we’re familiar with today, although there were odd games here and then even prior to that that were in that ballpark. But for the sake of argument, let’s say that $60 has been in place for 11 years… that’s a long time to see absolutely zero increase in the cost of a commodity, particularly when you consider that the underlying costs of making games have increased substantially. Technology has advanced ridiculous levels in those 11 years. Developers need higher salaries to put food on the table and support their families. And perhaps the biggest factor for the cost of game design increasing is that gaming budgets are now orders of magnitude larger than they were 11 years ago. Destiny, GTA V, and Star Wars: The Old Republic all had budgets of over $100 million, and that’s before factoring in marketing and advertising costs.

Frankly, the current $60 model is unsustainable at current levels. When you consider that it can cost $10-20 to go and see a blockbuster film at the cinema, or a brand new book could cost $20-$30 when its first released in hardback, it’s difficult to jibe that kind of utility against what we regularly expect to receive for our $60 in games. And this doesn’t even include added value from DLC (which may in some circumstances be released for free, as CD Projekt Red did for The Witcher 3), or multiplayer modes that for some games are actually pretty damn good, even if we largely just bought them for the single-player experience and story (the Uncharted series, Mass Effect 3, some Splinter Cell titles, for example).

The gaming world is littered with the corpses of game developers and publishers that have gone under. THQ… Psygnosis… 38 Studios… Blizzard North… Lionhead… Looking Glass… and many, many more. The gaming industry is fickle, and what sells well today may not be what sells well tomorrow. The only true way to insulate yourself against the boom-and-bust cycle is to be a developer so large that you can absorb the losses from some underperforming titles without it completely wiping you out. That’s why the EAs and Ubisofts of the world are still around, but even a larger company like THQ wasn’t immune to this when they went bankrupt in 2012.

I believe there are only two solutions to this problem: either the costs of developing games have to be reduced, or the cost of games themselves should increase. In many ways it’s a problem of our own making. Developers and publishers wanted us to buy their games, so started throwing bigger budgets at titles to encourage us to buy their games containing flashy graphics and Hollywood voice actors. We bought them, which encouraged even bigger budgets, and so on and so forth, until here we are.

It’s a hard sell to say to EA “Please make a shittier-looking game that contains bad voice acting from the 1990s”. And so with that in mind, the only solution I can see is to raise the price of games. Maybe $60 needs to be $65, or $75, or even $80. I’m not on what number you land exactly, but we’re getting a really good deal, and have gotten a really good deal for over a decade. In exchange, the average game developer can approach 100 hour work weeks during the crunch period, and have some of the worst job security of any skilled career. It’s difficult to see why anyone would voluntarily choose to work in such a such a capricious industry, but they do, and the games we like to play depend on them continuing to do so.

Of course, given the steep discounts we see on games even very shortly after release now (Battleborn was recently marked down to $27 on the PC less than a month after launch) you may not actually pay more than $60 if you’ve a savvy gamer who waits for sales. The point still stands though that we’re getting tremendous value in a bloodthirsty industry that exists almost solely for our benefit. If the only way to balance the scales a little is to suck it up and pay a little more for the games we know and love so that developers can have a bit more security then perhaps that’s something we should seriously consider.

The opinions in this editorial are the author’s and do not represent OnlySP as an organization.

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Simon Nash
I write about PC games and sometimes it even makes sense. I'm a refined Englishman, but live in Texas with my two young children whom I am training in the ways of the Force.

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