It has been a sad week for the economy – exchange rates are plummeting, interest rates, gas (because it’s short for gasoline which is what you actually put in your car, not petrol) is set to rise and eTolls may or may not find you. The last straw was Gavin’s article that we can expect game prices to soar this year. So, how much are you willing to spend on a game?
Obviously the type of game is a big part of price determination. AAA titles are released a fixed price in the US – the rest of the world tends to fluctuate in prices depending on exchange rates with the US Dollar. This is bad in South Africa, but at least we can predict the cost of AAA titles upon release. Other games – indies and games from smaller studios – often get to set their own price, or even pricing structures.
When Jason Rohrer said that Steam Sales were bad, he was striving for the Mojang approach to pricing. Start off at a reduced rate, minimizing the risk for early adopters, with the price increasing up to a set point over time – those who buy the game at its highest price are paying a premium on knowing that the game has been out long enough to be fully functional and worth their money. He argued that this was far better than charging full price at launch, and then practically giving the game away during Steam Sales, thereby punishing your early adopters.
Of course, there are a few issues at play here. The first thing we have to discuss is the mentality of console gamers vs. PC gamers. As a general rule, PC gamers end up paying more for their gaming rig and less for their games. Before everyone jumps all over me, sure – you can get a budget priced gaming rig. But the reality is that most gamers like to upgrade their gaming PC with components that can cost as much as an entire console. When you add the accessories (gaming keyboard, mouse, headset) you can end up spending a pretty penny to play games. However, AAA titles generally release for cheaper on PC (despite looking prettier for the most part), plus there are always Steam Sales and Humble Bundles and other ways to pick up great games for cheap. As such, prices that console gamers are willing to fork out for games will often be way higher than those paid by PC gamers.
However, the main point of contention is value for money. This is where many games, both AAA and indies, fail the test and get a lot of flak for being over priced. Broken games can come in all shapes and sizes – whether it’s the flop that was Battlefield 4 at launch, or the uproar over DayZ, consumers get upset when they are charged full price for a game that doesn’t work. However, it’s about more than broken games – it’s about value.
What were some of my favorite games that I bought last year? Mark of the Ninja, Ni No Kuni, Thomas Was Alone, Fire Emblem, The Walking Dead. All the PC games were bought on special – Humble Bundle or Steam Sale. Ni No Kuni and Fire Emblem were bought at full price. All those games were fantastic value for money – they were excellent games and offered complete experiences. Would I have paid full price for those experiences? Of course. Did I have to? No.
The reality is that I’m willing to pay $5-6 on a Humble Bundle, or even $10-15, if I think even one or two of the games will be enjoyable. There were plenty of games that came with Mark of the Ninja or Thomas Was Alone that didn’t grab me at all. A Virus Named TOM sat on my Steam library for ages before I installed it, and I stopped playing after a relatively short period of time. I didn’t resent the money I paid for the bundle – it was more than worth it for some of the other games. However, if I had paid $5 for that game, only to not enjoy it, I probably would have been more hesitant to buy other indies in the future.
With prices soaring due to an atrocious exchange rate, it’s only natural that gamers will be more circumspect when considering their game purchases. Why buy a game at launch for over R1000? What if that game is broken or too short or of poor quality? The same game priced at R600 can be more acceptable – I have no problem paying R1000 for a game that I’d rate 9 or higher; anything worse than that and I’d be upset. However, if I’d rate a game 7 or higher, I probably wouldn’t mind paying R500… and maybe trading it in when I was done. Or, if it’s available on Steam, I could just wait for the next Steam Sale and see if it comes up for a better price.
I predict that reviews and recommendations will become more important as prices rise. Pre-orders and launch sales will drop as people wait to see if the game is worthwhile before throwing wads of cash at them. However, with distributors and retailers being forced to import at such high prices, I can tell you now that we won’t be seeing price drops on those games anytime soon.
What is your price threshold? Sure, Collector’s Editions are a whole different kettle of fish, but how much are you willing to pay for a game, and under what expectations?
Last Updated: January 31, 2014