Friday, 17 February 2017

The Price Tag Of Gaming

Originally written for and published on Forces Of Geek early February 2017.

I’ve seen a lot of criticism surrounding the price point for Nintendo’s upcoming Switch console and I can fully appreciate that it’s expensive (hell, there’s no way I can afford to splurge that much cash in one go, at least not without forgoing essentials like food and rent) but let’s put Nintendo’s pricing into context before we fly off the handle. 

Cast your mind back to a time when baggy parachute pants with tassels, mood rings and Morpheus style sunglasses were the height of cool (I dare you to judge my fashion choices back then)! The mid to late nineties was a time of great change for the gaming community but we welcomed this new age of blocky graphics with arms wide open. In 1995, Sony first launched the PlayStation and in 1996 Nintendo released their Nintendo 64 console, back then the former would have set you back $299 (£299) and the latter approximately $200 (£250). 

Respectively, both consoles were expensive, even if you adjust the prices to reflect inflation and the amount they would cost you today. The games for both were just as expensive, a copy of Mario Kart 64 in 1997 would have set you back $70, the equivalent of just over $100 today!  

Go back further, even to the days of the Atari 2600, popular games were retailing at around $25/£30 which when adjusted for today’s dollars/pounds is even more expensive. In fact, the NES when adjusted for inflation is one of the most expensive consoles (in hindsight this is probably why I was a Sega girl, my family weren’t particularly poor but they certainly weren’t rich enough to buy a NES). 

One could argue that early on when gaming was first taking off, a higher price point made sense since the technology was relatively new. But games and their consoles have always been expensive and in my opinion they are justifiably so.

Two very different titles like the critically acclaimed Half-Life 2 and movie tie-in atrocity Catwoman: The Game were both released in 2004 with differing budgets, $40 million for Half-Life 2 (this was confirmed by Gabe Newell, founder of Valve, in an interview with Eurogamer in 2004) and approximately $12 million for Catwoman: The Game (it’s important also to note that these figures, unless confirmed are educated guesses from speculating journalists or business analysts, given that most companies understandably like to keep numbers close to their chest). 

Regardless of the games differing costs to create, on release day they were priced the same. Jump forward thirteen years and the fact still stands, even with differing budgets as a general rule (albeit format dependant) games today are sold for the exact same price, which currently stands on average around $60/£50 per title. 

This is problematic and it even implies that some publishers could feel pressure to cut costs just to make a profit or find themselves in a position where they have to push their employees to do double the work or hire less experienced workers. That’s not to mention they have to factor in the retailers cut (usually 20% or thereabouts), the royalty fees and even licensing if it applies to their particular project. 

If you compare this to the film industry, bad films are often gifted sequels by executive producers at the expense of quality filmmaking. Corners are cut, artistry is pushed aside for a “just shoot it and fix it in post production” mentality. The cost is kept down so that a larger profit can be gained. 

When compared to the games industry, there is very little difference. We are bombarded with sequels and remakes because the engines and design frame work already exist. They cost less to produce when compared to creating new intellectual properties which require fully funding a team of the best artists, writers, programmers, animators, game devs, voice actors and multiple other talented people who are integral to creating a game.

Screenshot from Game Dev Tycoon 
It used to be that early on in gaming, around the time of the Atari 2600, smaller games were priced lower than big name titles like Pac-Man, it seems to me that companies have used excuses such as better technology to their advantage, hence we now have games of all qualities being sold as equal which is not fair to consumers. 

I also think a lot of the criticism about games being expensive comes down to the rise of mobile gaming and digital downloads. Consumers are getting used to paying less for apps and mobile games which is driving the perception of the value of gaming down and digital downloads can sometimes be up to half the price, meaning physical copies now appear overpriced. 

This isn’t to mention of course, the amount of pre-owned games available now, we are over saturated and their competitive price points often stop many gamers from buying a game on release date, instead they opt to wait it out a few weeks or months before purchase. I do this with a lot of the games I play. However, when I buy a game with over 40 hours of gameplay like Fallout 4, I will happily play the £50 price tag. A decent game offering that much entertainment time is in my opinion absolutely worth it. 

I’m not saying there’s nothing to gain from criticising the price of the Nintendo Switch or for complaining about an industry which isn’t fair but the sheer amount of criticism I’ve seen directed at Nintendo in the last few months is quite frankly, excessive. Sure, it’s expensive but so is every console that’s released. Shouldn’t we be focusing on quality? If an industry realises their consumers want quality not quantity then they have no option but to adjust. 

Perhaps we need to actively boycott certain games? I mean, you can’t complain about the alarming amount of AAA titles out there that are sequels or remakes when you keep on buying them. And for those of you thinking that by doing so, it would limit your choice as a consumer, there are more than enough games out there that are in need of your money and more deserving of it.

Alternatively, get into PC games and utilise digital distribution platforms like Steam. But whatever you do, quit hassling Nintendo fans who are happy to spend $300 (or £280) on a Nintendo Switch. Let them. It’s ultimately up to them how they choose to spend/waste their money and criticising them isn’t going to help the situation. Don’t complain especially if you don’t even intend to buy one.

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