For almost 25 years, games have been $60 brand-new. If you want to go down to the store and buy a game that just came out, odds are good that you’ll spend around $60 on it. This has been true for so long that it’s weird to think that major AAA games could ever retail for more than that, despite many attempts by game companies to push special edition boxes or microtransactions to make their games more profitable.
This fall, that’s going to change. The average price of a new game is going to be $70, and many players are not happy about it. Big, next-gen titles like the upcoming Gotham Knights, God of War Ragnarok, and The Callisto Protocol will launch with $70 price tags. Inflation is pressuring everyone, the cost of making games is going up, development times are ballooning, and game companies are clearly eager to get a larger return on their biggest games.
What does this price hike mean for the industry, though? And what does this incident have to do with the history of modern game pricing? Today, we’re looking at the economy of the gaming industry and how much you really spend on a game. Is it too much, or is the cost of modern games equivalent to the value players get from them?
Game Pricing History
When people talk about game pricing, they’re quick to point out that games have “basically always” been $60. Gamers with long memories (or sufficient patience for research) will tell you that the modern price for games has been in place since around the late 90s. Around the time the PlayStation standardized the CD as the de facto media storage device for the industry, prices stabilized at around $60. Outside of some games that came with multiple discs or the odd special edition title, gamers expected to pay $60 and get a full experience.
When you adjust for inflation, this means that games really cost less now than they before. At first glance, anyway–but we’ll dive into that issue in a moment. Before the late 90s, though, things were a bit more complicated. When most games were delivered on cartridges, there were numerous costs you could expect to pay based on how much internal memory its cartridge needed to make it work.
While the average cost of an N64 game was around $60, some players have noted that they paid as much as $100 to buy games like Quest 64. Infamously, Phantasy Star IV retailed for around $100 on the Sega Genesis, and that was way back in 1993. When adjusting for inflation, that means players were shelling out the equivalent of $200 to play a single game. Yes, that’s two hundred United States dollars, the kind the Treasury mints and sends out to banks. Yes, I was also astonished to learn this.
Are Games Cheaper Now?
When adjusting for inflation, this makes it seem like games are cheaper now than ever before. After all, it’s unthinkable that a modern title would carry a $200 price tag. Gamers would laugh at the notion. A game that costs more than $60 is clearly a rip-off because you can get games like Hades and Hollow Knight for less than $30. But that’s not really telling the full story. The $60 price tag that most modern titles bear is more of a psychological number than one that reflects the economy behind games.
A $60 price tag is just high enough to show a player that this is a premium, full-fledged title. Anything less than that is reserved for remakes and indie titles–even if those indie titles are clearly excellent. Anything more than that is for special editions, big bundles that include physical goodies like statues, art books, and soundtracks. However, this doesn’t mean that the average modern game actually costs $60. In many cases, games cost far more than their sticker price. Those costs are just a bit harder to pin down.
Many modern titles include everything from microtransactions to full-scale DLC expansions, all of which cost more real-world money. Others have online multiplayer modes that require you to subscribe to some online service like PlayStation Plus, Xbox Live, or Nintendo Switch Online. Games like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV have the audacity to not only charge for the base game and its expansions but also charge monthly subscription fees.
The Reason for the Increase
Many gamers have proven that they’re willing to pay more than $60 for a game, they just don’t like to do so upfront. Special editions that retail for $90 or more are enduringly popular, especially with sequels and well-known franchises. Others will pay recurring costs to get things like new outfits, new levels, or entirely fresh story scenarios. Clearly, the demand is there, so players will fork over a bit more cash to get in the door–or at least, that’s what the suits behind this decision are likely saying.
Many optimistic players have framed this new $70 price point as a compromise between the low buy-in and high post-launch cost associated with many titles. However, this new pricing paradigm is unlikely to translate into larger games with fewer microtransactions. The reasoning for the new price point isn’t that it will allow development studios to pay their employees more or that it will result in bigger games. It isn’t even that the base games will include more content that would otherwise need to be cut to keep costs down.
Inflation has made the cost of living higher in most of the world. As such, games are getting more expensive. There are some logistical reasons for this–the cost of developing games has continued to skyrocket as 4K technology has made the process more time-consuming. Shipping costs are massive right now, too. But, the bottom line is that publishers are charging $70 for new games because they can.
It’s Not for the Developers
Many players’ first instinct when they see the new $70 price tag is to say that it must mean the publishing companies are planning to pay their developers more to offset the long hours and hard work they put into creating the games we all love. However, this likely isn’t the case. There are very few protections in place for developers, many of whom have recently spoken out about the tough working conditions at big studios like Activision, Ubisoft, and EA.
So, if the price isn’t going to help developers, and it isn’t going to result in larger games with fewer microtransactions, the question is whether players will still buy these titles. For some games, like the multiplayer-focused Call of Duty Modern Warfare II, players’ fear of missing out could drive them to buy the game for full price. However, single-player games like The Callisto Protocol that don’t have the luxury of being highly-anticipated sequels like God of War Ragnarok might be overlooked due to their alarming price tags.
Is $70 that much more than $60? Maybe not in a relative sense, but it certainly feels different. Gamers have already largely embraced subscription-based services like Xbox’s Game Pass to help keep the recurring costs of their hobby lower, even if it means they might spend more per year than if they only bought a handful of brand-new games. Players who are already shelling out $15 per month on a subscription service and $100 per year for an online membership to play multiplayer games might see that additional $10 for a brand-new game as an unnecessary nickel-and-dime strategy that simply weighs on their gaming budget.
Will Gamers Accept the New Price?
The question that remains now is whether the average player will vote with their wallet to reject this sudden uptick in cost or if players will be eager enough to tear into these new games that they’ll just accept the price increase. It’s been a quiet year for big-name games on non-Nintendo hardware, with only Elden Ring and Horizon Zero Dawn back in February representing the AAA lineup for 2022.
As the biggest holiday titles float into stores, many gamers might experience sticker shock seeing the $70 price tag show up for the first time in the wild. Maybe that extra $10 will be too much to stomach, and they’ll simply opt for cheaper entertainment options. But would that be wise? After all, most games offer between 30 and 40 hours of entertainment–and some offer far more. In some respects, aren’t video games the most efficient way to get that bang for your buck?
This old argument pops up from time to time, and it once again meets resistance because of the subscription-based model of modern entertainment. If you watch hundreds of hours of Netflix every year, you might be paying a lot less for movies and TV shows than people did 20 years ago. But one thing is certain: You’re paying more for games than you used to, both to get the base game and to keep up with the latest expansions.