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Why Games Will Only Get Cheaper

Chris Rio | 2 Aug 2013 17:00
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One of the first MMOs, a game called Island of Kesmai, charged users $12 to play online. It featured a sprawling virtual fantasy world that let players explore, perform quests, and collect items, not unlike the D&D game it was based on. It was probably a lot of fun.

The game was text-based. It looked like this. It ran on CompuServe in the 1980s, which charged $12 per hour for their highest-tiered service, not per month. At that rate, a World of Warcraft player today would be paying over $700 a month, and that's without taking inflation into account.

GTA IV cost $100 million dollars, 4 years, and the sanity of thousands of employees to create. It knocked you back 60 smackeroos (do people still say that?). For comparison, Street Fighter II retailed for $75 (roughly $120 today), was made by a team of 40 people, and almost certainly cost many times less than the entire budget of 1994 Best Picture Winner Street Fighter to create. That's a pretty huge dissonance there.

Developers and publishers are looking for more of the pie

Take a look at this old ad. Although I would totally pay $75 for Sonic 2 even today, our generation is spoiled. We are getting way better games for way less money. Despite what some say, our favorite hobby is cheaper now than it's ever been in history.

So now that we have that out of the way, what's in it for the future? Unfortunately for us consumers, game companies have only recently realized that they are undercharging us. This is why we have seen an unprecedented amount of in-fighting between developers that make the games, publishers that ship the games, and retailers that stock them. Developers and publishers are looking for more of the pie, which has led to a mainstream market rife with Season Passes, online unlock codes, and paid DLC. This is all in an effort to take some of the presumed untapped profits from the used game market. But this is just the beginning. We barely escaped having an always-connected console that would block used games, with no promises about how that would benefit us gamers. And if you think, my naïve little flower, that the consumer won the war and publishers aren't gonna try something like that ever again, please, please think again. Some type of console restrictions are inevitable.

Let's be clear about one thing - no one really wants this. It'll be a sad day when I can't go to the store, pick out a shiny new game, and go home and huff the inside of the plastic box until I pass out. If you think about it, though, it's everyone's fault that this is happening. Consumers demand more substance from the newest games, but aren't willing to pay more for the base product. Developers (and publishers) have to keep up by letting development (and marketing) budgets get so out of control that they have no choice but to offer DLC to make money. So you end up with a situation where games are sold in pieces in order to make it seem like the prices aren't going up. GTA IV cost $90 for everything in-game, sold over three parts. But if they had charged that from the beginning there would be riots on the streets of Liberty City.

Let's do a fun thought experiment and assume the worst possible scenario. Let's say that come next console cycle (PS5 and Xbox Infinity) you won't be able to buy any used games. (Hell, just because the new consoles don't block used games, nothing is stopping publishers from doing something about it, right?) What's the good news? Well, it's that games are going to get even cheaper.

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