EA Canada Senior Producer Jason DeLong predicts that game prices will probably go down at some point in the near future, but says that the decrease will be balanced out by a corresponding rise in the amount and expense of DLC.
"I think that we're going to start to see - maybe not in the next year, but in the near future - games go down the route of smaller up-front experiences and lower prices at the beginning," DeLong said in an interview with GameInformer. "And then the ability to extend the game through episodic material or future feature material. I think that's a direction we're probably heading in."
In the grand scheme of things, DeLong thinks it's a change that will benefit consumers and be better for game developers as well. "Games are getting more expensive, and times are tough, and it's getting harder to purchase every game you want," he continued. "So, how can we keep people playing and offer them more but not have to make them break the bank to do it? It's going to be an interesting creative problem for us to solve."
The DLC trend is obviously growing - EA's Dragon Age: Origins is a great example of that - and at some point, gamers are bound to question why they're paying full price for less-than-full games. But while the concept of "less now, more later" looks good at first blush, it creates some inherent pressures of its own, particularly for developers who have trouble coming across with timely new content for popular games.
Consider Half-Life 2 Episode 1, which I think very easily qualifies as a game with a "smaller up-front experience." It was released in mid-2006 - that's three and a half freakin' years ago - yet Episode Three, the culmination of the story arc, is still little more than a Duke Nukem-esque fantasy. Only the strength of the Half-Life franchise makes this forgivable; if Valve was a normal developer - like, say, Ritual Entertainment - a schedule like that would have driven it into the ground years ago.
DeLong is right in that increasing reliance on DLC and episodic content is almost inevitable. Will that translate into a meaningful change for anyone? That's a different matter entirely.