Only millionaires run for president. It’s sad, but true. And while there may be plenty of non-millionaires who’d make great presidents, the plain Jane fact is they simply can’t afford it. Not when the fee to get on the ballots alone costs tens of thousands of dollars – per state. If this thought feels like a cold splash of reality flavored water, imagine now how hard it is for fledgling game designers.

With videogame production budgets surpassing even Hollywood’s grossest excesses, the market is rapidly out-pricing small developers, and even the big guys are feeling the pinch. Indie development is one route, but there are only so many games one can produce in one’s bedroom. So what’s a developer to do? Why, raise the price, of course. But in spite of Adam Smith’s notions, it’s not as simple as all that.

For one thing, games are already pretty expensive. $60 dollars can buy a meal out for two, a food processor or a handful of DVDs. Hardcore gamers take for granted that a large portion of their disposable income is dedicated to buying games each month, but a lot of folks can’t be so generous with themselves. And it wasn’t too long ago that games were $50. The $10 next-gen bump made it even harder for some folks to keep up, another significant increase would price some consumers out of the market, and that would cure the disease by killing the patient.

So in order to keep the lights turned on while keeping the dollars rolling in, developers have had to get creative. Some have turned to the tried-and-true advertising model, inserting advertisements into a game’s various nooks and crannies; some have adopted product placement deals, putting branded merchandise in the hands of in-game characters; and still others have turned to stretching the price of the game over a longer time table through micro-transactions and add-on content, hoping consumers won’t notice they’re paying well over retail for more or less the same amount of content. And let’s not forget the other side of the mirror, folks who’ve dipped into games from other industries, promoting their product with a fun flash game or intriguing alternate reality scavenger hunt.

There’s lot of money to be had in making games, even indirectly, and this week’s issue of The Escapist looks at some of the ways developers have tried to shake it out of the tree. Jordan Deam looks at branded advertising in EA’s latest, skate. Christina Gonzales writes about Neopets’ epic decision, to advertise or not to advertise? Nova Barlow gives an overview on the state of the Alternate Reality Game market. Howard Wen speaks to the folks who make games specifically to promote products. And Chris LaVigne plays a game designed to convince you not to buy something, PETA’s gruesome Super Chick Sisters.

Russ Pitts

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