Revisiting The Game Price Myth

About eighteen months ago, I published a blog post titled “The Game Price Myth: A Counterargument Against Increasing The Prices of Video Games”. My thesis was that blindly increasing the prices of games was not an optimal solution for an industry that hosts games of varying quality and scope, and that flexible game pricing should be encouraged so game developers and publishers assess their games’ value with more care.

Looking back on that post, there was one passage I wrote that stuck out to me for a couple reasons that will be elaborated upon:

Say some triple-A games now cost $70 as a new base price. Now everyone initially charging $60 becomes tempted to raise their price to meet the industry standard, even if a jump dodges all logical reasoning. Do you really want to start paying $70 for Madden NFL 21 when the next generation of consoles hits just because others claimed it was necessary for the industry?

This feeling has not changed since the time of writing: I still fear the next generation of video games will be priced at the baseline of $70, including titles that no do warrant it.

Regardless, there are two reasons that inspired this follow-up post. First, it was quite fitting that Madden NFL 21 has recently been under intense scrutiny for not implementing meaningful changes from past installments to the ire of consumers. If Electronic Arts continues to stagnate its innovation into the future, its attempts to raise the price of admission will hit even harder.

But the second reason pertains to another sports game known as NBA 2K21. More specifically, the fact that the PlayStation 5 (PS5) and Xbox Series X (XSX) versions of the game will cost $69.99 instead of the standard $59.99 that console gamers are accustomed to.

If the pricing of NBA 2K21 serves any indication, expect PS5 and XSX games to conform to this new baseline of $69.99. But it remains unfortunate that NBA 2K21 is leading the charge for this new standard because this change does not feel warranted.

In between the time of my original post and this one, little concrete information has shed more light on the costs of game development, nor has the presence of in-game microtransactions fallen with greater scrutiny. In fact, it was just last month that an interview with former Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios chairman Shawn Layden revealed something to work with:

“The cost of creating games has increased. Some studies show that’s gone up 2X every time a console generation advances. The problem with that model is it’s just not sustainable. Major triple-A games in the current generation go anywhere from $80 million to $150 million or more to build, and that’s before marketing.”

Shawn Layden

These games are undoubtedly racking up numerous expenses without much return during the span of game development, and these figures reflect that notion. It should be noted that in my original post, I cited an article from gaming journalist Jason Schreier that pinpointed a typical game budget around $144 million, which leans on the high end of the spectrum that Layden proposed.

Such information is relevant because it provides great insight into the variance of game development costs. In order to provide a safety net for recouping expenditures, some game developers are turning to downloadable content and microtransactions. While their implementation can be thoughtful, a decent portion of games use them maliciously in a manner that can be compared to gambling.

One would assume that NBA 2K21 would mitigate the presence of microtransactions. Unfortunately that does not appear to be the case. The image above indicates that MyTeam and Virtual Currency (VC) are still pieces of the experience. These forms of microtransactions have been present in the franchise for some time, but NBA 2K20 exacerbated how predatory and addictive they have become as core features of the game in an infamous trailer:

Unless something dramatic occurs between now and September, NBA 2K21 will retain all of these monetization strategies. And when it comes out on PS5 and XSX, it will cost $10 more under the guise that, according to Visual Concepts president Greg Thomas, “is a monumental leap forward for the franchise”.

This is in light of other game developers, such as CD PROJEKT RED and Square Enix, committing to providing free upgrades for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One owners of Cyberpunk 2077 and Marvel’s Avengers respectively. Meanwhile, 2K requires consumers to purchase either of the $99.99 versions of NBA 2K21 to get the standard version on the other console.

All of this intensifies the fear that video games will not be priced accordingly but conformingly with the release of the PS5 and XSX. There is no doubt that 2K will get away with it because the NBA 2K franchise is insanely popular, but their actions spark a dangerous precedent for the landscape of high-budget video games that incentivize consumers to purchase less games and wait for the price cuts.

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