As we continue to monitor our buying behavior during the recession, something we can rely on during these difficult times is that video games will be affordable. For $50 to $60, we can derive hours and hours of entertainment from a single title. It's generally not a bad deal, in most gamers' eyes.
But what if a blockbuster title that took years and millions of dollars to develop was priced at $100 or more? Would the price make us think twice about buying it?
That might be the question we'll need to ask ourselves soon, if we are to believe former Sony Europe President Chris Deerling.
Speaking to U.K. publication MCV, Deerling said that if current development cycles and costs are maintained, a price tag of 70 British pounds per game is inevitable. Based on recent exchange rates and on the assumption that the game would sell for essentially the same price internationally, that would mean that U.S.-based customers would face about a $119 price tag for the title.
"Before there can be as many successful blockbuster games as there were in the past, games have to be produced in a more efficient fashion," Deerling told the publication. "In order to price these games at a level where they would support an industry (as strongly as) they did 10 years ago, they'd have to be sold at 70 pounds."
"Consumers won't spend more, but to write the game, publishers are having to spend more than ever before," Deerling continued. "That's the key problem."
And what a problem it is.
The video game industry has had a somewhat stable history when it comes to pricing. I remember buying Nintendo 64 titles for $60. The first PlayStation was originally offered for $299--$50 more than what the Nintendo Wii retails for today. The 3DO, a failed console from EA co-founder Trip Hawkins, sold for $699 when it went on sale in 1993. As most industries saw prices rise over the past 10 to 15 years, the video game industry has enjoyed relatively stable pricing.
Can video game developers get away with charging $100 or more for a blockbuster title like Metal Gear Solid or Halo? They might be starting to ease us into it.
A report surfaced in the United Kingdom last week claiming that Activision will increase the suggested retail price of Modern Warfare 2 in the country from 45 pounds ($76) to 55 pounds ($92).
That's a hefty price tag--but a reasonable one? According to Deerling, "the cost of development (today) is 10 times what it was for PS2, and more like 20 to 50 times more than on PSOne."
Assuming that's true, it would follow that today's games should be priced higher. And gamers, expecting blockbuster titles on par with Metal Gear Solid, should be ready to pay. But we have been conditioned to expect video game prices to hover around $50 to $60. When they start creeping up into the $70-and-up range, developers have usually bundled "collector's" items to entice us to buy the more expensive version.
Some developers have already crept up to the $100 mark, albeit after selling their game at a normal price. Bethesda, for example, released on Monday its fifth and final piece of downloadable content for its blockbuster title Fallout 3. These add-on packs cost anywhere from $10 to $20 a piece, have totaled up to $60--equaling the original price of the game and topping out the "complete" version at $120. Later this year, the company is simply re-releasing the original, along with the downloadable episodic content as its own game.
So perhaps that's the state we all find ourselves in today. We won't pay more unless we get more for it, but developers can't necessarily maintain the same cost structure and charge $60 for a game that ideally (for them, at least) would be priced at more than $100. It can't last this way forever. Eventually, one side will need to give.
Will we give in and start paying more for major titles? Or will developers simply cease development on huge, blockbuster video games? At this point, it's anyone's guess. But I doubt either solution will make everyone happy.