It's no secret that the price of gaming is going up. Games are more expensive than they used to be, controllers are rapidly closing in on the $100 price point (when you consider a full Wiimote plus nunchuck or Move setup), and online passes are making it harder to save money on used games. Then we have the cost of consoles to consider. Back in the day, $100 dollars seemed pretty steep for a gaming system. However, that cost has essentially tripled in our current generation. People now pay more for their game systems, controllers and all, than they do for Blu-ray players, or even some TVs, and we are just accepting that this is the way things are. Luckily, the gaming market is still surviving.
However, something peculiar is starting to happen in this generation of games. Game prices are starting to inflate faster than we are willing to keep up with them. Many of you remember the PS3's launch debacle, which proved that you simply could not charge 600 dollars for a game system and still expect it to compete with the more affordable consoles out there. However, this wasn't because the PS3 wasn't a quality machine. Sales of the console skyrocketed once its price was cut in half. It was because we as a general gaming society simply couldn't afford 600 dollars for a gaming system, no matter how hot the games were. Sony had found the price ceiling the hard way.
The same holds true for games themselves. Many game developers have said that new consoles coming out in the next few years may be a catastrophe. This would push the cost of development up, which in turn would push the cost of individual games up again. Some analysts say that we might end up paying $100 a game should this come to pass—or, more specifically, that we will end up not paying, because that is far more than the general public is willing to spend on one game. Heck, some people think 70 dollars is more than the general public is willing to spend on one game.
Now we have a problem. Game costs are up to recoup rising development costs, but game sales are down because the common gamer doesn't view the inflated price tag as worthwhile. As a result, studios actually start making less money. So how do they recover their lost profits? One trick is to bury their development costs in add-ons and DLC. Street Fighter X Tekken is one of the most blatant examples of this in recent days. The game launched with several characters, gems, colors, costumes, and other add-ons already finished and on-disk, but locked. This content was later branded as DLC, and if it weren't for hackers data mining the disk several days before the game even came out, we would have never been the wiser. Essentially, Capcom is charging you well over 100 dollars for all of the content on their disc, they're just doing it in a way that makes players more willing to pay the price. Slowly leaked installments of content simply go over better than one lump sum of 100 bucks.
Many fans were outraged at the SFxTK DLC scandal, but the only difference between Capcom's newest fighter and many other games on the market is that Capcom was caught. Many of the big AAA releases are sold with "DLC" on disk, and if they aren't, then most likely the development team already started working on, or finished, some DLC back at the studio. That's why we are seeing so much day-one DLC these days.
Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing. DLC, even if it's on disk, is a great way to keep game costs low and profit high. You can elect to get the "standard version" of the game, so to speak, or pay a little bit extra for the "deluxe version" with all the content. If DLC is handled correctly, then it should all be extraneous to the core gameplay experience. You should still be able to complete the game, just not with the fancy costume that all the cool kids have. It's when companies start charging for integral parts of the story, playable characters, or missions that you have to complete to see the end of the game that gamers start having a problem. Being "forced" to purchase DLC to have a complete gameplay experience can cause gamers to refuse to purchase a game all together.
So, how can game developers keep the prices of triple-A titles down? Unfortunately, they can't. If the general gaming public wants a competent game that uses the best available game development technology to deliver mind-shattering graphics and gameplay though an epic 20-hour gameplay experience, then prices will keep going up. However, this generation more than any has stressed that you don't have to be the graphical messiah just to be a good game. Indie games are making a huge splash, and they only cost $5-15 a pop. These games focus less on graphics and more on key gameplay elements, much like indie movies that focus on story above flash. Both indie games and indie movies manage to produce enjoyable content using fewer tools and a lower budget, but while you'll pay as much to see an indie movie as you will a big name release, you'll pay significantly less to play an indie video game.
However, there is one thing we can do to keep prices down. We as consumers need to be okay with the current generation of gaming lasting a bit longer. The NES lasted ten years before being discontinued. The Wii, on the other hand, was released in 2006, and six short years later we are already preparing for the Wii U. If we simply stay content with the toolsets we have for developing games, then prices won't go up quite yet. In fact, development will get easier (much as you saw at the end of the PS2 era) and prices will go down because of it. I don't know about you, but I don't really need my video games to look better than they already do. I want new gameplay innovations, not new ways to show me all the wrinkles in my space marine's skin.
As long as companies continue this unending series of console one-upmanship, then the price of gaming will get higher and higher, and gaming's market just can't support that trend for long. The economy is hard and we now have far cheaper methods of entertainment through indie games, mobile games, and even free-to-play games. As one of the most rapidly inflating industries out there, gaming needs to step back and ask itself if the 70-100 dollar PS4, Xbox 720, or Wii U game is worth it.
Angelo M. D'Argenio
Date: April 25, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*