Solving the Sixty Dollar Situation
(This is another edition of </RANT>, a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)
I am rather annoyed by developers who have recently been damning the sixty dollar price point and claiming that games are too expensive. It’s not that I disagree with them, I am just sick of all this talk without any action. Recently, Todd Howard at Bethesda said that he thinks the average price of a game ought to be around the $19 mark. His thoughts were somewhat echoed by Twisted Metal director David Jaffe, who called $60 a “shit ton” of money. Both developers seem to agree that the $60 average MSRP is a substantial investment, one troublesome enough to comment on. Unfortunately, they both agree in one other area — that their respective games, unique among the others, are “worth” $60.
It’s quite obvious where this rant is going. I’m preaching to the choir here, and I know it, but I want to vent because it frustrates me no end. For Todd Howard or David Jaffe to say that games are too expensive does not impress me. At first, I’m tempted to rejoice and congratulate them for speaking out in favor of the consumer, until I remember that they haven’t done a thing to solve a problem they’ve just knowingly identified. Paying lip-service to the consumer is not laudable, and criticizing costs while refusing to lower your own is a rather cowardly way of gaining kudos from the gamer community. I say this as someone who respects Howard and personally gets on with Jaffe (I love the guy!), but if there’s a stated problem with the industry and people are unwilling to fix it, what the f**k is going to get accomplished?
Here’s the deal — games ARE too expensive. Publishers love to whine and bitch about the used game market but refuse to lift a finger to fix it. Rather than make games more affordable, their solution to used games is the online pass, a method of extracting more money from gamers and ensuring that secondhand games are a less attractive prospect for people who possibly can’t afford a $60 game in the first place. What does it solve, to make used games as expensive as new ones? F**king nothing, that’s what. Publishers, however, are too set in their ways and too damn craven to reduce prices — the one true way to undermine used sales without punishing anybody.
It’s funny. We talk of innovation all the time. Games need to innovate. They need to be unique. We need new ideas and new creative forces. Yet for all that talk, and for all the publishers that exploit the sentiment, nobody wants to innovate in the one area that would truly make games better for consumers — prices. With mobile gaming introducing incredibly cheap costs for increasingly better experiences, the age of the $60 game is becoming more and more old fashioned. It’s very obvious that the market is trending toward cheaper games, but publishers don’t have the balls to make the leap forward. They need to, but they can’t comprehend being the one to assert it.
Todd Howard and David Jaffe may think that their statements criticized a problem, but they did not. If anything, they were little more than examples of the actual problem — companies who are too proud to make that first step forward. It’s a step that needs to be taken, but it’s not a step that publishers have the courage to make. Yes, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim will sell very well at $60 and consumers will consider it a worthy purchase, but imagine the statement that could be made if Bethesda nutted up and charged $40, or even the $20 price point that Howard himself thinks is financially viable. Imagine what that would do for the industry. It would be unprecedented, and it would scare the shit out of rival companies. It would be a competitive move the likes of which we’d never seen, and it would change the way we look at game prices. But of course, Bethesda isn’t the solution to the problem, it’s a part of it. There’s no way the company could even entertain the idea of “degrading” itself to such humiliating lows. It’s far too illustrious for that. So we have yet another company that complains about prices while asserting that it doesn’t need to fix the problem itself.
If you want a really damning example of just how spineless these publishers are, look no further than our good friend Electronic Arts. EA CEO John Riccitiello once said himself that videogames were too expensive, and that it was something the industry would have to deal with in the next five years. You know when he said that? He said it in f**king 2007. Here we are, four years removed, and has EA dealt with the problem? Well, let’s take a look at Origin, its proprietary PC digital storefront. Let’s take a look at Mass Effect 3, which is available to pre-order for $59.99. Let’s take a look at Battlefield 3, which is available to pre-order for $59.99. EA itself, four years ago, admitted the $60 price structure was an issue, and here it is in 2011 with a chance to set its own prices on its own terms … and it’s charging $60. In the PC market, no less, where $50 is the average for a high profile game. Was this EA’s solution? Not to reduce prices, but to bring PC prices up so they fell in line with retail? Utterly f**king pathetic.
Ironically, it’s Namco Bandai, those famed DLC scam artists, that have come closest to getting it right. Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom was original scheduled to retail at $59.99, until a last minute decision brought it down to $39.99. Now, it’s true that the game still didn’t sell well, but I’m willing to get it sold better than it would’ve done. I’m also willing to bet that new IPs from cult developers, such as Shadows of the Damned and Singularity, would have sold a lot better if they’d been given a price that consumers felt they deserved. Because at the end of the day, only the big hitters — the Call of Duties, the God of Wars, and the Halos — are deemed worthy of $60 in the eyes of the majority of consumers. It’s just a shame Namco promptly forgot this idea when it came to its other titles of 2010.
We need tiered pricing and we need it soon. $60 is a stupid average these days, unless you’re up there with the AAA titles. If you’re not Rockstar or Activision, you shouldn’t think of charging $60 for your game. A new, untested IP for a developer that lacks a mainstream following should have an MSRP of $40 at the most. Lesser titles should come out at $20, and should be proud to do so. Publishers wonder why the used game market is so popular, while expecting gamers to willingly gamble $60 on untested IPs. I can’t even begin to describe how idiotic that is without my brain turning to goo and escaping through my tear ducts. GAMES INDUSTRY, YOU ARE MAKING ME CRY MY OWN BRAIN!
My advice to developers or publishers who want to talk about the $60 MSRP as if it’s problem is this — if you have no intention of rolling up your sleeves and helping to solve the issue, then just Keep. Your. F**king. Mouth. Shut.
Stop talking. Start doing. You’re the only ones with the power to help.