In the last few years, developers seem to have made a number of assumptions about the way gamers as a whole view the economics of gaming. Note that when I say gaming in this context, I mean specifically big budget games that appear on both console and PC. So clearly we’re talking about big name developers and publishers such as but not limited to EA, Ubisoft, Sony, Microsoft, and to a lesser extent Nintendo. I say Nintendo to a lesser extent because you can’t really compare their development and pricing strategy to those of companies that release games on PlayStation and XBOX. They do conduct business under some of the same bad assumptions and practices, but their overall strategy is in its own bubble of oddity.
If we define winning when it comes to buying games as getting the most amount of quality content for as little as possible, you will almost always lose or at best tie when it comes to Nintendo. This comes from the fact that their prices never alter more than a few dollars for any first party games. I bought Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for the Wii U nine months after it was released and I still had to pay Amazon a whopping $45 and that was a Black Friday purchase. Even as I write this, if you go to Amazon you will be asked to pay $50 for that same game almost two years after release. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain just came out in September of this year and I purchased it last week, after Black Friday Sales had already ended, for only $35. So for all intents and purposes, Nintendo really has no part in this specific discussion because they’re a lost cause when it comes to pricing.
Today more than ever before, developers seem to be working under the assumption that legitimate gamers who play big budget games without pirating them must be rich, impatient, unknowledgeable, or just generally stupid when it comes to managing money. Now admittedly, many gamers do fall under this category. Many of them are minors who don’t have to work to pay for their video games. Some get donations from streaming and YouTube and thus have a budget to buy games in a less than a frugal manner because it’s not actually coming out of their pocket. We of course have to admit the fact that some gamers actually are addicts and lack the ability to control their spending when it comes to games. Finally, there are just some stupid people out there who don’t see any issue with throwing money away due to a lack of patience.
We are also in an age where time based content and performance are very common. I’m very aware of the fact that one of the main reasons my YT channel suffers is because my content is almost never current (within a month of release). I’m usually playing games that are at least a few months old. I literally just started recording a playthrough of Bayonetta 2 (released 9/20/14). Why am I so far behind? Well, like most adults, I have a full time job, a significant other, responsibilities, and a cripplingly long and ever growing backlog of unbeaten games. I just don’t have the time or money to buy and record videos for the newest titles, much less play them all. For instance, I won’t be buying Black Ops 3, Star Wars: Battlefront, or Rainbow Six: Siege. Plus there’s the technological limitations (also a factor of money). I literally just got a PS4. It hasn’t even arrived in the mail yet. My current PC is a laptop from 2010 that can’t even run The Witcher 2. I am currently in the process of raising funds to build a proper one, but that’s a hefty amount of money that will take several months to acquire since I also have bills to pay. But just to be clear, I don’t mean to come off as whining about my personal financial limitations, because I am not a special case.
The average adult gamer, regardless of race, gender, and country of residence, is in my same boat. The bulk of us do not have tons of extra money. We also have other responsibilities such as bills and other people who rely on us financially in some form. Most of us aren’t rich, impatient, unknowledgeable, and generally stupid when it comes to managing money. Consider the fact that 85.14 million XBOX 360s were sold. In contrast, only 17.09 million XBOX ONEs have been sold to date. That means that up to 68.05 million or 80% of XBOX users still haven’t upgraded to next gen. Now there are a number of reasons why people may not have upgraded as of yet (like people switching to the PS4), but I still would argue that the leading factor worldwide is lack of funds. Which is another thing developers seem to not be considering as much as they should. NA is not the only market in the world that needs to be taken into account when pricing and managing content, and as a result, in the last few years gamers have become very patient. Too many times have we been screwed by a GOTY edition or worthless season pass scenario. Yet developers have only gotten more preposterous with their pricing and paid DLC content as time marches on.
I understand that I prefaced this with a pretty long introduction, but instead of continuing by making arguments and general statements, I would like to give an anecdote that expresses how I purchase games. I always consider the fact that I am not the only gamer who buys in this way as well as the belief that it’s not just a small percentage of gamers who make buying decisions in the same way. Because I have no way of providing actual figures, you’ll just have to relate this story to your own buying practices. You can also feel free to form your own opinions about the current state of gaming economics from both sides of the gaming industry.
On September 30th 2014, a game by the name of Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor was released for the PS4 and XBOX ONE. Nearly two months later, the PS3 and XBox 360 versions were released. Either way, the game had been announced months prior and most people, myself included, had already chosen which platform they were planning to buy it on. I had the desire to purchase it on PS3, but not for $60. After reading a number of reviews and comments, I came to the conclusion that this was definitely a game I wanted to play, but that the PS3 version was worth at most, half of what they were asking for it.
Now, if you read my blog then you know that I was avidly against upgrading to the PS4 until the last possible minute. Up until that point in time I was buying games based on the belief that anything I could get on PS3 was worth playing on PS3, even if the PS4 version existed. A number of people had said “don’t get the game on PS3, but it’s excellent on PS4”, but I didn’t care. I wanted to believe that SONY wouldn’t release a game that couldn’t be played properly on a platform it was released on. In a very rare Black Friday miracle, the PS3 version of SoM was being sold by Target for just $25. We’re talking about a game that had literally been released less than 2 weeks prior on that platform and less than two months prior on any platform. I felt that this was the universe telling me to buy the game and so I did. Interestingly enough, the game never showed up. I went through a number of customer service hoops but I never got my copy of SoM. Finally Target issued me a refund and a $5 gift card as an apology.
Now a lot of people told me that was a good thing because I really shouldn’t buy it on PS3. However, by this time the game had gone back up in price to standard MSRP since the holiday season was over and thus was not a purchase I was willing to make anyway. Everyone has their own maximum price on games. Different people have different prices and levels of disposable income but we all place our own numerical dollar values on games and game related products. I can’t speak for everyone, but when I set a price on a game I refuse to budge.
I will not pay more than my perceived value of a game unless there are very specific circumstances in play. For example: I would never have paid more than $10 for Assassin’s Creed: Rogue. I wasn’t even going to buy the game, but since I was able to get AC: Unity limited edition for only $10, I figured I might as well play Rogue as well for continuity sake. I would never pay more for a game than the price I paid for its sequel. Especially when the sequel is on a later gen console. That’s just bad decision making. Last gen games shouldn’t be worth more than current gen games. In fact, they should just drop the price of every last gen game by at least $10 just to justify selling software that isn’t as technically capable as current gen software. But for whatever reason, on Black Friday Amazon priced Unity limited edition at $10 and Rogue standard edition at $15.50, so I passed on Rogue. If I pay more for something than I believe it’s worth, in my head I’ve literally flushed money down the toilet. But when my sister said that she wanted to buy me a game as a gift, I had no problem letting her pay $15.50 for Rogue so that’s how I got that game. I would never have paid that price, but what other people choose to do with their money is their own business.
The way I assign value to a game is based on a number of different personal criteria. This is basically me saying that I refuse to pay more for a game than the lowest price I’ve seen in any circumstance. If PSN does a sale and offers a game I want at a certain price, from now on that’s the max price I’ll pay even if I didn’t buy it in that sale. Doesn’t matter where the game comes from, what platform it’s on, or if it’s a physical vs digital copy. I refuse to pay more than the lowest price I’ve seen it at. That’s why it took me so long to pick up Alien: Isolation. I saw it on sale for $25, but didn’t get it so that meant that when I did eventually buy it the price would have to be at or below $25.
So in that same mode of thinking, after the Target fiasco with Shadow of Mordor, I was no longer willing to pay more than $25 for that game. I waited months and it never dropped below my predetermined price. When it finally did however, two very important things had occurred. The first was that I played Dragon Age: Inquisition on the PS3. DAI was one of the best games I’ve played in recent years and one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had on the PS3. I’ve never dealt with so much lag, console freezes, and save corruptions as I did with that game. It was so bad that I swore off buying any newly released PS3 games and I wrote a blog post about how bad my experience was. This meant that I was no longer willing to purchase SoM on PS3, but I still wasn’t going to pay more than $25 for it. The other important thing that happened was that the GOTY edition was announced (4/29/2015). That meant that now I could get all the DLC and the base game for $60 or less. But my personal overall value of the game was still $25. That meant that I was just gonna have to wait until Black Friday this year to pick up the game on PS4.
However, before Black Friday, I made the decision that in the next year I am going to build a proper gaming PC. This meant putting more than 40 hours of research and planning to build the PC of my dreams. I’ve created a budget plan and I’ve already picked out the parts I want. I’ve also actively raised more than a third of the needed funds. Due to this, it meant that a PC version of Shadow of Mordor was now on the table as a potential purchase. Ultimately, I was able to get the Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor GOTY edition for a mere $10.65 on PC. It’s important to realize that I probably won’t be able to play the game for at least a good six months from today. But for me, and the many other gamers like me, that doesn’t matter. What’s important is that I got the game and all the additional content I wanted for less than half of what I was originally willing to pay for just the base game. And I would do the same thing all over again if given the option. But it’s just as true that if things had been done differently by a number of different companies including Monolith Productions, I would have paid up $20 more for that game. That’s about 60% in lost profits on the sales and distribution side of gaming.
The truth is that most of us are quite patient when it comes to spending our hard earned money. We will wait for GOTY editions, Steam and GOG sales, flash sales, and Black Friday extravaganzas. Or we just won’t buy a game at all if the price is too high. Again, I won’t say that everyone is as patient as I am when it comes to buying games, but I know a large number of gamers are. So I have to ask the question: why do developers and publishers today seem to think that the majority of us are ok with charging $60 for a game and then another $50 for DLC which amounts to little more than a few multiplayer maps and weapons? Clearly most people will wait for the GOTY edition or at the very least, the price to drop so low that the total cost of game plus DLC will be within $60.
According to VGChartz Star Wars: Battlefront has sold less than 4M units on PS4 worldwide and that’s within a month of the next film’s release. That means that around 26M PS4 owners didn’t purchase SW:BF. How do you not sell a Star Wars game? And even if you completely ignore unit sales the user reviews are appallingly bad. 2.5 stars on Amazon for goodness sake. Are we to believe that having made a few major management decisions differently such as not offering a $50 season pass and including a single player campaign would have sold fewer copies than that? Clearly EA DICE doesn’t understand the market and how the majority of gamers think when deciding how to spend their money. I can basically guarantee that when the GOTY edition is released plenty of people, possibly including myself, will go buy that game. But as of right now, DICE is in the red with that title and if they make Mirror’s Edge 2 unpurchaseable as well they might not be in business for too much longer.
We are a patient breed, us gamers. We are usually backlogged and always have something to play. Not to mention that there are always new, really good indies coming out at a much more affordable price. Because of that, AAA development really needs to get back to sensible business practices and quality content or they won’t be able to continue for too much longer at the rate they’re going. Every day I read more and more comments of people swearing off AAA games and console gaming in general.
Do you use similar practices when purchasing your games? Do you feel that in recent years the industry hasn’t been making pricing and content decisions that are worthy of your hard earned money? Have you purchased fewer games or waited longer to buy games because of these factors? Please respond in the comments.