Proving Some Sort of Point about Video Game Pricing

I published a post about the $15 MMO subscription price… it feels like a while back because I wrote most of it in April and then didn’t get around to posting it until the middle of this month… that went on about Moore’s Law, software, and how the cost of everything in tech doesn’t really go down over time.  It is mostly just the capability of hardware versus price that keeps changing.  The same dollar buys you twice the computing power every other year.  It doesn’t affect the cost of food, gasoline, or rent.

The primary question in the whole thing was whether or not the $15 a month subscription price for MMORPGs… and, by extension, the $60 box price for AAA games… was really a reasonable expectation 20 years down the road from when they were set.

Daybreak subscriber prices

Raph Koster has opined on the cost of making video games for years and has data to back up what he says.  That linked post came from a discussion that started in the comment thread on a post on this blog.

Given the small, rather niche audience that this blog has, I was interested to see what responses, if any, I might get.  The responses were a bit nuanced, though I would say there was a bias towards not paying any more than the current $15 a month.

And then Massively OP picked up on my post and asked the question of the staff and their own wider audience and… well… I can see why Raph Koster said that studios don’t dare raise prices from the current set standards.

Seriously, the staff and most of the comments come across not just against any raise in price, but often insisted that we should be paying less.

A couple of reasonable souls allowed that the overall rate of inflation might justify something like $17-20, but most people were adamantly against any such thing, often for very subjective reasons, like feeling that this game or that isn’t delivering as much content as they once did.

Is it reasonable to expect, as example, Lord of the Rings Online to deliver as much content when they’ve gone from making $100 million back in 2013 to something around $14 million in 2020?

It doesn’t matter, people feel cheated, that they’re paying as much or more due to cash shops and are getting less for their money.

No need to put a bullet in price rise idea, it is clearly dead already.

Of course, as I opined in the thread, the video game industry hasn’t exactly done itself any favors.  The wealthy Bobby Kotick or Tim Sweeney are the poster boys for greed, making obscene amounts of money while keeping pay and benefits for the people who do the work well below what comparable ability would earn a person other tech segments.  When Kotick’s compensation is cut in half and still looks obscene, that says something… it says that video game companies are making plenty of money already, thank you very much.

And the fact that Steam added 10,263 games to its online store in 2020, a storefront long complained about by developers both due to the regular sales that have cut the average sales price for titles and the 30% tariff Valve takes off the top of every sale (something the rent seeking Tim Sweeney wants a cut of, which is the only reason he is battling with Valve, Google, and Apple… it certainly isn’t the concern for gamers he professes),  seems to indicate that there are a lot of developers out there that are just fine with the situation as it is.

I say that because, in a rational economic situation, self interest would drive some, if not most, of those developers to seek better paying jobs in industries where their talents would earn them considerably more in compensation.  But video games are emotional, a “dream job,” that people will sacrifice to pursue.  (Or is it the corrupt developer career path they are seeking?)

Then there is how consistently two-faced various companies have been about monetization in the face of their inability to raise box prices.  It is always fun to call out EA for saying dumb things like that their pseudo gambling lock boxes are ethical and fun surprise mechanics as they target children by advertising in a toy catalog, but the industry group that represents them tried to upstage the FTC hearing on industry practices by holding a press release where the promised, cross their heart hope to die, that the industry could regulate itself even as Activision patenting game matching algorithms that would pair cheapskates up with those who paid to win to get superior gear so that they would feel the need to spend in order to compete.  As I said previously, this is all a very strong approach to getting the industry regulated.

And so I suppose I cannot really blame the people commenting that they should be paying less for games.  The big players in the industry have cultivated an environment where the whole thing feels like… a business?

Wait, that can’t be right, can it?

3 thoughts on “Proving Some Sort of Point about Video Game Pricing

  1. Asmiroth

    How many games actually have a cost though? Most MMO are free, and things like Valheim are less than the price of lunch… not to mention a Steam sale every month.

    Its a weird topic to grasp.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. kiantremayne

    Looking to the comments on Massively OP for reasoned analysis is always going to disappoint – unless of course you’re looking for the entertainment value of an infinite cage full of faeces-flinging gibbons banging on typewriters rather than any nugget of actual reasoned analysis that might get generated by all the typewriter-banging. Ultimately, whatever the torches and pitchforks brigade SAY, what enough players DO is keep paying the $15 per month sub. That it continues implies to me that all those players paying are getting enough entertainment in return to justify the $15 in their mind.
    The whole debate reminds me of the Dilbert cartoon where the pointy haired boss asks “What do our customers want?” and Dilbert replies “Better products for free.” Which is true but doesn’t lead to a successful business strategy in the long term

    Like

  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @kiantremayne – Indeed, and all the more so when the staff comes out against the subscription idea. I was thinking of that very same cartoon, along with the one where the PHB comes to Dilbert and tells him to come up with ideas on how to make money without any budget.

    There was a lot of cognitive dissonance in that thread and I don’t think most people get how much it costs for an online game to just to stay up to date on security and infrastructure before they even begin to add new content.

    But they will all complain about whatever other monetization scheme comes up. If you don’t want a subscription then you had best be prepared for egregious cash shops and pay to win. And even if you don’t mind the current subscription plan, cash shops had to come anyway as fewer players and rising costs made that monthly $15 toll less viable.

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