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Game On: $70 for a new video game? It’s not that crazy

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 9, 2021

The graphical fidelity of this in-game still of Horizon Forbidden West showcases the incredible amount of work that goes into Sony’s first-party titles. It will launch exclusively to PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 on Feb. 18 and retail for $70.  (Guerrilla Games)
The graphical fidelity of this in-game still of Horizon Forbidden West showcases the incredible amount of work that goes into Sony’s first-party titles. It will launch exclusively to PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 on Feb. 18 and retail for $70. (Guerrilla Games)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

Sony dropped a bombshell on the gaming community Sunday when it announced two items. First, anyone purchasing Horizon Forbidden West for PlayStation 4 will get a free upgrade to the PlayStation 5 version of the game – and second, all future first-party Sony titles won’t offer a free upgrade to the enhanced PS5 titles.

Instead, players will have to shell out $10 for that privilege. The news followed widespread confusion following the announcement of nine versions of Horizon Forbidden West, which will all be released Feb. 18. This isn’t the first time in recent memory that Sony has disappointed its massive fanbase.

After the phenomenal success of the PS4 – more than 100 million units have been sold, and it’s been crowned the second bestselling console of all time – it’s almost difficult to believe how much negative news Sony keeps generating. Aside from the PS5 upgrade fiasco, Sony has also been dragging its feet with cross-play and made it known that most of its first-party games moving forward will cost $70 at launch.

Yes, $70. That price point may seem shocking, but it really isn’t.

I am a millennial, but I’m old enough to remember the cries of outrage when the typical price for AAA video games jumped from $50 to $60 when Xbox 360 was released in 2005. After a brief period of many gamers insisting that this was just the greed of Microsoft, or “Micro$oft,” Sony and Nintendo followed suit in 2006 with the PlayStation 3 and Wii.

Even then, $60 was not unprecedented. The hottest games only dropped to $50 halfway through the lifespan of the original PlayStation around 1997, and that trend continued on through the PlayStation 2 generation. This was because game consoles were using CDs and DVDs rather than cartridges, which are quite a bit less expensive to manufacture.

Nintendo 64 was an outlier – it saw releases well into 2000, and being a cartridge-based system, it had plenty of $60 and even $70 games. Prior to that, it was not unusual to see Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo games retailing for $60-$80. When you adjust for inflation, some big-name video games in the mid-1990s cost around $100-$110 in today’s dollar value. Yikes.

Consider the average size of development teams today versus 20-some years ago. It was not unusual for a dozen people to make a game in those days, whereas AAA dev teams today are often composed of hundreds of people. I remember watching the credits roll for the original Assassin’s Creed in 2007, and my jaw dropped when the names just kept coming.

With development costs ballooning over the past decade and change, the climb from $50 to $70 doesn’t seem out of place. On the flipside, the number of gamers in the world has increased astronomically over the past few years, and the global COVID-19 lockdowns gave the gaming world a noticeable boost, as well. According to Newzoo, there are 2.69 billion gamers across the world, and growth has been steady with an average 5.6% year-on-year increase.

Taking all these factors into consideration, it’s clear that gaming’s surging popularity made it possible for game publishers to keep prices at or below $60 for as long as they have. Now, Sony has made the official jump up to $70 for their studios. Nintendo is likely to follow suit before Microsoft, but it’s worth noting that many third parties have been toying around with higher prices for some time.

Electronic Arts and 2K Games are notorious for launching multiple versions of the same sports game at different price points – as of Friday, for example, you can purchase“NBA 2K22 for Xbox One for $60, NBA 2K22 for Xbox Series X|S for $70, NBA 2K22 Cross-Gen Digital Bundle for $80 and NBA 2K22 NBA 75th Anniversary Edition for $100. The base game is the same, but the latter two offer in-game bonuses, cosmetics and downloadable content.

Beyond that, of course, many such games attempt to entice gamers into purchasing additional content and cosmetic items with real money. Sometimes they even lock such things behind “loot box” mechanics – loot boxes grant players a swath of random items, which may or may not be what you actually wanted.

That sounds like a preposterous notion, but in Activision-Blizzard’s 2017 financial results, the company made $7.16 billion in revenue across the entire fiscal year – of that amount, $4 billion came from “in-game net bookings,” or loot boxes, DLC and other in-game purchases.

Simply put, game publishers have been finding inventive and sometimes exploitative ways to get more than that $60 out of gamers for the better half of a decade already. Since Sony’s first-party titles are predominantly story-driven single-player experiences free of loot boxes and other shenanigans, $70 isn’t unreasonable.

Riordan Zentler can be reached at riordanzentler@gmail.com.

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