Gamers know that we are part of an industry where the prices of games can change depending on various factors. If a country’s overall economic situation is bad, prices can rise and fall to adjust for inflation. Costs of development and physical media can influence costs. Seeing how other companies are pricing things and being competitive can have an effect on products too. Right now, things seem rather stable, with most AAA games costing $59.99. But are we at a point where prices can rise?
This question comes up due to a recent Rolling Stone interview with Christopher Weaver, founder of Bethesda. The topic eventually got to microtransactions and how companies are finding ways to put them into games to earn more money and cover costs. Weaver cautioned about the overuse, saying “This nickel and dime approach to payment may well backfire as it interferes with the flow of a game and disallows for players to lose themselves in its play-world.” But then, he suggested another possible alternative that could come from publishers abandoning microtransactions to avoid ire. He said, “Players may have to absorb the increasing costs of creating AAA games to allow publishers to remain profitable.”
This is a very plausible scenario. After all, think about how much some of the more recent game releases have cost to market and develop. Grand Theft Auto V is one of the most expensive in recent history. It cost about $137 million to develop and $128 million to market. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt cost about $46 million to develop and $35 million to market. And, while there are rumors about Destiny’s cost, with Activision’s Bobby Kotick saying it was a $500 million investment and Bungie saying the budget was nowhere near $500 million, we’re still not entirely sure how much has gone into the first and second game. However, we do know both Battlefront 4 and the Tomb Raider reboot were each about $100 million games. One can only wonder what an Anthem, Spider-Man, or Crackdown 3 may cost. With games costing so much and some not quite soaring to new heights, like Star Wars: Battlefront 2 or even Shadow of War, companies may consider an additional $10 initial investment to avoid the taint microtransactions can bring to the table.
We also have to remember that inching prices are already happening for some folks. I’m referring to the Nintendo Switch issue. Switch cartridges are expensive, and this is even before the 64GB models come out. While costs for such things always eventually fall, it is resulting in higher prices on physical copies for some titles at the moment. Puyo Puyo Tetris is the first example that comes to mind. The PlayStation 4 physical copy was $29.99 at launch, while it was $39.99 on the Switch. This is a thing that happened with the Nintendo 64 too, as games like the original Turok, Killer Instinct Gold, and Mortal Kombat Trilogy were often $75 and $80 when they launched. Given the similar production costs and situation, maybe we could see a few years where Switch games cost $70 while PlayStation 4 and Xbox One games are $60.
Of course, a minor price increase may not be the end of the world. If there were, say, a $10 increase on certain titles to prevent microtransactions, people may be willing to go ahead and spend that extra money for a game they would really enjoy from a developer they love. People might be willing to cut into their entertainment budgets and play less if it meant avoiding unsavory business practices. But, then there is also the concern that one or two companies imposing a slightly higher price could turn into a greedy grab to suddenly raise the standard price of all games by around $10 and still include things like microtransactions.
An increase in game prices is incredibly plausible, both for the reasons Weaver suggests and other possibilities. The cost of producing physical media could drive up costs, as we have already seen with Switch titles. Games getting bigger and bigger could mean companies could need to add to the price tag to support development costs. After all, if Grand Theft Auto V cost $265 million, imagine how much a Red Dead Redemption 2 will be! It is certainly something to consider, especially as more work goes in to make games compatible with the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X.