Defining Good Value and Price Limits for your Games

The other night when listening to the latest GameOn episode #30 with Chris (he’s back!), Adam aka Ferrel and Liore (who has permanently joined the podcast!), the hosts made an interesting comment that got me thinking about the long way we have come in terms of general affordability of games and our willingness to pay for them. As for what piqued my interest, this is how the conversation went down [00:16:40 onward]:

Chris: …’cuz there is no game out there that is going to live up to a ten thousand dollar investment, or even one thousand. I would seriously doubt that.
Adam: I don’t even wanna spend sixty dollars on a game.
Chris: Yeah right? Right. With these days, I go to this website [name] because sixty dollars is too much. Pretty much any brand new game I get, if it’s over forty-eight dollars, I’ll wait a little while.

I remember the times when I paid an average 120 bucks for my console RPGs. While PC games were always cheaper, as kids we would usually pay around at least 100$ for console modules, in the late 80ies and early 90ies. Naturally, it took months to save up for new games and both our anticipation and appreciation was accordingly high. Those were different times altogether as far as single game value went. There’s no such thing as scarcity to make you aware of what things are worth – or could be.

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quake.ingame.de

Today, I would of course concur with Chris and Adam. 60 dollars for a game is something to think over. I don’t actually recall when I paid that much for a new title ever since moving on to PC gaming and videogames becoming generally more mainstream and thus cheaper, and it’s not even that I avoided them on purpose. The most expensive games I’ve bought (digitally) were possibly Skyrim and Bioshock Infinite right after launch although “expensive” is a very relative term; I don’t consider 40-65$ for a full-package title with 20+ (in Skyrim’s case more like 80+) hours worth of game time expensive. Also, my budget for games is a different matter than it was twenty years ago.

This is of course where our notion of good value (or biggest bang for the buck) comes in and generally, it’s fair to say that with a growing supply our expectations of videogames have drastically increased. As Liore also mentions later on the podcast, the expectation of things like Steam sales further influences player purchases. Now, when are we still willing to pay more than the usual 5-20$ on Steam for single games and how do we determine that value? And how do we determine the absolute limit of an acceptable price? Is there any?

Personally, I detect a variety of factors¬†influencing my investment decisions for games: reputation / trust in an existing brand, genre expectations, overall preview impressions, word of mouth, total game time, extras – they all play a part. As far as hard limits go, I wouldn’t pay several thousand dollars for any game (alpha/beta access for that matter) upfront; even if I had that type of small change, there is no one game with enough value that could justify such a price to me, certainly no non-MMO. After playing WoW for 6 years, I must have paid around 1000$ in installments and subscriptions. All that said, the prospect of playing a game like Skyrim with Omni and Occulus Rift hardware is highly appealing. If this is the future of gaming, wouldn’t I be willing to pay for that? I know I would.

Skyrim-v7

How do we determine that sketchy variable that is value when purchasing new games and how much weight is given to qualitative (for ex. gameplay innovation) vs. quantitative factors (for ex. overall play time) respecitvely? Can a rewarding and fun one-hour indie platformer offer the same or more value than the average Mario game on console? If not, how do we break down value proportionally to arrive at a “justified price”?

Is there any time when you still want to buy a video game right after launch, no matter the higher price? [random question]

Judging from many heated pricing debates on forums and message boards that I’ve seen, there is clearly no consensus among gamers about these matters. It is very interesting to hear anyone talking about 60$ being “too much for any game” though, considering I just had a dinner last night that cost more. In the end, games are experiences to me and even in 2014, I will still be very willing to pay good money for well, the good ones.

19 comments

  1. Carson

    I can’t say “I wouldn’t spend a thousand dollars on a game” because I think I HAVE spent a thousand dollars on WoW, over a span of maybe 5 years playing plus box purchases.

    But I can definitely say that I would never pay anything remotely close to that up-front for any game. If you want a thousand bucks off me, you’re going to have to entertain me for five years and get your money spread out over that five year period. :-)

    For a long time my vision of a full-price game was close to a hundred dollars, Australian. But with digital downloads becoming more prevalent, and the US dollar crumbling compared to the Aussie dollar, I’m getting into that territory of $60 being the cap. The only game in a long time I’ve paid more than that for was Diablo III, and that’s only because Blizzard reversed their previous stance and sold digital downloads for different prices in different territories, so I had to pay traditional Australian rip-off price.

    • Syl

      I agree it makes a big difference whether that amount of money is paid upfront / in one go, or over the course of years. It wouldn’t be entirely fair to compare MMOs with other games in this regard (every expansion is essentially a sequel and the amount of content/playtime in MMOs is usually many times more the playtime of other games). I would also not pay thousands of dollars upfront for MMOs, for that matter (I find the Trove bundles hilarious).

  2. bhagpuss

    I work in a bookshop. The bookshop is in a city with a very high proportion of affluent citizens with high disposable income. A large number of our customers simply are not price-sensitive at all when it comes to buying books. Consequently we largely do not reduce the cost of books and sell most things at the full list price.

    There are plenty of customers that literally do not care how much a book costs. They bring unpriced books to the till without a qualm. Price is just not a factor in their decision-making process at all. They put their cards in the machine, which does not display a price that they can see, they put in their PIN, take back the card and take the book in the bag without a second thought about how much they have paid.

    I imagine there are a lot of gamers who behave exactly the same way. Some people always watch the pennies no matter how rich they become but most people know instinctively whether a purchase is “significant” or not. $60 just is not a significant price point for many people. If you want something you pay what’s asked.

    Against Chris’s comment that “there is no game out there that is going to live up to a ten thousand dollar investment, or even one thousand” I’d offer as comparison Stab’s recent observation that “during the year I played Magic I spent about ¬£5000 on it”.

    Money is like that. It means entirely different things to different people.

    • Syl

      No doubt. we can see that on kickstarter too, the kind of high backer bundles for games that always find an audience. I’ve no hard time to imagine myself doing the same, honestly – as you said, money is entirely relative to income / wealth. Where I live, 60$ (for anything) aren’t much, either. and don’t even get me started on what I have payed in the past for CE of certain book series. :) I love books. books never got a pass even when I was a poor student living on cornflakes and noodles, hehe.

      At the same time, I detect myself adapting to the changing norm for game pricing. now that 60$ are about the maximum you’ll pay on Steam, and I use Steam a lot, I question my purchases the same way I would have when 120$ were the norm. guess there’s no helping that. ;)

  3. Pasduil

    How much money people are willing to spend on something has got a lot to do with how much money they’ve got overall, as well as how they value the product. I’ve been one of those people that would walk into a bookshop and walk out with $100 worth of books without giving it second thought, but I’m far from that nowadays.

    But games that anyone thinks are worth paying hundreds or thousands of dollars upfront for are going to have to be extraordinary indeed, which means they’ll be very very expensive to develop. Which in turn means they’ll have to reach a pretty big market to justify the dev cost and cannot be priced in a way that only the ultra affluent or ultra devoted will consider.

    I don’t think there can be $1000 games for that reason. But there can probably be $1000 dollar add-ons to games, aimed squarely at the people for whom money is no object.

    • Syl

      Well, the Trove bundles are pretty interesting, to say the least. considering a game like MC is erm, free….Trion will have to deliver something extraordinary indeed. otherwise I’d feel pretty stupid as a customer (although if money doesn’t matter, you probably won’t mind as much right).

  4. Telwyn

    Other than *must have* new releases (Black Isle RPGs back in the day, WoW expansions etc) I generally always waited for sales and price cuts even when money wasn’t an issue. It helped that in the UK we long had a tradition of deep discounting in gaming retail (since there’s that tradition in every retail sector).

    Free to play has really muddied the water for me now though. I paid a WoW sub and bought the expansions without even thinking about the money right through to Cataclysm. But since I’ve started taking sub 6 months+ breaks when I’m not playing as much to save money. The reality is that there are F2P MMOs that I can drop in and out of, and have as much fun playing, without that monthly set expense. I do invest a bit of cash in those games but I certainly never spend even close to a monthly sub equivalent. In a sense it all balances out as I played WoW more intensively when I was perma-subbed than I do all the games that I now play combined – I do not regret that spending that cash, but I don’t have the free time anymore to justify it.

    • Syl

      What I like with MMOs is the whole launch rush :) that’s one genre where I generally like to be among the first to play, rather than wait. there’s just nothing comparable to a launch weekend’s collective euphoria (and ranting, hehe!).

  5. meodai

    Very interesting blog post. To me its more about agony/time then money. In general time means more to me then money. On top of that I live in a 1st world country, gaming is a very cheap activity compared to everything I could to in the non virtual space.

    I was pirating a lot of games, when it was easier to download a ROM or a ISO, then to buy it online. Its more about how much time that needs to spend “not playing” in order to play the game. I often pay more then I probably would if I would spend some time looking for a cheaper store, just to enjoy the comfort of having everything in one place and not leaving my comfort zone.

    But of course there are some limits. Nintendo for example does make it very hard for me to “not pirate” games. They lock the language of some games, they are as expensive as physical copies, and the retro games that are basically just a ROM and a emulator are super expensive as well. In addition my purchases are not bound to any account, so maybe I’m wrong but I have the impression that if i loose my 3DS I loose all my games as well.

    • Syl

      I hear you on the silly Nintendo prices for old games :) but then, I am simply not gonna pay for anything I find remotely overpriced like that (the old GB prices are ludicrous). the fact that digital games cost the same as hard copies is hard to accept as well.

      As far as comfort goes, I like to have all of my games in one place too. funny enough though I always found pirating to be way too much of a hassle – not comfortable at all. managing virtual drives and supercard file conversion, oh my god. I’m too lazy for all of that, rather just buy less games. :D

  6. Doone

    I’m with you: back in the day cartridges were easily $100 a pop in my neighborhood and kids bought them. That said, we talked with friends about what we were buying and made sure none of us got the same thing. That way we could trade and play as many games as possible. So even I paid more up front, through friendly trades I got about the same amount of games I get today for the money.

    I think this is one of those economic quandries that the industry is going through. Devs still have to eat. I think this is why I believe that the future of MMOs is niche markets, but that may be true for games in general. With cheaper prices, dev teams will be leaner and marketing much more focused. What do you all think?

    • Syl

      Hmmm I’m not sure what pricing model really benefits whom the most. I guess for smaller titles it makes sense to lower their prices, simply to reach a wider audience. most indie games can’t afford to be too expensive – they’ll try generate more revenue via quantity of sales rather than high prices. on the other hand you have big labels which have enough street cred, fan bases and media attention to ask whatever they like at launch. later on, they’ll go cheaper and get the best of both worlds – a bit like MMOs starting with subs and going f2p after the first year(?)

  7. Chris

    Thank you for writing this post, Syl. We need to have you back on the show again soon. Busy Sunday? ;-)

    I will be writing a post in response to this in just a few minutes but for me it really comes down to two interlaced factors: How much enjoyment I will personally derive from playing and how much enjoyment I will receive from being part of the zeitgeist, taking part in conversations, and being informed about the state of gaming. That second factor tends be overwhelm the first, if truth be told. I have as much fun talking about games as I do actually playing them. Take from that what you will :-)

    If the first factor falls flat, however, the second one means very little. That has bitten me more than once. When I hear other people discussing a game they’re really liking, even if it’s one I haven’t much cared for in the past, a part of me wants to rush out and try to capture a piece of that entertainment for myself. It doesn’t always work out, as in the case of simulation racers, for example, so I’m trying to temper that these days.

    So what would push me to spend $60? A high-quality, AAA game and lots of players who love it and want to talk about it.

    • Syl

      I look forward to your post then. :)

      Most of what you say here echoes with me; I think the distinction between purely personal enjoyment and collective phenomenon / zeitgeist is interesting as well. maybe it’s because we’re bloggers and generally interested in the wider market, in any case I too buy and play some games in order to be in the loop. at the same time, personal fun is a big factor and still the more important of the two – I wouldn’t buy a game I know is either a) not gonna please me at all or b) highly overpriced (by MY standard). in that case I’d rather wait for someone to gift it to me via steam. ;)

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  9. Tremayne

    I wouldn’t pay $1000 dollars for a game now because I can’t – as a responsible adult with one large mortgage and two small children I’m not exactly broke, but I do have to set priorities and my own personal gratification (no matter how good the game) can’t rank ahead of a lot of the other things I could spend that $1000 on.

    I would spend $60 on a game, but only after considering A) whether I would get $60 worth of enjoyment out of it, and B) if the price is likely to drop any time soon and if so whether I’d rather wait 6 months and pay $20 for it and have $40 to spend elsewhere. It’s the same consideration I have buying books – there are a few authors whose stuff I like enough to pay full price for hardback on release, the others can wait a year for the paperback.

    On the other hand, I have bought lifetime subs to several MMOs at launch, usually on the basis of some beta experience, and I haven’t regretted any of those (not even Champions :)

  10. John

    Depends on the game and the replay-ability value of it. The games I always buy once they are out are Elder Scrolls, Total War, Civilization and Football Manager. Not because I think they are the best games out there but because they can offer me many of hours of entertainment to justify the money spent. For example I would never buy a call of duty game, or batman or any game that have a linear story progression that will end in 10 hours max and will not worth play it again.

  11. klepsacovic

    For a sandbox game from a trusted developer with lots of new content added over time, I can see paying $1000. Not with my current finances, but if I felt I were on secure financial footing.

    Alternatively, if developers offered something like a lifetime package, then for a series that I expect to continue to be good, then that would be worth it. I’m thinking of something like Civilization or Elder Scrolls that have gone through many excellent versions, particularly if the publishers made the lifetime package act as a pre-order deluxe collector’s edition.

    Unfortunately, I imagine some bit of legal trickery would be used to rob consumers. Sell the package, then sell the rights to the game without the obligations to honor the consumers’ purchases. They’d probably get sued, but there are many lawyers who get paid well to ensure that their clients don’t pay. Alternatively, the companies would end the series, unless some financial tool was set up so that the lifetime money is doled out over time and only if the relevant series is in active development.

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