Recently, we learned Take-Two’s NBA 2K21, due for release on September 4th, will cost an additional $10 for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X editions versus the PS4 and Xbox One versions. The next-gen editions of the game will be retailing for $69.99 (or a baffling $99.99 for access to both console generations). Is this something Take-Two is doing just for NBA 2K, or is this a sign game prices will be trending up for the first time in almost 15 years?
Well, according to IDG Take-Two aren’t the only ones considering this; noting games have increased in cost by 200 to 300 percent since 2005. But should games go up in price? That’s a different question requiring a different answer. People have long pointed out games balloon in costs every console generation. Current AAA titles have budgets upward of $80 million and the time it takes to create high-fidelity, 4K assets for the next-gen platforms isn’t going to make things any cheaper.
Also, as commentators often like to remind us, game prices haven’t really kept up with inflation; $59.99 in 2005 would be closer to $78 in today’s money.
As always though, these arguments come from a decidedly pro-corporation slant and ignore several key facts. For one, while game costs have certainly not kept pace with inflation, consumer wages have remained stagnant for decades. The minimum wage alone hasn’t increased since 2009; which affects not only minimum wage workers, but all the companies choosing to pay their workers “slightly” above the minimum as well.
It also ignores something else most pro-price hike commentators are choosing to ignore: microtransactions. The presence of microtransactions is pretty much everywhere now. Every game wants to sell you new guns or characters, or “f*cking blue”, or whatever. It became a significant source of new revenue for games and was touted as a reason game prices stayed firm at $60.
Championing a retail price increase also ignores downloadable content, which has become so egregious this generation that complete editions of games will also cost nearly twice as much as the base game at launch. The complete Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey went for $109.99. Batman: Arkham Knight‘s DLC was particularly infamous for this, as it went for $49.99, completely separate from the cost of the game itself. Star Wars: Battlefront went for a similar direction, with its DLC package asking an additional $49.99 to add on content to a game many fans believed didn’t have enough to begin with. Few high profile games this generation launched without a “season pass” pushing the game close to or beyond the $99.99 level.
Worse, games will often combine micro-transactions and DLC together. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is one of my favorite games of this generation, but on top of costing $110 for the full version, Ubisoft filled its in-game “store” with costumes, weapons, and armor for the player to buy with real money. And that’s to say nothing of the concept of “time savers” — XP boosters which allow the player to level-up quickly so they can finish the story at their own pacing rather than spend time exploring the expansive world of ancient Greece.
While I’ve often said I’m not bothered by the concept of these time savers, but the reason I’m not bothered is the exact reason why they are so gross: it doesn’t take that long to level up in the world of Odyssey. Every few side quests the player levels up, so this is specifically aimed at people who want to critical path the game. It expresses a cowardly desire to ignore the game’s own design philosophy, which urges the player to go on their own personal “odyssey” with their character, in favor of making money off those too impatient to play the game at its intended pace. Its an impatience game publishers cannot help but encourage.
This plea that publishers are making about the rising cost of games is frustrating to hear because we see evidence again and again that gamers are buying microtransactions by the droves; which is why they keep putting them in games. DLC works, which is why fighting games are content to do multiple years of additional characters instead of making new games. No one’s denying games cost more to make, but they’ve found more ways to bleed the player dry to pay for it.
And what’s most insulting is that there’s zero chance we will go back to how things used to be done. This rise in the cost of games isn’t going to get rid of DLC, let alone the rampant microtransactions that should be reserved for free to play games. It won’t result in them hiring more developers in the hopes of reducing the hours of crunch, and I’d doubt most companies have even thought of hiring independent investigators to deal with rampant racism and sexism within their industries. It won’t fix anything except allowing these corporations to continue enjoying not merely profit, but a continual growth in profit.
Ultimately, there’s nothing to be done about an increase in game pricing. For myself, raising the cost of games merely guarantees I buy even fewer games at full price than before — there’s no point in taking “risks” on games I might not enjoy when I’m spending near $100 on a single game. With most gamers already waiting on titles to go on sale at $30 or $40 before jumping in, I suspect this is going to lead to a faster rise in things like EA Access and UPlay+.
With EA Access and Microsoft Game Pass, we’ve already seen a willingness to put the newest games on there, and even allow players to have access to them before the physical game releases. It’s entirely possible more third party developers will want in on this kind of service, choosing to receive a monthly recurring revenue over the purchase of a single game. After all, at least they’ll get almost all the profit rather than a portion like with physical games.
Of course, this will result in a different set of difficulties for them, because they’ll no longer merely be in competition with one another, but with everyone in the streaming business like HBO, Disney, Netflix, and Hulu. How big is everyone’s “streaming budget”?
This next console generation is going to give us that answer.