So I was visiting Gamestop, as I often do when I have money in my pocket, wanting something to convince me to take it home. This rarely ever happens. I happened upon the PC section and flipped through the depressing offerings and came across Batman: Arkham Asylum. Curious, I pulled it out of its spot and my eyes brushed against the price tag. It said >>New<< $20.
My initial response was “Gosh, that sticker’s totally not going to come off of that case,” shortly followed by me approaching the clerk and in a raspy voice letting them know that I needed this game. It was admittedly creepy; I like to harass the guys behind the counter because I feel not enough of their customer base does so, and while they publicly tell me they don’t like it when I do that (“You’re scaring me,” verbatim), I know better. He slid the disc into the case and I zipped my card and I was the proud owner of AA for $20. I thanked him, wished him and his co-worker a pleasant evening and walked out.
Now, I know Batman is a great game; I’ve played up to the Bane encounter on the Xbox 360 and was very much entertained. And I’ve also written an article on this very site detailing how much the controls on this Personal Computer thing give me warm gooey feelings versus the console counterparts. So you can imagine how after seeing AA for $20, the resulting purchase for me was a no-brainer. I put zero thought into it. I would have put equally little effort into this process if the price tag had said $30. At $40, however, I would have needed to think on it. Not for long, mind you, but it would have given me pause.
How do PC gamers value their investment versus the time spent playing it? I can imagine an imaginary scale that starts out fully tipped at “I’m not buying this” and, depending on your tastes and knowledge of the game, slowly the scale tips in an attempt to reach a balance before inevitably falling over to the “I’m buying this” end.
The same thing could be said of ALL gamers, honestly, but the dynamics are a bit different, as PC gamers and console gamers, at heart, represent two different memes. What one PC gamer takes for granted, a console gamer does not, and vice versa, ad infinitum. If you own an Xbox and play online games, you own Modern Warfare 2, or Halo: Reach. If you own a PC and play online games, you own World of Warcraft, or Starcraft 2, or Civilization V, or any number of Steam FPS offerings; the lists are extensive, but often exclusive with their platform.
My scale is biased towards price on games versus how much game time I will get out of it. World of Warcraft is a no-brainer because I’m certainly going to get $15 per month out of it. But how often does the scale tip to “I’m buying this” for me? Not very often, for PC or consoles. Let’s take a look at a few of my last purchase decisions.
Batman: Arkham Asylum (PC)
Scale: Buy it (by practically a brick’s weight)
Reasoning: Previous experience, coupled with an outrageously cheap price (I’d value the game at $30 at the very least) and the addition of Games for Windows: Live for those extra achievement points for my GS literally combined into the perfect formula for “Buy it, and if you don’t have $20, find $20.” The graphics are gorgeous, the controls are FLAWLESS and…yeah, I think we’re looking at best purchase since Mass Effect 2.
Dragon Age: Origins (PC)
Scale: Buy it
Reasoning: I’d had a little experience with the game beforehand, and had heard good things about it, as well as the upcoming sequel. Had the game been $40, I would have actually had to pass, but I happened to have $20 on credit at Gamestop so this was practically a give-away. Game actually ended up being quite good! Well worth $30, and probably a bit more.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (PC)
Scale: Buy it
Reasoning: I’d actually had zero experience with Battlefield games, aside from watching people play 1942 at LAN parties nonstop and shout/laugh/maim/scream obscenities while playing, and at $50, I was pretty much never, ever going to buy this. HOWEVER, a friend I play games with on the PC recommended it highly and I decided it was worth a shot and impulsively purchased it. Two days after I purchased it, Steam dropped the price down to $30. Thanks! Here, I’ve got a finger for you guys, I know it’s around here somewhere…. Last impulse buy I’ll be doing for some time, thank you. Had the game been $30 to start with, in retrospect, it would have certainly been worth it.
And here’s where we hit a sour note or two.
Modern Warfare 2 (PC)
Scale: Do not buy
Reasoning: I actually played Modern Warfare pretty steadily, and it was a great game. I was not impressed with MW2’s multiplayer options on the PC. It got backlash for being a simple port from the console counterparts. The price isn’t justified and has stubbornly remained at the full $60 since launch. I do not support a $60 pricetag. Infinity Ward could care less; they sold plenty of PC games, they got their money. Good for them.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions (X360)
Price: $60 (now $50)
Scale: Do not buy
Reasoning: I’ve gotta say, I’ve been excited to get my hands on this game ever since it was announced because I have a GUT feeling that this game is gonna be fantastic. At the same time, though, I recognize that it’s going to be a five to eight hour brawler romp that I’ll finish in 2-3 days and be more or less done with, and I just don’t value that at $60. Ironically, I must not be alone, because not even a week after its release, the price was reduced $10. I’m not sure if that was in response to poor sales or if that was the original intent, but that says something to me.
And here’s where I think a serious problem with PC gaming and, to a certain degree, console gaming, have in earning my money: You over-value yourself.
This economy is garbage, and I can and do get more enjoyment out of food and paying bills than forking out $60 a crack for new games. I can live without Modern Warfare 2, or Red Dead Redemption. I think in the past …five years, it must have been now, I have paid full-price for a whopping five games: Street Fighter 4, Starcraft II, Super Smash Bros Brawl, Super Mario Galaxy and Mass Effect 2. You have to work HARD to milk $50-60 out of me!
I understand making games is a serious cost these days. It’s a multi-million dollar investment and the best that many of these games can hope for is to at least recoup development costs; take a look at APB. That game cost $100 million to produce (a ludicrous number if I’ve ever heard one, but there you have it) and not even three months after launch, it’s already been discontinued.
Need for Speed World, a similar game (focus on racing) didn’t even last two months on its “Free to try, $20 to progress” model and has since converted into a microtransaction-based system, something they were probably hoping to use later on in the game’s lifespan to attract more players but had to resort to simply to stay afloat.
There’s only one problem with the current price of new games: To put it into simple terms, it’s too much.
If you’re not Fable 4 or Halo 7 or Zelda Next or Final Fantasy 15 or Fallout: Radioactive Canada and you’re asking $50 or $60, you’re doing it wrong. There seems to be this attitude of shifting the blame to account for disappointing sales. “Oh, Spider-Man didn’t do so hot because Halo Reach was right around the corner”. “Oh, Battlefield: BC2 had to compete with Modern Warfare 2.” “Oh, sales for Street Fighter 4 PC sucked because of pirates”.
Do you know how many games I would buy if the baseline price were $40 instead of $60? A LOT more. And I would be buying these games new, not used. Batman: AA for $40 brand-new in Walmart? Cart. Modern Warfare for $40? I could find plenty of value out of playing that game online if it only cost $40. Cart. Civilization V, $30? Sign me up!
Here’s the deal, Publishers, and I really hope you’re listening: You can bet your sweet buns that I’m not the only person with this attitude. Yes, making games cost money, and you feel the need to charge $60 for a game still shrink-wrapped in the lockbox of your favorite local superstore, but do you know how much of $60 you’re going to make from me at that price? $0. That is zero percent of $60.
There seems to be this idea that early adopters will somehow magically bring in profits for you, but I tell you now, if you wait for those sales to save your buns and, three months down the road, you decide to cut the price, you have already lost those sales. Virtually all purchases that you could have gained by simply releasing the game at $40 have gone to Gamestop for $5 less than that, and do you know how much of that $35 you are getting? $0. That is zero percent of $35 OR $40.
If you want to profit at launch, and I mean really profit, take a good hard look at the cold numbers and use some common sense instead of making excuses, or blaming pirates for your woes, or giving up. If a fifth of Walmart shoppers buy your game for $60, that’s $120 per ten window shoppers. If two-fifths of Walmart shoppers buy your game for $40, that’s $160 per ten window shoppers. You lost $20 on licensing fees and gained $20 you would have otherwise not gotten. We call that an improvement where I come from.
It’s fluffed and purely speculative, but it’s an interesting scenario. What if the game in question had been Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions? I don’t think it’s too insane to consider that game for those numbers. I know I would have bought that on day one if that had been the price.
Maybe you should work on convincing us that your game is worth a purchase on day one by speaking to our wallets directly, and stop blaming Gamestop for you not selling more games. If they were properly priced in the first place, Gamestop would be out of business.
Now that you’re done reading this, I’d like to know. How many more games would you buy per year if the prices started at $40? Do you enjoy buying games at $60? Do you feel you get $60 worth of entertainment, generally speaking? Keep in mind, you can purchase Big Bang Theory Season 3 for $35, and that’s what, eleven hours of entertainment?