On The Value of Games


video-game-prices-2007-to-2011On 1995, Sega published Phantasy Star 4, a game that consumed so much cartridge memory that, due to hardware costs, went for $115.00 at retail. Even though I had never played any of the previous Phantasy Star titles, the magazine reviews and game screenshots persuaded me that I NEEDED to have that game. I asked my mom for the money, but she – obviously – said no. So I did what any determined 15 year old would do – go to the local corner grocery store to work as a bagger after school. I worked every day from 3:00 p.m. (we were dismissed at 2:10 back then) to 6:00 p.m., at which time mom would pick me up. It was an unpaid job. The store manager didn’t really hire us as much as turned a blind eye when I, and all the other 15 – 16 year old kids, went to the store to help customers out with their groceries in exchange for a tip (usually a quarter). I felt incredibly proud when, after almost a month, I was able to save up the $115.00 for the game. I asked my mom to take me to Toys R Us, I bought the game, and I proceeded to neglect my school work for the following month.

This was not the first time I had done this, although it was certainly the most momentous one. The previous year I had done the same to secure copies of Shining Force II, which went for $85.00, and Samurai Shodown, which went for $75.00. Yes, I was a proud Sega Genesis owner.

Flash forward to 2013. I still have my original working copies of these games with their original save states. The only difference is that now, Shining Force 2 goes for less than $5.00 in Amazon ($3.00 if you download the digital PC copy), Phantasy Star 4 goes for less than $10.00 (or about $5.00 if you get a ‘Phantasy Star Anthology’ for the PC), and Samurai Shodown goes for a whopping less than a dollar.

Of course, these prices don’t really matter, because these are old games – sometimes collector’s pieces, if you will, which is why sometimes you may find a new sealed copy going for over $200.00. But what about the newer titles?

When I was growing up, games had value, both emotional and monetary. They were also rare. It was indeed strange to see that in a group of friends more than one person had the same title. It was common for these titles to change hands as tradable goods quite often. Even from the older NES days, I would trade one Castlevania II for a NARC and a Journey to Syllious, or a The Legend of Zelda for a Super Mario III. During the Genesis days, I traded three sports games (World Series 94, Mutant League Hockey, and Bulls vs. Blazers) for one Wonder Boy in Monster World. It was the best trade I made during those days. Now, I don’t see that. I don’t mean it in the sense of “I grew up and now I don’t trade games”, I mean it in the sense of the current crop of gamers who don’t really like to trade their games – not because they’re emotionally attached – they’re all too happy to trade them in at GameStop when they outlive their replay value – but because they can “just buy it whenever”. It’s a question of value – “they’re just like $20.00 used anyway”, as a student recently told me recently. So the only assumption I can make is that games – not just old games, but new games as well – have devalued. This is not ALL games, of course, but most of them are simply not worth as much as they might have been a decade and a half ago. And I think the reason might be that dreaded bane of gaming – cheap and free mobile “gaming”, specially freemium games.

The iTunes App Store, Google Play, and other mobile game marketplaces are flooded with 99 cent games and free games. Even titles like Infinity Blade II – one of the best mobile games out there – goes for $2.99, with the first Infinity Blade going for free. Sonic & Sega All Star Racing, a game that retails for $19.99 on the 360 and the PS3, goes for $1.99 on the iPad (great game, make sure to get it). Sonic CD< which goes for $8.00 used on Amazon for a physical copy, retails for $2.99 on iTunes. Plants vs. Zombies and Angry Birds, both of which retail over $19.99 on consoles, go for a few cents on the iTunes App Store, and the difference in price for titles like Lego Harry Potter is $15.00. So, when a game is released on the iTunes store that costs the same as the console version – games like The World Ends With You or Final Fantasy Tactics (both totally worth the $20.00), people whine and complain (http://www.kotaku.com.au/2012/10/square-enix-defends-surprisingly-high-pricing-of-its-ios-games/). Games aren’t worth that much anymore, they say. And that’s to be expected. With companies devaluing their products to meet the consumer demand of a new market that doesn’t know the value of the product they are purchasing in the first place, I’m honestly surprised that all games aren’t just free.

“Wait, free?” I hear you ask. I’ve only mentioned ridiculously low prices thus far, but there are worse offenders: freemium (or just outright free) games. Games like Temple Run and Simpsons: Tapped Out and whatever else is on the top 10 of the iTunes App Store games section offer casual gamers a quick fix – these are games that people can play when on the train or waiting for their waiter to bring them an appetizer. And did I mention they are free? This creates a shift in the perceptions of individuals who  don’t know any better and start seeing all games, without even having tried them, as cheaply made amusements. Eventually, people start asking themselves why they should pay $20.00 for a PS3 game featuring a stereotypical white guy who adventures through old ruins when they can get “the same game” on their iPad for free. In case you were wondering, that’s an Uncharted 3 vs. Temple Run comparison that a colleague of mine actually asked me about.

Of course, there are people out there who will argue that this is just a thing of mobile games, that “real” games will never lose their value, and that casual and “hardcore” (god I HATE that word) markets are different. However, every single “PC Gamer” will admit that they don’t buy PC games at full price ever. PC gamers either buy games through Steam sales (often at up to 90% discounted prices), Good Old Game sales (often at up to 80% discounted prices), or through pay-what-you-want bundle packs. What does this mean? Instead of purchasing Bioshock Infinite for the retail price of $60.00 (which the game is totally worth), Steamers purchase it at $10.00, thus devaluing the title.

Now, I should note that as a consumer, I wholeheartedly support bundles and discounts. However, I also am able of appreciating a game’s true worth. The creation of a game (at least of some of them) is a long and arduous process involving several people working over a long period of time. Some games are actually worth the $50.00 or $60.00 they retail for at release.

The point that I’m clumsily trying to make is that freemium games are devaluing games as a whole in the perception of non-gamers (and sometimes gamers too!) What I would argue for is to take a case-by-case approach. Final Fantasy Tactics is a masterpiece, regardless of platform. Even in iOS format, it is worth $15.00 (maybe $20.00 is a bit steep, as the game IS rather old, although it has aged well). So is The World Ends With You. Infinity Blade (either one) is definitely worth $5 – 10, and Temple Run… a free demo with a 99 cent unlock seems fine. Angry Birds, however, should never be $40.00, even if it’s “on the X-Box”.

[Image from Price-Charting]

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About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on April 23, 2013, in Video Game Commentary and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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