A Short Rant on The Cost of Games


When I was younger and I relied on the kindness of my family during holiday celebrations and my birthdays, I recognized the monetary value of video games. I knew that games were 30$ – 50$. During those days my collection was fairly small, and each game was like currency unto itself. My NES collection was composed of only twelve games: The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventures of Link, Journey to Silius, Shatterhands, Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja Crusaders, Bubble Bobble, Castlevania II: What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse, Ninja Gaiden, Ninja Gaiden III, Snake’s Revenge, and – of course – Super Mario Bros. 3. My friends had other titles in collections equally as small, and we would trade games all the time. Of course, some games had more value than others. I remember that I really wanted Megaman 2 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II, both of which my best friend at the time had, but in exchange he wanted the two Zelda games These were the golden cartridge Zeldas, and it made them special. The Zelda games were the crown of any kid’s collection, and were completely off the table as far as trading was concerned. In the end, I saved up my lunch money for a month – two dollars per day – and bought the games from the corner video store at two for 50$; a bargain at the time.

When I got my first job at the local grocery store packing groceries, I did so because I wanted a game – Shining Force II for the Sega Genesis. At the time I had already played Shining Force I, Phantasy Star III, and a few other RPGs and had become a fan of the genre. I had asked my mother to get the game for my birthday, but at 82$ she said that it was too expensive. I partly agreed. 882$ was indeed too much for a game when compared to other games, then 50$ – 60$, but Shining Force II had extra ram in the cartridge and an internal battery, which – Game Pro Magazine told me – made it worth the asking price. I saved up the 82$, bought the game, and was not disappointed. It still sits as part of my collection.
As I grew up, the price of games became somewhat more stable. Full feature games such as Final Fantasy VII would launch at 50$ – 60$, other less comprehensive games like Virtua Fighter would launch at 30$ – 40$, and budget games like Tokyo X Treme Drift would launch at 20$. Even now, the market hasn’t shifted that much. A new full feature Final Fantasy or Call of Duty title will launch at 60$ and drop to 20$ – 30$ within a year, while more niche title like Atelier Ayesha will launch at 40$ and, maybe, drop to 30$. I recognize that based on the experience offered, the release schedule, and most importantly supply and demand, some games can be said to be worth more than others. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance (the Wii one) is incredibly rare. Used, it will cost around 60$. NBA 2k12 is not as rare and, because of the yearly release cycle, not as sought after. It’s worth maybe 5$. Most “normal” games – that is, games that are neither extremely rare nor dime a dozen and outdated every year, are worth around 40$ on release and half that much after six months to a year. Right now, the Mass Effect titles, the Bioshock titles, Sonic Racing Transformed, the Uncharted games, the Assassin’s Creed games, the Batman games, and the GTA games can be purchased for 15$ – 20$ new and sealed.

And yet Steam, the Bundles, and other digital distribution platforms seem to have skewed the value of these games. Steam, the Humble Bundles, and Indie Royale have spoiled me, and not in a good way.

My first PC game purchases were a couple of years ago when I became a fan of what was then the Humble Indie Bundle. They would sell 5 – 8 indie games at whatever price the user named. I would often pay 5 – 10$ depending on the games. And that was cool. I could support small indie game makers without having to shell out 10$ – 20$ per game. I mean, I could get used Lost Odyssey for 10$ and own the discs, or I could buy To The Moon. Not that To The Moon is a bad game – far from it. I would say that it’s one of my favorite indie games ever. But when I put it next to Lost Odyssey (or Journey) it doesn’t seem worth the asking price. But it is totally worth 10$ if it comes in a bundle with Trine, Gone Home, The Binding of Isaac, and Bastion.

And then the Humble Indie Bundle became just the Humble Bundle and began doing stuff like the Humble THQ Bundle and the Humble Sega Bundle, and GOG began following Steam’s lead and offering games at 80% discount (except without the ridiculous Steam DRM), and Indie Royale started upping its game by offering increasingly better titles.

I recently bought the Humble Sega Bundle for less than 5$ and the Humble THQ Bundle for just as much. For under 10$, I got Saint’s Row the Third, Darksiders, Company of Heroes, Red Faction, Metro 2033, Alpha Protocol, Medieval: Total War, Sonic Racing Transformed, Sonic Generations, Binary Domain, Sonic Adventure 1 and 2, Crazy Taxi, and a bunch of other titles. Over at GOG, I have purchased Assassin’s Creed for less than 5$, The Witcher 1 and 2 for less than 5$, and Risen 1 and 2 for less than 5$. This has a negative impact on customer perception regarding the monetary worth of games.

When someone goes to GameStop, or their local game store, or Amazon, and they see the latest Atelier game for 40$, 25$ used, they consider the purchase. It’s certainly worth it. It’s a console exclusive, it’s a fun game, it has over 60 hours worth of content. But for the same price they could get Fallout III Complete Edition, Fallout: New Vegas Complete Edition, The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion with all the DLC, and Skyrim: Legendary Edition – each games that, on their own, would be worth 20$ on a bad day, but can now be found on Steam for 5$.

So what’s the issue? Steam, the Humble AAA Bundles, and GOG’s substantial discounts are all incredibly pro consumer and pro gamers. But I can’t help but think that they are also anti games and anti developers. Why pay 30$ for the latest Disgaia game when I could buy 10 RPGs for half the price on Steam? Heck, why buy Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare now for 60$ when in six months it will be at 20$ and six months after that I will be able to get it used for 4.50$? And it will probably go on sale on Steam for 10$ within the next 2 months anyway.

Why?

To be honest, Call of Duty’s yearly cycle will make it devalue almost as soon as it is released, so why indeed. But as for Disgaia or Ar Tonelico the reason is obvious – they’re console only games with physical copies. If I want to play them, I have to pay the asking price.

Just like with Nintendo games.

I guess the point that I’m clumsily trying to make is that individual games devalue based on supply and low prices, and this by extension devalues the market as a whole. That’s why masterpieces like Mass Effect loiter the 5$ bargain bin with a 20% discount while Xenoblade Chronicles still commands 60$ used.

Then again, this is by no means a revolutionary observation. It is something that any economics 101 freshman could deduce, and that every player knows “in their gut”.
And honestly, I don’t even know whether the effect of this will ultimately be bad or good.
I just felt like ranting for a bit after returning from the game store and not buying anything because the games I REALLY want still sit at 40$ even after a year.

Whatever. See you around.

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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 January 1, 2015, in Video Game Commentary and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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