Some time ago, I declared that maybe the video game industry, which was then in the process of mercilessly driving a knife into the heart of game design by compromising their products to accommodate microtransactions and paid content, should maybe consider raising the price of video games instead. See, the price for video games has remained static for almost two decades now, even as the cost of development has skyrocketed. It made sense that publishers, faced with rising costs, but a static price for sale, had to resort to other means to make up for the lost revenue. But surely, I reasoned, if they raised the upfront price for games, then they wouldn’t need to rely on tactics such as taking bits of a game out and selling them back piecemeal, right? Right?
As it turns out, I am a colossal idiot, because the game industry wants to have its cake and eat it too. Earlier this week, news broke that NBA 2K21’s next generation versions will cost a neat $69.99 – which, yes, marks a $10 increase over the price new console games have held since 2005. A report shortly afterward confirmed that the entire industry was mulling a similar price increase, citing, yes, increased development costs.
Here’s the thing, though – I am sympathetic to the realities of increasing development costs. Like I said already, I get that the money needed to make games is magnitudes more than was needed to make a PS2 game. I get that publishers need their games to make money to justify making them. So I was actually fine with the whole idea of a one time price increase, but the whole point was that it would be a one time price increase. I pay extra money upfront and developers and publishers back off from forcing microtransactions and battle passes and whatever the latest monetization fad is into their games. The extra cost was almost supposed to be like an insurance policy – you pay it to cover you against the excesses of microtransactions.
The issue is that for this logic to hold, both things need to happen – a price increase and a commitment to not include microtransactions, at least until development costs are untenable again. If you’re just charging more while keeping all the other monetization methods in, then it feels like you’re kicking us to the curb and then running us over for good measure. You can’t have it both ways.
And yet, the first game franchise to announce a price increase officially is NBA 2K, a game franchise so blatant with its excesses when it comes to microtransactions that it literally advertised itself as a slot machine. “But wait,” you say, “maybe this is indicative of there being no microtransactions in NBA 2K21, right?” To which I laugh at the sheer naivete that might make you extend any kind of benefit of the doubt to the game that literally won’t offer you free upgrades to the next-gen version (something that even EA is offering with FIFA) unless you buy the $100 special edition. Once that fit of laughter has subsided, maybe I can direct you to the official site for the game, which very clearly lists Virtual Currency (the in game currency you spend real life money on) and boosts as being in the game.
This is a problem, because what in the world are we paying more money for? Yes, development costs have increased, but you are obviously making up for that by milking customers dry with your frankly abusive and exploitative microtransactions and monetization practices; so why raise the price? The only alternative explanation is that microtransactions don’t cover for the increase in development costs, which is why developers and publishers have to resort to a price increase for games. But if that’s the case, why are microtransactions still in? Clearly they aren’t working, so why are they still included? How greedy, exactly, does a publisher have to be to charge you more money while already charging you more money?
The whole attitude reeks of contempt and disrespect for customers. I’m not speaking in a capital G Gamers Rise Up sort of sense here, but in very basic consumer rights, and the relationship a customer has with the vendor of the product they purchase. While each party in a transaction is very clearly out to maximize their own self-gain, there is an implicit understanding of a level of respect and regard for the other party, because the whole system relies on that. You trust that the makers and sellers of what you’re buying won’t try to scam you, while they trust you’re not out to steal their product. Any transaction relies on that inherent, implicit trust.
And yet that trust continues to be abused in the video games industry. Until now, publishers have largely been able to get away with it (though there have certainly been notable instances of pushback, including against Battlefront 2, or against the whole concept of online passes, which was pioneered as a way to monetize used game sales). But at some point, something has to give, because the whole dynamic becomes untenable. That’s where we are right now. People aren’t made of money, they have a limited amount, and any game that demands that its players spend cash on it on an ongoing basis for the chance to maybe get something that they want, while already having charged an exorbitant price of admission upfront, is not going to find a whole lot of takers. Maybe this won’t happen right away, but it will happen, and it will happen sooner than you might think.
The whole world is in the throes of an economic crisis that shows no signs of letting up soon, and its effects will continue to be felt for years, if not longer. When people are cash strapped, they’re not going to want to spend $70 on a video game that they then need to spend more money on to be able to properly enjoy it. They’re just going to not bother with that game, either going to one that actually has a modicum of respect for them as a customer, or just not buy a game altogether. I’m not predicting that console gaming is doomed or anything, to be clear – but that this dynamic of games monetization that has taken root over the last decade is. It’s on its way out. Maybe not this year, and maybe not the next, but we’re going to soon see the market roundly reject it.
The ironic thing is that I can totally see developers and publishers dig their heels in and get more aggressive with their monetization as game sales shrink, to try and compensate for lost revenue, almost creating a vicious cycle of sorts. Obviously, I hope they don’t do that – why would I want them to do that? But frankly, does anyone actually have any faith in the publishers’ ability to have any regard for the customer whatsoever anymore?
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.