Who's Responsible for the $60 Price Tag?S

Just how did we get to $59.99 for the cost of a new game, anyway? Collusion? Happenstance? For a sector that mimics Hollywood's studio model, the answer is about as simple - and clear - as why tickets cost $10.

Crispy Gamer's David Thomas went searching for who decided on the $60 standard and more or less found no one in the industry specifically responsible. Which defies logic, as someone or some thing had to be the first. But when the decision was made, it wasn't tackled from the front - i.e., Company X made Y game, its production and marketing costs were Z, and profit A on top of that gives us price B. Publishers pick a price point and then work backward to justify a game, and the $10 allows them to justify more.

But the influx of downloadable games at much lower price points raises a new question: Are video games on the whole overpriced? Or are they underpriced? And if no one forced the $60 question, why do gamers accept it? You may not like the answers.

The 60-Buck Dilemma [Crispy Gamer, Sept. 23, 2009.]

The same argument could be applied to the movies: Movie tickets have increased because special effects cost more and Brad Pitt earns more and, gee, those nice seats at the theaters cost more. Of course, the price tag reflects a focus on the kind of fun big budgets deliver; and bigger-is-better dominates the public imagination.

"Ultimately, what we collectively found was that we've modeled a hits-driven business, not unlike film; and the massive downside to that structure is that it marginalizes the art-house products — the more risky or out-of-the-box games," [says the Entertainment Consumer Association president Hal Halpin.] "But that's also our roots, where we've come from. Really compelling, fun and great games that didn't cost an arm and a leg to produce, or to buy."

In other words, Brad Pitt and Michael Bay sell tickets. Hollywood is about stars and explosions, and the economics of box-office ticket sales tend to revolve around those needs. In games, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves costs $60 because it cost millions to make. So Braid either needs to make the $60 argument or pick up and move into the Xbox Live Marketplace.

To [analyst Jesse] Divnich , videogame math means something a little different.

"Either one is overpriced or the other is underpriced — and because games that only offer 20 to 30 hours of gameplay still sell incredibly well, I'd argue the latter. Some games offer such a value that they are clearly underpriced."

"I've always felt that pricing in our industry was completely arbitrary. Since few have challenged these price points, they've become cemented as a standard in consumers' minds; and deviating from the standard can be met with serious recourse," says Divnich.

Drop the price on a game below $59.99 and it must mean the game's no good, or it's old, or it's on some second-rate system. Perrier doesn't cost more than gasoline per gallon because it springs from some fairy well, and BMW doesn't charge a premium over a similar Lexus model because of some alien tech discovered during the war. Both bottled water and premium sports cars cost a lot in part because the people that buy them expect them to cost a lot.

Translated into the game world, fans have pretty much drunk the pricing Kool-Aid and figure games cost what they cost.

"Because consumers are cemented on the $60 price point," says Divnich, "The only way publishers can deviate from the standard pricing is by offering peripheral-based products and over-the-top special editions (e.g., Call of Duty, Guitar Hero, Rock Band). Which, I may add, have been tremendously successful."

That's right, Joe Gamer, it's entirely possible that games cost $60 because some executive, at some point, thought it would be funny to raise the average price of a game by $10 and no one complained. And we kept lining up at the game store with three twenties and a sock of loose change for sales tax.

- David Thomas

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