Is Standardized Video Game Pricing Bad For Business?

In this Friday edition of Speak-Up on Kotaku, commenter YamiKarasu wonders if the standard $50 - $60 price for today's video games is hurting the industry. Well is it?

The standard price of a video game today is $50-60, is that too high or too low? I've got my opinion on the manner but I'm not concerned with that right now. The thing that irks me is how standardized pricing has become despite the obvious differences in monetary investments, promotional campaigns and overall quality of games.

Not all games are created equal and I think they shouldn't have to conform to some superficial pricing scheme to fit in. If a game offers more value and demands more reimbursement from the customers I think that's fair and it's up to the individual to decide whether or not it was fair; vice versa with cheaper and less impressive but fun titles. Since the gaming industry has grown to the size it has, so often you have a console selling game being released alongside niche titles at the same price. It's not fair to the niche title and it's not fair to the niche audience.

Part of the reason why niche titles remain niche is because the pricing scheme isn't conducive to their success. All promotional campaigns are geared to funnel as much money into as few games and franchises as possible. However, there are so many of these 'greedy' games every year nowadays that there's not even enough money to feed them. Is it cool that the experience of Uncharted 2 has been shared by over 3.8 million people? Hell yeah! Is it a shame that barely 1 million shared the latest Ratchet & Clank adventure? Absolutely. Those are two PS3 exclusives that were released within two weeks of each other. Which was better? It comes down to personal tastes (I liked Ratchet) but the fact is that Uncharted 2 was the stronger game with the better polish and more content. It had Ratchet beat in practically every category. Why should a customer have to choose between the two of them as a $60 investment because we know which one is going to win. If that weren't enough Uncharted 2 had a huge hype wave of critical acclaim that demanded everyone with a PS3 buy this experience and those who didn't have a PS3 to make the investment immediately. Did you hear anything about Ratchet & Clank? I didn't.

Now, this isn't a gripe about why I think Ratchet is better than Uncharted. The two games don't offer the same amount of value and production value and thus I don't feel should be priced as such. Maybe if Ratchet were $40 at launch then the sales would be two or three times higher as those rushing to procure a copy of Uncharted 2 would be willing to snatch up a second purchase...but not two $60 purchases, that's not happening. We can't expect people to buy multiple full priced games at a time because there's just not enough money and time to appreciate everything being thrown at us. Now, maybe Ratchet vs. Uncharted isn't the best comparison seeing as they're both exceptionally well made games. There are tons of niche titles selling less than 100K every year that deserve so much better and WOULD perform much better if they were priced based on their worth compared to their competition. If I were offering you a cup of chocolate ice cream and right next to me someone offered a gallon for the same price who would get the sale?

There's not enough variance to video game pricing. We have the free2play games that are starting to take off and surely will make a major impact in the future. We have the $1-10 impulse buy category for cheap, indie titles and apps. They let you try something new without feeling guilty much like a candy bar on your way out of a supermarket. Then there's the $15-30 range which is for incomplete but satisfying games. This would be games like Valve's Team Fortress 2 or Portal which aren't dense or broad enough for a $60 tag but well worth their cost in what they deliver. It's a safe place for medium sized experiments to thrive without having to compete with established franchises. Also, the $15-30 range is home to classics, games that have sold millions, turned a profit and are/were the epitome of gaming excellence and to reward that success get a 50%+ price reduction almost as a thank you to the community (except for Nintendo who doesn't do this anymore).

Then there's $50 and beyond. I think all new games should occupy a variety of price ranges from $20 on up. A few games come out that are introduced at a budget price of $40 but they tend to fail to make waves and expectations are low from the outset. I don't think companies should be ashamed to release and market a game they feel will maximize profit at just $40 and justify that purchase value. Vice versa companies shouldn't be afraid to toss out a $70 or $80 game and feel proud of its quality to carry it through a successful launch if they've gone above and beyond the limits of a typical game. You better have some gaming magic to sell or at least balls of steel if you're going to go into the stratosphere with your prices. I guarantee if prices weren't the same across the board you'd see much better sales across the board. Steam, Amazon and GameStop sales spikes prove this. Games aren't necessarily too expensive or too cheap, they're just not priced to sell.

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