I didn’t start this post intending it to be a rant; it was just a collection of vaguely connected observations on the cost of gaming. As you’ll see, though, the nature of it changed as I wrote!
A while back, I blogged about how I temporarily walked away from gaming in the early 2000s. Around that time, I was in a relatively low paid job and had acquired the usual family commitments/mortgage that meant my disposable income was much reduced.
Perhaps the first time finding money for games became an issue. Don’t get me wrong: I was never rich and had to save up my birthday/Christmas/pocket money to buy new stuff, but my general expenses were lower too. Essentially, whatever money I had, I could spend on games. With the dread spectre of Mortgages and Responsibilities, that changed…
Because however you look at it, gaming is an expensive hobby. Buying a new console or upgrading your PC can cost several hundred pounds, whilst shelling out for the latest big name titles is going to set you back a fair old sum – unless you’re prepared to wait and pick them up cheaper second hand (something that will become increasingly difficult as the shift to digital only downloads continues).
Not that anything has changed. Games have always been priced as a “luxury item”. I can remember a relative buying me a Commodore 64 game circa Christmas 1983 and expressing horror to my mum that it had cost £5.95 (the standard price for a cassette game back then). And, of course, prices only ever go up. By around 1985, the standard price had risen to £8.95; shortly after that it settled at £9.95 for the remaining life of the 8 bit machines.
Today, the recommended retail price in the UK for a AAA title is around £40. Even allowing for inflation and increases in wages, seems pretty expensive. My perception is that, in both real and relative terms, games and gaming has got more expensive over the last 30 years, but is this really the case? Or is it just that with more limits on my disposable income, I have to work harder to justify buying a new game?
Well, thanks to a rather nifty tool on the This Is Money website, I’ve now been able to check this out. You can put in what something cost in a particular year in the past, and see how much that same item would cost at today’s prices (adjusted for inflation etc.). The results were rather interesting.
Let’s take as a starting point that £5.95 game that so horrified my relative back in 1985.
Adjusted for today’s prices, that same title would cost her £20.40.
Meanwhile, a game that cost £8.95 in 1984 would cost £27 today, whilst that 1986 £9.95 title would be a little cheaper – £26.95 at today’s prices (oh, the wonderful vagaries of inflation!)
In other words, my gut instinct is correct: gaming has become massively more expensive and costs have increased disproportionately. Adjusting prices for inflation, we should be paying around £20-30 for today’s top titles, not £40-45. In other words, in relative terms, for every game you buy today, you could have bought two back in the day for the same amount.]
Depressing isn’t it? Of course what this doesn’t take into account is actual value for money – and that’s a very personal thing. You could legitimately argue that you get better value from today’s games which can take weeks, even months, to complete. Back in the day, memory restrictions meant that most games had a smaller, finite number of levels. Equally, you could argue that a £40 game offers more long-term entertainment than a £10 cinema ticket to see a film that only lasts for a couple of hours.
And, of course, this increased cost is the inevitable consequence of games becoming more complex and having massive budgets which need to be recouped. And in a way we have only ourselves to blame. If gamers the world over are willing to shell out £40 every year for minor, cosmetic updates to FIFA then of course EA are going to keep doing it. If publishers spot that we are happy to pay £40 for a game and then shell out more for downloadable content, just so we can get a few extra missions or play as Catwoman/Nightwing/Robin/Batmite/Any other minor character we can dredge up and squeeze into a Batman game, then that’s what they’ll do. Publishers will keep pushing the boundaries to generate more income for themselves, and as long as we keep paying it, they’ll keep doing it.
I have two rules when it comes to gaming. I never pay more than £25 for a game (and only rarely as much as that) and I refuse to part with extra cash for features that don’t come standard with the retail version. Sure, this means I rarely get to own any of the top titles within 6-12 months of their initial release, but it also means I don’t bankrupt myself trying to keep up.
Any hobby is expensive and gaming is no exception, but if you think it is too expensive, then collectively we have the power to change that. If we stop buying FIFA 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and Assassin’s Creed 52 at the exorbitant prices they sell for, then prices will have to come down. The recent resurgence of indie developers producing some brilliant, innovative and more reasonably priced titles is a very welcome development, but sadly all too many gamers will ignore them, sticking with what they know. And that just gives publishers carte blanche to keep increasing their prices by stealth.
(Apologies to overseas readers for the UK prices and rates used in this post. These will obviously differ from country to country, although I’m guessing the overall patterns will be broadly similar).