behind

Published December, 2018

So many games, so little money. Is the price tag of the latest titles justifiable and what goes into making the realistic, complicated graphics everyone knows and loves?

It cost Infinity Ward and Aspyr $285 million (£222 million) to bring Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 to fruition. The video games industry, in the last two decades, has blown out of any foreseeable proportions, with the value of the global market in 2016 estimated at around £58 billion. Yet the standard video game price has remained £46.

In 1972, Atari released one of the first mainstream arcade games, Pong, a two-dimensional table tennis simulation. It paved the way for the whole industry and after it became popular, many game developers started using a similar layout. Almost five decades later, that aspect hasn’t seen much of a change – many of the best-selling games out there share the same basic concept. It took a single person, engineer Allan Alcorn, to design and build Pong. AAA franchises such as Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed, on the other hand, may employ up to 900 game developers every year, due to the complexity of the graphics and storyline, raising the production costs with every new version that comes out.

So, if developing video games is becoming increasingly more expensive, how has the retail price remained the same since the late 90s? The price point of £46 is actually determined by the publisher rather than the retailer. In the highly competitive market, it is essential for all major companies such as Activision Blizzard, EA, Ubisoft and Sony to keep their games at this exact price point upon release, because of the potential backlash they would face from the customers if they were to make a game pricier. Of course, there’s a swarm of indie developers that can afford to severely cut the production budget, which, in turn, results in lower prices (or even, as in the case of the most popular game of the year – Fortnite: Battle Royale, it could be completely free).

And sure, considering inflation and the rising costs of making and advertising a game, £46 starts to sound like a modest, justifiable amount to pay. But we have to consider that the developer doesn’t just rely on the initial market price – a majority of the customers still pay for DLCs (downloadable content), season passes and microtransactions. It adds up fast, making gaming an increasingly expensive hobby.

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Originally appeared in FRAMED. magazine

the price tag