In the latest issue of PSM, Todd Howard, who is directing Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, says that video games could benefit from being sold at a lower price point than what they’re at currently. Of course, he’s also quick to justify his own game being sold at the regular $60, saying that the content they have planned is worth the higher entry fee.
"I've thought for a long time that games are too expensive," Howard said. "I don't put us in that category of course - for what we give you, for sixty bucks or however many 'quid' it is."
"But I do think industry-wide we would benefit from more games out at $19 or $29. I would try more games. Because I'm not going to try a game for $60. It's a tough decision.”
Despite the air of hypocrisy floating around his words, Howard does bring a good point to the table. Video games are probably the most expensive form of media entertainment out there, not just in terms of production, but also in retail. A brand new game regularly gets released at the $60 price point mentioned, with expansions usually coming in at $40. For the average middle class citizen, that’s a big investment, especially with the economy the way it is, and for many people, a justifiable excuse to turn to piracy.
On the other hand, we see various smaller titles getting regular releases at around $15, sometimes even less. The ever popular, and brutally challenging, Super Meat Boy falls under this category. This is largely because these titles have a much smaller development team, and an even smaller budget to work with. However, they are still able to produce top notch gaming titles for a bit less than buying a movie DVD.
The question here, then, is can big-time developers like Bethesda, Capcom, and Square Enix even afford to sell their games at the same price point, without sacrificing quality, and still turn a profit? Not only do these companies still have to pay for the production of a title itself, they need to make sure everyone on their staff gets proper payment, with some teams consisting of more than 100 participants. That’s a lot of paychecks to sign, and that’s not even taking things like advertising and localization into account.
So, is it legitimately possible for game companies to sell their games at $30 or lower instead of what we’re paying for now? Possible, sure. However, the problem isn't just being able to sell them at such a price, but getting anyone to actually follow through with such a motion (including Bethesda). Game companies are still businesses, and, as we know, the main thing most businesses care about is how much green they can rake in. Sure, we have people like Valve that are consistently proving that they do, in fact, care about their customers, but these are small outliers in a larger group of profit-focused corporations. For the less-profit-maximising oriented, they need to be able to factor in how many copies they'd need to sell at the lower price point just to break even, which can be difficult to do if you're trying to put together a big budget title. For these companies, selling a blockbuster game at the fabled $19, and turning a profit, really is out of the question.
Then again, the industry is still at a young age. I mean, it was only over 20 years ago when we were seeing NES and SNES titles being sold in the $100 range at retail, and prices have come down significantly since then. Maybe in another 20 years, when technology allows us the ability to provide the same services for less, we can finally see video games come down to a point where you don’t have to sacrifice a week of take-out to enjoy the latest Super Mario Bros. game.