Officially, or maybe unofficially depending on how you look at it, we were warned that the launch price of new AAA games would probably be increasing on next gen (PS5/XSX) consoles. More recently, the CEO of Take-Two Interactive, Strauss Zelnick, said it again. Specifically in reference to the fact that the upcoming NBA 2K21 is confirmed to be launching at $70. He went on to say that the reason is because “we think consumers were ready for it.” I don’t want to talk about the common platitudes in favor of the price increase like “games have been $60 for 15 years.” I don’t want to talk about the so called moral objections to the statement or even the valid criticism of games are now riddled with microtransactions and unfinished content. I don’t even want to address the fact that we’re talking about raising the price of games during a global pandemic while people are struggling just to get a lousy $1400 from the government of the supposedly richest, most powerful country in the world. I don’t want to discuss any of that today. All I want to discuss is the statement made by Mr. Zelnick.
“We think consumers were ready for it.” Often high-ranking representatives of larger publishers and studios make blanket statements like this one, and they’re never questioned or verified. They drop these bombs that can drastically change the gaming industry and landscape, and not just about price. But they’re never asked to show any actual evidence to defend the statement. He says he thinks consumers are ready to pay more for games. But he didn’t provide any evidence to prove that statement. Instead he provided arguments for how companies can justify increasing the price of games. Those may be valid arguments and an important part of the discussion, but they have nothing to do with proving beyond a reasonable doubt that consumers are actually ready to pay more for games.
How would one go about proving such a statement? Would you look at purchasing data over the last 15 years of game releases? Would you look at social media posts on the subject? Would you issue a survey asking people for their thoughts about game pricing? What metric would one even use to prove that “consumers are ready to pay more for games”?
I want to be clear; I’m not saying his statement is incorrect. I don’t agree with his statement, based on my own empirical evidence and personal experiences, but I can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his statement is false. It is as possible that consumers really are ready to spend more on buying games as it is that they aren’t ready to spend more on buying games. The difference between those two currently unproven opinions is that one was stated by the CEO of one of the largest game publishers currently in the industry and the other was stated by a guy writing a blog post. While his words carry way more clout and influence than mine do, we’ve both provided the same amount of actual evidence to back up our statements at this point. For those keeping score, we’ve both provided zero actual evidence. Sure he qualified his statement by saying “we think” but that doesn’t change the fact that the rationale given for those thoughts had nothing to do with cited player/purchasing data and everything to do with corporate greed.
We see these sorts of things happen a lot. I’ve written about other similar instances in the past. One such example that comes to mind is when EA representatives use phrases like “our research shows” before making a statement that you’ve never heard an actual gamer say followed by none of the documented research being presented to back up the claims. We’re just expected to believe the statement at face value and assume that our opinions, those of our friends and online communities, and basic consumer logic are just wrong and that there’s a silent majority of paying customers that like microtransactions, love paid DLC, hate single player games, and have no problem with massive day one patches, always online play, and/or higher launch prices. Again, is it possible? Yes, absolutely. Is it likely? I’m leaning towards no but would happily change my opinion if these companies would provide me with some actual research documentation to back up these claims.
Here’s how I buy games personally. I see an announcement. It can be a trailer, review, teaser, gameplay video, newsletter from a publisher/developer, or literally anything else. The point is that something alerts me about the existence of an upcoming or even already released game. If what I’ve seen thus far peaks my interest, I will go out of my way to do more research about the game. If after doing more research I decide I want to buy the game, I appraise its value based on how it appears to compare to other games of similar genre, style, length, and quality. I then determine how much I think the game is worth, to me, and set a purchase price. I then wait until the game drops to that price before I buy it. And yes sometimes it takes years for the game to get to that price. Sometimes I even lower the price I’m willing to pay based on post launch reception and new information I receive. That’s how I buy games. If I determine I’m only willing to pay $20 for a game, such as I did with Horizon: Zero Dawn Complete Edition, then I happily wait until the game drops to $20 before I buy it. Which I did with H: ZD. That’s how I buy games. I don’t know if that’s how everyone buys games, but I do know that many people do buy games in much the same way, because I know people who do it.
Some games I do value at $60, such as the upcoming New Pokemon Snap! I will happily preorder that game and pay full price for it. The same is true for God of War: Ragnarok, when the time comes. But that’s actually a fairly rare occurrence for me. With the exception of Nintendo games, where the prices almost never drop for even years, I don’t pay $60 for games. In fact, I don’t pay more than $20 for most games, AAA or indie. I can safely say that no I will not pay $70 for vanilla versions of new games. Special editions with season passes, sure. But basic versions of games coming in at less than 40 hours of first playthrough content with additional paid DLC later will absolutely not get $70 out of me. I’ll happily wait the 1 – 2 months for the game to drop down to $60, in the rare occasions where I actually value a game at $60. As a person who doesn’t usually go in for live service multiplayer games, the waiting game works fine for me. I’ve got a backlog of literally hundreds of games. I’m in no rush to buy most games.
Let’s be clear, I can’t say that my situation and perception of how to value games applies to everyone. I don’t have the data to make such a claim. I also can’t back up the claim that a majority of players don’t approach buying games the way I do. Because I have no data backing up either claim. So I’d like to know what data Mr. Zelnick has to back up his claim about consumers’, of which I am one, readiness to pay $70 for new games. If he has the data and is willing to present it publicly, I’m happy to read it and change my mind if it paints the picture he’s implying exists. But in my opinion, he’s most likely full of shit and just blowing smoke in the interests of another greedy games publisher. To be fair, that’s fine. His job is not to protect or represent the interests of gamers. It’s to represent the interests of a games publisher. But he shouldn’t be lying to do that. I would much rather him just come out and say that the company believes they can get away with raising the price without losing too large a percentage of day one game purchasers while not worrying about the rest of consumers because they don’t pay full price for games either way.
Here’s some actual data to consider on this issue. Ghost of Tsushima sold 2.4 million units in the first three days after release. That means 2.4 million people were willing to pay full price, at $60 (ignoring regional price differences), for the game. Since launch, Ghost of Tsushima has sold more than 5 million units, based on the most up to date reporting I can find. That means more than half of the people who bought Ghost of Tsushima didn’t buy it at launch. That does not mean they didn’t pay $60 for it but it does mean they were willing to wait at least some time before purchasing it. That means that more than half the player base is potentially willing to wait for a discount on even the most highly anticipated and well-received games. This may not be definitive proof that a majority of people aren’t willing to pay $70 for games, but it is certainly proof that they aren’t excited to do so.
When it comes down to brass tacks, the price of games is going to increase. Once Take-Two and other brands start doing it, every other brand, including Nintendo, will eventually follow suit. That’s just the way things work. Because standard MSRP isn’t about setting the average consumer purchase price. It’s about setting the day one consumer purchase price. Even if 10 million players are willing to wait until a game drops in price to anything lower than $70, it doesn’t change the fact that thousands to millions of players will pay $70 to buy a game day one. They may do it begrudgingly, but they’ll still fork over the $70. That’s $10 extra dollars per unit sold for the first wave of units sold regardless of how low that number of units is. The fact is that the increase in price will have almost no effect on the price a majority of consumers pay, because most don’t buy day one. If anything this will just make more people flock to services like XBOX Game Pass. And that’s fine. Maybe even the long term goal. What’s not fine is the fact that we keep letting these industry members pull statements out of their asses without having to back them up with actual documentation. I do believe research is done by these companies. I do believe they have documentation about this and other important issues. What I don’t believe is that these corporate mouth pieces accurately report what the data shows, because more often than not it probably goes against their ideal scenarios as companies.