I’ve been a frugal gamer for a great many years. I have been actively watching and comparing game pricing patterns and trends across all platforms for at least a decade. I have learned to be patient about buying games. I don’t fall for day one purchases for fighting games, except for Smash Bros., because I know the GOTY edition with all the DLC will drop later. They just announced a full edition of DragonBall FighterZ as a perfect example. I often wait multiple years before buying a game just to get the price I want. I’m still waiting for Cuphead for instance because I won’t buy it until it drops to $10. What I think is important as well as gratifying is that I am not alone in these practices.
Gamers the world over have established their own systems of measuring the value of games and setting their own bite prices well before games even release. The fact that this practice is so common tells me two things. First, not all gamers are mindless drones throwing their money at anything with a pretty trailer and a big publisher name behind it. Many gamers are like that but I wouldn’t even say the majority of them are. Second, the market isn’t really interested in paying $60 for new games and thus $60 is probably not the optimum price of new games even though that number has been normalized for a great many years.
Gaming is a buyer’s market. While the industry would have us believe that it’s a seller’s market and that we should be thankful that prices are as low as they are, this is patently false. The truth is that we as consumers control and shape the market as we see fit with our wallets. We simply fail to exercise that power as a collective group. Microtransactions exist because the collective we continue to pay for them. Unfinished games are released and patched later because we continue to buy games released in an unfinished state. If we collectively decided not to do these things, they would cease to be a problem or exist at all. The real problem comes down to the fact that we rarely do get organized and too many gamers, especially in America, simply don’t care about the collective good of the community. If you have the money to overpay for games and spend on microtransactions, more often than not you participate in the current corrupted system regardless of how those decisions affect other, often less fortunate, gamers.
After thinking about these topics in detail I came up with an idea that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. The closest thing to it would be the Humble Bundle system but that’s a much different concept when it comes down to it. Crowd funding might be comparable in some way, but it too isn’t the same type of thing. Before I go into details let me state for the record that I am fully aware that what I’m about to suggest will never actually happen. I am fully aware that a lot of people, day one purchasers and pre-order players almost exclusively, would be livid if such a system were introduced. Shareholders of large corporations would hate the idea of their returns being regulated so directly by consumers. This is an idea that I think would revolutionize the games market, but I understand that it’s strictly for discussion purposes. I’m optimistic not naïve.
If we know that many, possibly most, gamers don’t buy games at release price then there’s a service that the industry is severely lacking. Why can’t consumers pre-order/pre-purchase games at their own chosen price? Currently we can purchase games digitally or physically before they are released. The process is simple and fairly efficient in most cases. We also have the ability, in limited frequency, to pay for certain games, and other forms of media, at any price we set. That’s the entire system behind Humble Bundle with a few slight regulatory factors. So why can’t we apply this concept to purchasing all games in a pre-paid scenario?
Imagine a system where, just like you do already, you see a game you want and you set a price. Let’s use the soon to be released, and already pre-ordered in my case, Kingdom Hearts III. The game will be releasing for $60 on January 25th. But let’s assume, unlike me in this case, you have decided that it’s not worth $60. Let’s say you have gone through whatever process you use to determine your bite price and have concluded that you will spend only $30 to get the game. Completely fair assessment and decision. You know you will buy the game and you know you will buy it as soon as it’s $30. Being an experienced gamer/consumer, you already know that this will probably not be the price for at least four to six months if not longer. But you want to make the purchase now. Why do you want to make the purchase now? For many of the same reasons people pre-order games.
Pre-ordering a game has a number of positive benefits for some people outside of just being able to play it on day one. First, the purchase is already made. You don’t have to think about paying for the game anymore. It’s already yours. You don’t have to worry about having the money later or thinking about looking for a vendor. Second, you are supporting the dev/project. Pre-ordering games shows devs and their publishers which projects you really care about and helps to ensure the game looks good to investors and media based on the number of units sold in advance as well as the amount of money made. Third, pre-order bonuses. Though I find the practice extremely predatory and unfair, rewarding people for buying games in advance of real reviews and established public opinion is a common practice and one of the main reasons I occasionally get pulled into pre-ordering games myself. These are just a few examples of the benefits of pre-ordering but there are plenty of other ones.
So you want to pre-order Kingdom Hearts III but you only want to pay $30 for it. You know it will take four to six months for it to hit that price on the platform of your choice and you’re perfectly fine with that but you would still like to pay for it in advance. Currently this is impossible. There is no way for a normal consumer to pre-order a game and reap the benefits perceived from pre-ordering, for their chosen price. They can either pay more, in this case double, what they actually want to pay for the game, or they can wait until the price drops and hopefully have the money still lying around. But why can’t a person instead declare in advance that they want a game for the price they want to pay?
I think this system would fundamentally change the way games are bought and sold. If people could declare their chosen price for a game in a concrete way that shows companies in dollars how much the public perceives the value of their games while still netting most of the same benefits of preorders for both consumers and developers, it would improve the system for everyone involved. Consumers could give direct feedback about their perception of games to studios and publishers in a way that actually matters and is measureable. Companies would be able to better perceive how the public feels about their games pre-release without having to necessarily incur a hard boycott or lacking unit sales numbers early on. Publishers could set more acceptable starting prices based on actual sales data from the public, ultimately leading to more units sold quicker in the long run.
Such a system would create a more symbiotic relationship between studios and consumers where business decisions would be based on actual data rather than perceived public opinion from the vocal minorities that often control social media. It would even help shape marketing plans because companies would be able to track the number of dollars made for specific ads and campaigns compared to the number of preorders and dollar amount applied to them. And it would considerably reduce gamers complaining about pricing because they’d be setting their own prices. And it would help publishers and retailers to better track and plan their price reduction strategies, ultimately allowing them to maximize total profits.
It would be an extremely simple system to implement in the digital market. The only trouble with doing it in the physical market is storage space. If everyone pays $30 for a $60 game, companies might have made more money faster, but they’d then be responsible for storing all the pre-order units until the prices hit the level of each customers’ desired bite price. This would admittedly be troublesome and costly for brick and mortar stores. But the digital market could easily handle this system. It would be no different than pre-ordering a digital game today other than that the release of the game would be tied to the digital store price listing as opposed to a specific date. And it would be great for consumers, if the games are automatically delivered as soon as they hit the target price or below, because it would mean no more missing sales. At the same time it would allow sellers to make more than they would have necessarily made if the sale price goes below the target price.
The system wouldn’t refund any money. It would simply take the amount of money the consumer wanted to pay for the item and set the item as purchased in the digital store. Then instead of tying the release of the item to that account based on date, it would do it based on price paid being at or above current price in the store. Fairly simple to implement within the current digital marketplaces for games we have available.
While such a system would take some getting used to for everyone at first, I do believe that it would be better for all parties involved in the long run. It would give consumers more agency to shape industry trends while also not forcing us to do full boycotts of games when we have a complaint pre-release. Imagine a scenario where instead of outright boycotting Star Wars: Battlefront II people were able to simply show that they were unhappy with certain decisions made by quantifying how much in value the game was missing from that $60 target price. DICE wouldn’t have had a game completely tank but the public also wouldn’t have had to be taken advantage of. Fallout 76 is an even better more recent example. A lot of people actually really like many aspects of the game but they still want all the bugs and server issues addressed. Currently there’s no way to show that in dollars and cents, the only language publishers really care about. Either people buy the game to show they support the concept and have to be disappointed in their purchase. Or they don’t buy the game and end looking like they are completely against the concept, which is an inaccurate set of choices for many gamers.
I will say that there is indeed one serious potential flaw with this system and that’s the minimum price. If you can set any price, what happens to people who set a price lower than the game will ever really go? Let’s take GTAV for example. The game released on the PS3 in 2013. It never really dropped in price until it had already hit the PS4 a year later. And it took another half a year after that for it to finally hit PC. Even today it still costs $30 on PSN without a sale discount. The Black Friday sale price was $20. What this means is that even five years after release if you had pre-purchased for $10 then you still wouldn’t have had the game delivered. This could be a potential problem. To combat this there would of course have to be minimum prices for the pre-purchase system. I’d say $20. I chose this price based on the PlayStation Greatest Hits system currently in place. While many games do eventually fall below the $20 greatest hits rate, it’s objectively the only price we can almost guarantee that most games will hit on a platform before being unavailable for one reason or another. This price also works for pretty much all platforms, except for maybe Nintendo, because there pricing system is totally screwed up. At the same time, one could assume that Nintendo would eventually adjust their pricing schemes based on all the newly collected pre-order data.
Again, I don’t actually believe such a system would even be implemented. I believe that it easily could be and that it would make things better for everyone involved. But the people at the top of these companies and their boards would never happily cede so much control of profits to the public. The current system is akin to voter suppression in American politics and it works. So why would they change it? What do you think? Would you take advantage of a system that allowed you to have your cake and eat it too with purchasing games? What specific ideas do you think would make a system like this work even better?