Sunday Thoughts: Experiments With Pricing

Let’s just get this out of the way before we start, I don’t want to talk about day one DLC. Yes, it’s becoming a big part of the way games are funded and sold, but I feel we’ve covered it enough this week. No, I’d like to look at the general way that the gaming landscape seems to be changing in regards to price, rather than focusing on one single aspect.

Comments made by people like EA’s Peter Moore may be worrying for many, looking at consumers as merely a metric than someone who’s playing the game. Of course it would be incredible naive to imagine that much of the industry, at least on the business side of things, hasn’t looked at their sales in this way for many, many years.

[drop]Presumably though, most will be worried about his comments which concern turning a $60 game into an $80 one through DLC, and although his comments were in reference to day one DLC it’s quite easy to apply them with broad strokes to the industry as a whole. The pricing model for games is certainly changing, and it does look like the up front cost of a title isn’t going to be the main thing factor you have to look at when considering the price.

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The important thing to remember, at least in my opinion, is that we don’t seem to be locked into increased prices, they’re not the only option. Whilst they’re certainly one way publishers are experimenting, just look at the exceptional growth of free-to-play recently.

It’s easy to dismiss free-to-play titles as nothing more than little time fillers, games like Farmville or Tiny Tower being prime examples of this. However, our recent week of articles on this method of paying for games showed just how much variety there is in that area right now. Games like Super Monday Night Combat or the upcoming Hawken make it clear that these aren’t just casual iOS or Facebook games that you can sink a few minutes into, free-to-play titles can have the same kind of gameplay and production values as full retail releases.

Many might argue that in the long run the free-to-play model ends up costing gamers more, although it’s over a longer period of time.  It’s easy to see how this can be true, but it really is up to you how much you want to invest in the game. Assuming that the free tier of play isn’t at a severe disadvantage, something that seems key if free-to-play games are going to continue to grow, then it really is up to each player to decide how much they want to put into the game.

[drop2]Take me for example. I’ve played an awful lot of Tiny Tower and I’ve never brought anything in the game at all. My tower might not grow as quickly as those who’ve pumped money into the game (minds out of the gutter please), but to me there’s a weird satisfaction in just waiting for the denizens of my mini sky scrapper to get their act together and build the next floor (although I suppose a few hours is a pretty good turn around on outfitting a new shop).

If anything makes it clear that we’re in a phase of experimentation with regards to price, it’s the Xbox 360 subscription deal. Whether or not you think the deal is a good thing is immaterial really, it’s evident that Microsoft are playing with the way they price their console to see how consumers react.

To be honest I can only see all of this experimentation as a good thing. It may end up with consumers having to pay more, but we may also see a shift in the way we pay for games and consoles. It’s hard to see what the outcome is going to be, although a cynic would say that we’ll just end up paying more. As for me? I’m not sure yet, but I do like seeing the industry try something new.

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16 Comments

  1. I used to play Tiny tower. Never paid a penny for anything on it, but dayum, was I ADDICTED. Thus I deleted it from my phone.
    As for AAA games going free? Only the multi-player ones will likely make it. Either we’re gonna see single-player games go out the window, or they’ll just cost more and more because of exponential development costs. The only way that single-player games could be saved would be through the means of digital distribution, but even there publishers have shown they have no idea on how to price correctly.

  2. Free-to-play is really interesting; I was looking into it for one of my essays. I can’t remember exactly what the stat was, but when Team Fortress 2 went free-to-play, revenue increased by 400% or something ridiculous like that.

  3. On five years every AAA console game will be free, with IAP making up the revenue.

    • The thing is, it depends on the type of game, a narrative-driven game couldn’t possibly have this business model (Unless its episodic, but that changes the type of narrative as well). But with online games I could see this happening.

      • We only have to look at how EA are changing a solitary narrative experience of Dead Space to see how they can leverage more value out it than a single all-in upfront payment.

        Wouldn’t be surprised if Bioshock Infinite’s delay is not caused by something ambitious in the extra revenue for the publisher area

  4. Been absolutely hammering World of Tanks lately, it’s free to play but I’m happy to pay for a premium account so that I can increase my xp+credit rate per battle.
    Wouldn’t like this model with every game though, it’s the exception rather the the rule for me personally.

    • Oh, soon I’ll have my tier 8 King Tiger tank! FEAR ME, RUSSIAN IS’S!!!!!!

  5. With the mention of tiny tower i checked it out…now i cant stop.,,,

    • I got bored of tiny tower quite quickly. Loved Game dev story though

  6. It’s simple really. You know what content you will get when you buy a game for a known price. If you don’t like the deal you’re getting then vote with your wallet and don’t buy the game. As i said, simple.

  7. The £40/$60 price point has been under attack for quite a while, mainly because it’s remained the same for years & years. It’s obvious that through increased development costs it’s going to squeeze margins, then add in the fact that sales have fallen year after year it’s a recipe for disaster.

    Publishers have coped by merging or closing their development studios and making sure their money only gets invested in sure-hit franchises, this has resulted in AAA titles doing better than ever, at the bottom end it appears to boom-time for indie devs too, it’s the titles inbetween indie & AAA that have been squeezed and the studios who make them either no longer exist or have have been streamlined beyond recognition.

    Facing these facts publishers obviously need to raise costs to keep it viable, but how can you raise costs if you’re already selling less & less every year?

    It’s here that we see why games as a service is going to grow & in future may be the only way for big budget games to exist.

    Obviously we’ve seen every publisher except Activision introduce online passes. Call of Duty Elite is incredibly important to stem the reduced sales they’re going to see from here on out. We see EA with reasonably regular DLC drops for Bf3 along with renting servers, Rockstar have reused the same GTA engine to make a couple of expansion for GTAIV and now with Max Payne they have released a season pass which includes all the DLC… Sony have done something similar in the past.

    How many more iterations of games until this evolves into something more, for example CoD Elite merges with the cost of the game or Battlefield offer a subscription which includes the game, the dlc & a rented server… or how about the price of PS+ rising, but including the multiplayer of major franchises like Uc, KZ, GT etc

    If this future happens how will projects like Heavy Rain get off the ground, or will their scope have to shrink to become digital projects (although what’s possible digitally is growing all the time)

  8. Yay, Hawken got a mention! The idea of free to play annoyed me up until I played Microsoft Flight. As a bit of a plane geek, going back over challenges with a zippier plane that cost about £3 totally works for me. Let’s see where it goes with other big titles.

  9. I love the idea of any scale of cost for a game. From freemium to iPhone prices to maybe £50 (or more) for the likes of Skyrim. Let the cost scale with the game (development effort) or whatever works for the consumer and the devs.

    AG2297 has a few friends who play League of Legends. They’ve invested over a grand between them over the last few years. Holy shit! Seriously, freemium (with IAP assuming that means In App Purchase) definitely has a place. The tournament currently being run has a $5,000,000 prize for the winner, I believe.

  10. if you’re just playing for fun, these free to play games can truly be played for free, well most of the ones i’ve tried can anyway.

    though i’m not totally averse to the idea of buying content for these sort of games, it’s just like dlc really.
    i don’t mind paying for good content.

    horse armour or a new paint job for a gun are examples of stuff i wouldn’t buy.

    but i can’t see how something like skyrim could ever be created with a free to play model in mind.

    there’s a reason why i bought skyrim, brand new too.

    • I can see how Skyrim could be made subscription/F2P, easier than many other genres actually.
      You can pay a sub and get new areas & associated missions in return for a sub
      You can have some sort of in game economy, funded by real world money for items & weapons etc

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