The Cost of Gaming: Examining Pricing Strategies for AAA Video Games

The standard video game price has been $60 for more than a decade. So how can the base price of video games remain stagnant as development costs have risen dramatically? Additionally, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, $60 in 2005—when the standard video game price changed from $50 to $60—equates to $75 in 2017.

At first glance, there seems to be an obvious discrepancy in game pricing that would need to be addressed. After all, video game publishers are designed to make money. If the cost of game development has increased while the purchase price has stayed the same, then, logically, they will design ways to recoup their costs and make more money.

As a result, consumers have learned to adjust their expectations when purchasing a video game. The $60 we pay for games today is different than from 10 years ago, when games would be a complete, finished product at that $60 price point. Now, with the $60 purchase, consumers buy a “base game” and are trained to expect DLC and add-on content—for additional costs, of course—after the original purchase.

According to a Los Angeles Times article from 2010, video game publishers are only making $27 for each hard-copy retail game sold, or 45 percent of the total purchase price of $60.

However, digital downloads, DLC and “extra content” provide publishers with an opportunity to increase the amount of revenue they see per game, especially as the direct-to-consumer approach removes some of the costs associated with traditional distribution. And there appears to be even bigger incentives to focus on DLC and extra content. In one such case, publisher EA makes more than twice the revenue on DLC and extra content than they do from digital game downloads alone, which certainly explains why this model is continuing to grow and evolve as publishers experiment with ways to get gamers to pay for additional digital content.

As publishers continue to expand on the DLC-based pricing model and implement other revenue-generating strategies, such as microtransactions, there has been a mixed response from consumers. Worries have grown about what gamers are getting for the initial purchase price point at release, and if publishers are price gouging them for additional content that should be included in a “complete” game.

Comparing Pricing Strategies and Game Releases

If we compare two sets of video games that were recently released, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild  and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, and Star Wars Battlefront II  and Overwatch, we can gain some insights into today’s pricing models and what strategies seem to work with consumers.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, released by Nintendo, and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, released by Bethesda, are both single-player only games that launched at an initial $60 price point. Let’s look at the cost and pricing strategy.

According to How Long to Beat, Breath of the Wild  takes the average player around 45 hours to finish the storyline and around 176 hours to complete everything in the game. Those times make the launch game $1.33 per hour to finish the main story and $.34 per hour to game completion. Zelda also provides 2 DLC packs that are available through an Expansion Pass option, which can be purchased for an additional $20. The DLC adds around 14 hours of gameplay.

By comparison, Wolfenstein 2  takes the average player a little over 10 hours to complete the storyline and around 32 hours to complete everything in game. Those times make the launch game $6 per hour to finish the main story and $1.88 per hour to game completion. Wolfenstein 2 also provides 3 DLC packs that are available through the Freedom Chronicles  Season Pass option, which can be purchased for an additional $25. Bethesda estimates that the Freedom Chronicles  DLC adds 9 hours of gameplay. There is also an option to buy the main game and Freedom Chronicles  DLC as a package, dubbed Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus  Deluxe Edition, which can be purchased for $80.

Both of these games are highly ranked and viewed favorably by the gaming community if we go off their Metascores. Breath of the Wild  has a Metascore rating of 97, which is described as “universal acclaim,” and Wolfenstein 2  has a Metascore rating of 86, which is described as “generally favorable.”  

In both these cases, they use similar pricing strategies that focus on a complete base game with optional DLC that can add to the game’s content and experience if consumers wish to purchase it. While each game’s value is subjective, it does appear that a game like Zelda provides the most content and bang-for-your-buck looking at both the base game and DLC content. And perhaps that’s reflected, in part, by Breath of the Wild’s  high sales at over 4.5 millions games to date.

Overwatch and Star Wars Battlefront II

Overwatch, released by Blizzard, and Star Wars Battlefront II, released by EA, which are both competitive multiplayer games, launched their games at $40 and $60, respectively. Let’s look at the cost and pricing strategy.

Overwatch launched with an upfront cost of $40 on PC and $60 on consoles, with all heroes unlocked and all new heroes available for free. Part of their pricing strategy, however, included the addition of microtransactions, which was implemented in the form of “loot boxes.”

Overwatch loot boxes are purely cosmetic or for player customization. Blizzard states that “Each Loot Box contains four items—so you could get anything from Skins, Emotes, Victory Poses, or Voice Lines, to Sprays, Highlight intros, or credits you can use to acquire many customization options!”

If you are a dedicated Genji or D. Va main, you can acquire items that will customize that character more to your liking. That in-game hero will be able to represent an identity that you want to put forth into the Overwatch ether. The single most important factor to consider with Overwatch is that loot box content does not affect gameplay in any way.

You can buy Overwatch loot boxes at five price points ranging from $1.99 for two loot boxes all the way up to $39.99 for fifty loot boxes. Of course, you never know what those loot boxes will contain with their range of possibilities. Whether or not loot box content is essentially a form of gambling is another issue entirely, but based on Overwatch’s success, this form of microtransactions seems to be well-received by consumers.

Star Wars Battlefront II  launched with a base game of $60 and the option to purchase the Deluxe Edition for $80. The Deluxe Edition offers a number of bonuses, which include upgraded versions of all 4 trooper classes, 4 “epic ability upgrades” for each class, exclusive outfits, instant access to Rey’s Millenium Falcon, and instant access to six hero and starfighter epic Star Cards. EA also implemented microstransactions in the form of “crystals” that allowed players to unlock characters and loot crates through their purchase.

Those additional characters could be unlocked through playtime too. However, according to TheHotterPotato, a Reddit user, the original time required to unlock certain heroes would be around 40 hours of gameplay. So, even after purchasing the Deluxe Edition Star Wars Battlefront II game, which includes a number of gameplay performance upgrades and unlocks, you must also  play for a set period of time before you can unlock one hero. To add insult to injury, which Reddit user MBMMaverick pointed out, it would cost another $80 to unlock Darth Vader as a playable character using real-world dollars through microtransactions.

On Reddit, the EA Community Team stated that “The intent [of microtransactions] is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.” That comment is Reddit’s most downvoted in history, by a wide margin.

The overall backlash at launch was immense, and EA temporarily suspended microtransactions from Star Wars Battlefront II due to the consumer response. Osak Gabrielson, General Manager at DICE (the developer of Star Wars Battlefront II) said on EA’s website that “The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date, only after we’ve made changes to the game.” EA also responded by reducing the time required to unlock a hero to 10 hours instead of 40 if the rewards for credits to unlock those heroes stayed the same.

As a business, EA can and did price the content in the game to any amount they desire. However, the market spoke as “sales have dropped by nearly two-thirds” compared to the original Star Wars Battlefront released in 2015, according to VGChartz.

Video Game Pricing and Takeaways

As publishers continue to experiment with pricing models, it will be up to the consumer to dictate what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of purchase price and content.

For games like Breath of the Wild and Wolfenstein 2, I think that additional DLC to expand your gaming experience is fine so long as you receive a complete base game for the original purchase price. This gives you the option to extend your gameplay experience without impacting the base game and experience that you initially purchased.

Many contemporary games have some form of microtransactions. Unfortunately, this is the nature of AAA gaming today. But do characters count as game content? I say they do. If I’m buying a game, I want the ability to unlock all content within reason or have all content unlocked from the start, especially if the game has an upfront cost.  

I don’t personally mind cosmetic-only loot boxes. And they aren’t that bad, necessarily. However, I would absolutely prefer to have all content unlockable with earned in-game currency. At the same time, I understand the business logic behind loot boxes, considering they’ve proven to be a successful revenue-generating source in many games.

I do have a problem when loot boxes become part of the progression of a game and directly impact the minute-to-minute gameplay. In no way shape or form is it acceptable to give some players a distinct advantage simply because they have—or are willing to spend—more money.

While the connection may be tenuous and more nuanced, I feel like loot boxes are a result of the increasing cost of game development and the stagnant cost of game prices. However, I would prefer to have more publishers choose different price points that reflect the quality and content of their games. I don’t want all games to be priced at $60 and then have to buy more content later. I want complete games at a variety of price points, even if those games release at a price higher than $60 in order to include all of the game’s content at launch.

If I’m given a choice, I’d rather spend more for games and do away with loot boxes altogether.

In the meantime, it is up to us—the consumer—to dictate what we consider to be fair value for our money. The only way to send a message is through our purchasing power.

BattlefrontII on store shelves black friday

Star Wars Battlefront II on Store Shelves During Black Friday

Topics:  

3 followers

I'm a senior English Writing Major at Montana State University. I've often wondered what the requirements are for calling yourself a writer. I'm not sure I have an answer to that, yet. But, writing is the goal. I write about everything. However, much of my free time is spent playing and writing about video games. If you see me pop up on Mindfray, I'll likely be talking about video games and the stories behind them.

Want to start sharing your mind and have your voice heard?

Join our community of awesome contributing writers and start publishing now.

LEARN MORE


ENGAGE IN THE CONVERSATION

The Cost of Gaming: Examining Pricing Strategies for AAA Video Games

The standard video game price has been $60 for more than a decade. So how can the base price of video games remain stagnant as development costs have risen dramatically? Additionally, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, $60 in 2005—when the standard video game price changed from $50 to $60—equates to $75 in 2017.

At first glance, there seems to be an obvious discrepancy in game pricing that would need to be addressed. After all, video game publishers are designed to make money. If the cost of game development has increased while the purchase price has stayed the same, then, logically, they will design ways to recoup their costs and make more money.

As a result, consumers have learned to adjust their expectations when purchasing a video game. The $60 we pay for games today is different than from 10 years ago, when games would be a complete, finished product at that $60 price point. Now, with the $60 purchase, consumers buy a “base game” and are trained to expect DLC and add-on content—for additional costs, of course—after the original purchase.

According to a Los Angeles Times article from 2010, video game publishers are only making $27 for each hard-copy retail game sold, or 45 percent of the total purchase price of $60.

However, digital downloads, DLC and “extra content” provide publishers with an opportunity to increase the amount of revenue they see per game, especially as the direct-to-consumer approach removes some of the costs associated with traditional distribution. And there appears to be even bigger incentives to focus on DLC and extra content. In one such case, publisher EA makes more than twice the revenue on DLC and extra content than they do from digital game downloads alone, which certainly explains why this model is continuing to grow and evolve as publishers experiment with ways to get gamers to pay for additional digital content.

As publishers continue to expand on the DLC-based pricing model and implement other revenue-generating strategies, such as microtransactions, there has been a mixed response from consumers. Worries have grown about what gamers are getting for the initial purchase price point at release, and if publishers are price gouging them for additional content that should be included in a “complete” game.

Comparing Pricing Strategies and Game Releases

If we compare two sets of video games that were recently released, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild  and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, and Star Wars Battlefront II  and Overwatch, we can gain some insights into today’s pricing models and what strategies seem to work with consumers.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, released by Nintendo, and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, released by Bethesda, are both single-player only games that launched at an initial $60 price point. Let’s look at the cost and pricing strategy.

According to How Long to Beat, Breath of the Wild  takes the average player around 45 hours to finish the storyline and around 176 hours to complete everything in the game. Those times make the launch game $1.33 per hour to finish the main story and $.34 per hour to game completion. Zelda also provides 2 DLC packs that are available through an Expansion Pass option, which can be purchased for an additional $20. The DLC adds around 14 hours of gameplay.

By comparison, Wolfenstein 2  takes the average player a little over 10 hours to complete the storyline and around 32 hours to complete everything in game. Those times make the launch game $6 per hour to finish the main story and $1.88 per hour to game completion. Wolfenstein 2 also provides 3 DLC packs that are available through the Freedom Chronicles  Season Pass option, which can be purchased for an additional $25. Bethesda estimates that the Freedom Chronicles  DLC adds 9 hours of gameplay. There is also an option to buy the main game and Freedom Chronicles  DLC as a package, dubbed Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus  Deluxe Edition, which can be purchased for $80.

Both of these games are highly ranked and viewed favorably by the gaming community if we go off their Metascores. Breath of the Wild  has a Metascore rating of 97, which is described as “universal acclaim,” and Wolfenstein 2  has a Metascore rating of 86, which is described as “generally favorable.”  

In both these cases, they use similar pricing strategies that focus on a complete base game with optional DLC that can add to the game’s content and experience if consumers wish to purchase it. While each game’s value is subjective, it does appear that a game like Zelda provides the most content and bang-for-your-buck looking at both the base game and DLC content. And perhaps that’s reflected, in part, by Breath of the Wild’s  high sales at over 4.5 millions games to date.

Overwatch and Star Wars Battlefront II

Overwatch, released by Blizzard, and Star Wars Battlefront II, released by EA, which are both competitive multiplayer games, launched their games at $40 and $60, respectively. Let’s look at the cost and pricing strategy.

Overwatch launched with an upfront cost of $40 on PC and $60 on consoles, with all heroes unlocked and all new heroes available for free. Part of their pricing strategy, however, included the addition of microtransactions, which was implemented in the form of “loot boxes.”

Overwatch loot boxes are purely cosmetic or for player customization. Blizzard states that “Each Loot Box contains four items—so you could get anything from Skins, Emotes, Victory Poses, or Voice Lines, to Sprays, Highlight intros, or credits you can use to acquire many customization options!”

If you are a dedicated Genji or D. Va main, you can acquire items that will customize that character more to your liking. That in-game hero will be able to represent an identity that you want to put forth into the Overwatch ether. The single most important factor to consider with Overwatch is that loot box content does not affect gameplay in any way.

You can buy Overwatch loot boxes at five price points ranging from $1.99 for two loot boxes all the way up to $39.99 for fifty loot boxes. Of course, you never know what those loot boxes will contain with their range of possibilities. Whether or not loot box content is essentially a form of gambling is another issue entirely, but based on Overwatch’s success, this form of microtransactions seems to be well-received by consumers.

Star Wars Battlefront II  launched with a base game of $60 and the option to purchase the Deluxe Edition for $80. The Deluxe Edition offers a number of bonuses, which include upgraded versions of all 4 trooper classes, 4 “epic ability upgrades” for each class, exclusive outfits, instant access to Rey’s Millenium Falcon, and instant access to six hero and starfighter epic Star Cards. EA also implemented microstransactions in the form of “crystals” that allowed players to unlock characters and loot crates through their purchase.

Those additional characters could be unlocked through playtime too. However, according to TheHotterPotato, a Reddit user, the original time required to unlock certain heroes would be around 40 hours of gameplay. So, even after purchasing the Deluxe Edition Star Wars Battlefront II game, which includes a number of gameplay performance upgrades and unlocks, you must also  play for a set period of time before you can unlock one hero. To add insult to injury, which Reddit user MBMMaverick pointed out, it would cost another $80 to unlock Darth Vader as a playable character using real-world dollars through microtransactions.

On Reddit, the EA Community Team stated that “The intent [of microtransactions] is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.” That comment is Reddit’s most downvoted in history, by a wide margin.

The overall backlash at launch was immense, and EA temporarily suspended microtransactions from Star Wars Battlefront II due to the consumer response. Osak Gabrielson, General Manager at DICE (the developer of Star Wars Battlefront II) said on EA’s website that “The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date, only after we’ve made changes to the game.” EA also responded by reducing the time required to unlock a hero to 10 hours instead of 40 if the rewards for credits to unlock those heroes stayed the same.

As a business, EA can and did price the content in the game to any amount they desire. However, the market spoke as “sales have dropped by nearly two-thirds” compared to the original Star Wars Battlefront released in 2015, according to VGChartz.

Video Game Pricing and Takeaways

As publishers continue to experiment with pricing models, it will be up to the consumer to dictate what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of purchase price and content.

For games like Breath of the Wild and Wolfenstein 2, I think that additional DLC to expand your gaming experience is fine so long as you receive a complete base game for the original purchase price. This gives you the option to extend your gameplay experience without impacting the base game and experience that you initially purchased.

Many contemporary games have some form of microtransactions. Unfortunately, this is the nature of AAA gaming today. But do characters count as game content? I say they do. If I’m buying a game, I want the ability to unlock all content within reason or have all content unlocked from the start, especially if the game has an upfront cost.  

I don’t personally mind cosmetic-only loot boxes. And they aren’t that bad, necessarily. However, I would absolutely prefer to have all content unlockable with earned in-game currency. At the same time, I understand the business logic behind loot boxes, considering they’ve proven to be a successful revenue-generating source in many games.

I do have a problem when loot boxes become part of the progression of a game and directly impact the minute-to-minute gameplay. In no way shape or form is it acceptable to give some players a distinct advantage simply because they have—or are willing to spend—more money.

While the connection may be tenuous and more nuanced, I feel like loot boxes are a result of the increasing cost of game development and the stagnant cost of game prices. However, I would prefer to have more publishers choose different price points that reflect the quality and content of their games. I don’t want all games to be priced at $60 and then have to buy more content later. I want complete games at a variety of price points, even if those games release at a price higher than $60 in order to include all of the game’s content at launch.

If I’m given a choice, I’d rather spend more for games and do away with loot boxes altogether.

In the meantime, it is up to us—the consumer—to dictate what we consider to be fair value for our money. The only way to send a message is through our purchasing power.

BattlefrontII on store shelves black friday

Star Wars Battlefront II on Store Shelves During Black Friday

Scroll to top

Follow Us on Facebook - Stay Engaged!

Send this to a friend