When pre-ordering games, my wallet audibly groans. “What do you need £500 worth of games for?!” It yells as I hit the ‘Checkout’ button. “I remember when you could’ve bought these games for 50p and they’d thank you for the pleasure!” However, our memory isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Yes, the number indicating price has gone up, that’s undeniable. It was only a few years ago that the RRP of a new game was £39.99. Now, £49.99 is the norm, though some games (not mentioning any names, Activision) demand huge amounts, comparatively. But, that’s not representative of the true cost or value. Gaming has never been cheaper and here’s why:
Money has a different value to the number on it. A megre sum today (say £10) would be a months wage. Prices inflate, a currency depreciates, and old people complain that petrol isn’t 30p a litre any more. £10 in 1900 is worth the same as over £1000 today. Let’s take a look at some adjusted prices from my favourite childhood games console: the Sega Mega Drive. NB: this is an American catalogue. The average RRP of a game in America is $60 – $70. This advert was for Electronics Boutique and is from 1993. By this point the Mega Drive (Genesis in America) had been around for four years.
Can you imagine playing nearly $100 for a baseball game? No, me neither.
“Some N64 games retailed for as high as $80, but it was also the high end of a 60 to 80 dollar range,” Hal Haplin, president of the Entertainment Consumer Association (ECA), told Ars. “Retailers had more flexibility with pricing back then…they’ve consistently maintained that the Suggested Retail Price was/is just a guide. Adjusted for inflation, we’re generally paying less now than we have historically.”
Why were games so expensive back then? Physical media.
The cost of digital storage has dropped drastically in the last 20 years. The price of a game used to be tied into how much memory it required as the chips were expensive. If you see old ads where one game is much more than the games around it, the reason is either because it’s a big-name new release or it required a large amounts of memory. Now, you can buy a 16GB microSD for less than dinner.
Bang Per Back
Thanks to the introduction of a saves feature, games have been steadily getting longer. An FPS is considered short if it’s less than eight hours long. Imagine playing the original Sonic for eight hours in a single run through. Not going to happen, especially since you were limited to ten minutes per level. With the increasing size of media and bandwidth, developers can tell more and more epic stories for negligible cost.
Consider this chart from Games Theory:
There’s a clear theme running throughout: video games provide a fantastic return for your cash. Compare this to Sonic.
A single run of Sonic takes around three hours, though can be done in far less. As the advert shows, Sonic cost $54.99 in ’91. In 2010, it would have cost $86.90. This works out to be just under $30 an hour (28.97 $/hr). If you play a full retail game through today (roughly eight hours), you’re only paying $7.50 an hour. That’s nearly a quarter of the $/hr of Sonic. This doesn’t include the ever-growing multiplayer market.
The Full Picture?
Of course, this isn’t the whole truth. Developers have been finding new ways of separating you from your hard earned cash. With extra DLC, overpriced limited editions, and shelves of merchandise, the ‘universe’ of a game has become an effective way to procure profits. For example, the average Call of Duty: Black Ops had spent an extra $16 on downloads by the beginning of September 2011.
Still, these are optional extras rather than the main event. Games themselves have benefited from the boom of media storage, inflation, and extended play-time. It’s a fine time to be a gamer.