“The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

What is a ‘good’ game worth exactly in these days where AAA MMOs embrace the F2P model, where Steam offers regular deep discount sales, where mobile apps tend to cost under a dollar each, and where collectors editions and ‘pre-purchase’ deals are climbing in price?

The economist would say that goods are worth whatever people are willing to pay, but as consumers we each have to arrive at  some concept of ‘a fair price’ to come to that decision. Frex, why did I think paying £50 for a pre-purchase of GW2 was unreasonable, where lots of other people thought it was fine? Which games would I buy on release, even if they did cost more than similar games in the past?

So when EA’s chap in charge of Origin spoke out against deep discount sales a couple of weeks ago, on the grounds that ‘they cheapen intellectual property’, it’s worth a pause to think about what he meant. Economists love increasing discounts because of the idea that every reduction opens up a new tier of customers who would want the product at the new price but wouldn’t have been prepared to pay more. And if everyone knows that the sales/ reductions will be coming, people just have to decide how much they’d be willing to pay and how long they’d be willing to wait and buy accordingly. It’s all about expectations. If it wasn’t guaranteed that sales would  happen then more people might pay higher prices, on the grounds that they’d rather have the game than not, and waiting might not result in a price drop. You see this sometimes with Blizzard games, since they have a reputation for not offering discounts for a long time after release. Although I think they will have lost some goodwill from the WoW annual pass, especially if the release date for MoP drifts towards the end of the year.

Anyhow, EA evidently had some internal differences on the topic since they’ll be offering deep discounts on games on Origin. That’s … fairly contradictory.

Have your ideas on ‘a fair price’ for games changed over the past few years?

But this has all made me wonder how I decide on what is a fair price for games I buy.

  • I didn’t have any issues paying full price and a full sub for SWTOR (I’m still enjoying it, for the record, and feel that I’m getting my money worth), but when EA start talking about F2P for SWTOR, my first reaction is to rethink my plans to take out another 6 month sub – what’s the point if they might experiment with cheaper options? (That’s illogical btw since I can’t imagine it’d happen within 6 months anyway – but it makes you think.)
  • For an MMO I am mildly interested in but not to the point of getting in on release, knowing that F2P could be a future option is more likely to make me wait and see.
  • But I’m still not fond of F2P models for MMOs, I don’t think I would want to make my ‘main’ MMO a F2P one.
  • Steam sales have made me think “wait 6 months or so until it’s cheap in a sale” on some games which I might have otherwise picked up sooner. Or I might not, but knowing the sale will come does affect the decision.
  • I do also have a few games picked up cheaply in Steam sales that I haven’t really played yet, so perhaps not THAT good value.
  • The humble indie bundles also have to make anyone think hard about buying indie games, if price is your only criteria, because some of the strongest indie games have ended up in these cheap bundles.
  • I don’t like it when full box price creeps above £40 for new releases, that makes me far more likely to look round for a deal or wait for a sale.
  • And increasingly, the amount of play I get out of a game isn’t strongly related to how much I paid. With sub games that I enjoy, the link is actually quite close though.

So – have your ideas on fair pricing changed?

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26 thoughts on ““The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

  1. I’ve found myself more willing to wait on items that I’m only marginally interested in. Thanks to wishlists, context-sensitive ads and price alerts, the publisher does have a way of reminding me of the product. But even if time passes and they offer no discounts, I may still buy the product at the proverbial sticker price if I don’t have anything better to spend my money/attention span on.

  2. My perception of what “a fair price” changed when download became the prevalent method of distribution and the purchase price didn’t change a bit, despite the considerably lower cost of distribution.

  3. Very rarely will I buy a game when it comes out anymore – even without steam you can find many of the console games in the ‘dust bin’ for 50% or more off the MSP – sometimes even less than 3 months after release.

    I will admit being to lazy to look for it – but I recall a dev saying within the last six months that they consider the game to be ‘sold out’ within a month of release – meaning they don’t expect many new sales after that time because of ‘used’ sales.

    There is another reason however – DLC. I hate being nickle and dimed for content – and DLC for the most part has disgusted me. I wouldn’t mind so much if it was cheap cosmetic options – but some games (mass effect… Oblivion…) have chunks of game I don’t consider to be value for the dollar for what they charge – yet I consider them to be parts of the game that make the game feel incomplete without.

    So for games like that I wait for the inevitable ‘game of the year’ package – with all the DLC included. Then I wait for that to go on sale.

    I’m very behind on some series waiting for these options – however once you get to a certain point you can pretty much play ‘new’ stuff constantly on the cheap :)

    I’ll also point out – when I pay 7 bucks for a copy of Dungeon Siege 3 for the xbox – (that was shipped btw) – I don’t feel ripped off when I play it for less than 2 hours and find it to be crap. Yes I still hate getting game turds – but it’s much less than had I paid the 60 retail they wanted at release.

    • Good point on the DLC. At the moment, for the price of a typical piece of DLC I could buy a full game in the sales that was several months old which would have a lot more play value. So you have to either really want that DLC or really get a lot of play out of it to make it worth the cost. Other than map packs for PvP games (which do offer a lot of replayability) I wonder how well DLC actually sells.

      Maybe there are enough fans out there to make it worthwhile.

  4. Apart from MMO/Subscription style games, I have to admit the whole concept of discount titles is essential to my current playstyle, mostly because it can be months if not years before I have time to play a title. In the past I would buy used copies of games under those circumstances, but with that becoming less tenable Steam sales tend to be when I grab these titles. As a bonus, this tends to put money in the pockets of the game developers, something that is not true of the used games market.

    • I agree 100% about the value of playing used games. I’ll get $60 used games for $15 and older titles for even less. Sometimes when I see a new game come out and it is the second or third in the series, I go get the first one and can get it for less than half of the original price.

  5. I agree 100% with The Economist. Everything is worth exactly what you are prepared to pay for it, no more and no less. The trick comes in knowing what you are buying.

    When it comes to MMOs, buying a game isn’t just buying a game. It’s buying a game as it exists in a given time-frame. An MMO is not like an offline game, or indeed like a refrigerator or a novel. An MMO can only be experienced “as is” at the time you buy it. If you wait until the price drops, what you will buy will be a different product. And, more importantly, a different experience.

    With MMOs, though, there isn’t universal agreement about whether that experience is likely to improve or degrade over time, only that it will change. I personally find that I get the maximum enjoyment from most MMOs either in beta or in the first few weeks after launch. I also get enhanced and continuing enjoyment from MMOs I go on playing for longer than that because of the comparisons between “then” and “now” that I am able to make across a continuum.

    Consequently, for me there is no significant benefit from a lower price if that price only becomes available at a later time. I am buying a degraded, incomplete product at that stage because I don’t get to experience some of the aspects of the MMO that most interest me – namely the launch and immediate post-launch turmoil. For other buyers, for whom polish and stability have more appeal, it might be well worth waiting since they’d get a product that they would consider to be of better quality and at a lower price.

    It all comes down to knowing what you are buying. Get that nailed and you should be satisfied with every purchase you ever make, whatever price it may drop to later.

    • Hmm, not sure I agree fully with the Economist articles. Those kinds of statements are always trying to say “you get what you deserve”, which is what’s really being asked when someone says “did I pay a fair price.” Economist is saying “yes, it is worth exactly what you fork over” but this obviously fails to account for the fact that companies know everything about what they’re selling and consumers do not. This means they can constantly fix prices against them. Our current cellular phone infrastructure/model in America speaks loudly and clearly to this. Consumers do not set prices, companies do. And if what Economist says is true, then it would be consumers who set prices.

      It’s true that once a company starts failing and bills start going unpaid, they’ll lower prices to get the product out of the door. But then there’s the Blizzards, the oh too recent example, that shows the price of faith. Customers of Diablo 2 had an expectation of Diablo 3 and so they bought the game in the millions, paying hundreds of dollars for collector’s sets. For those in Korea at least, the game was NOT worth the money they paid. Just ask the cyber cafes.

      So is a product worth what a person is willing to pay? In some cases, yes, but certainly not everytime. It’s probably unusual for a customer to play exactly what a product is *worth*.

  6. I think that software companies –and MMO’s especially– shoot themselves in the foot long term by not discounting their earlier products. Some companies –Blizz, for example– have a big enough subscriber base with WoW that they feel they can get away with their pricing scheme, but large sub bases merely mask the problem. People crunching the numbers will look at the cost of getting up to speed on WoW and decide to go somewhere else with their dollars instead, somewhere cheaper.

    F2P, if done right, can open up portions of an MMO to a wide variety of players who didn’t want to or were unable to pay the initial fee and sub. It really depends on how well the software company designs their F2P areas; if people think the F2P experience is really just a shill for buying stuff and you don’t get a chance to do anything beyond a few basic areas (such as LEGO Universe and Wizard101), then the players will feel cheated.

  7. I used to not really even think about the $60 I spent on a game, because every game was going for $60 and I pretty much accepted that. Sure it was expensive and it still caused me to have to wait years before I could afford a game, but I don’t remember questioning it the way I do now. Cheap games have allowed me to buy more of them. EA ought to be grateful for this :) I don’t see how this has cheapened IPs.

    The F2P scenario you painted is interesting, but I think it does not conclude the way illustrated here. A player who is paying a subscription to a game now, who learns the game will go F2P soon and starts questioning the value of their subscription is correct to do so. No rational person would pay for something now which would be free in the near future. This is exactly why our economy doesn’t function as planned, because it counts on “rational” behavior, which is non-existent in our economy. BTW I’m not calling you irrational. I’m just pointing out the problem with the article in Economist when it says consumers pay what something is worth (which is the obvious implication they’re trying to make without saying it). I’m also pointing out that fire sales don’t cheapen intellectual property. It’s absurd for developers to say stuff like this.

    Indie studios bang and boom daily on practically no budget and many who manage to sell their games don’t charge $60. Are Indies cheapening their own product? Or are they perhaps pricing based on more realistic expectations? I think it’s the latter.

    The EAs of the world want to continue $60 because they want to spend millions on a “blockbuster” to reap millions in sales. They’re not interested in small profits. That’s hardly something to call a problem when considering Indies.

  8. Hardware requirements play a part for me. I never have a computer able to play the newest games, so I’m always buying older ones. If I could run the newest Crysis or whatever, I might buy it…might.

    I paid 60 dollars (Google tells me this is ~38 pounds) for D3, and I would say I’ve already gotten my money’s worth on it. But this is generally true of Blizzard games (excepting Starcraft, which I never liked). Even Cataclysm, which I played for a grand total of about 3 months, has been worth the 100 or so dollars I paid over that period. I’m glad I didn’t buy the annual pass though.

    However, I’m not sure I will buy MoP. What irks me here is that I’m charged both a subscription fee and a box fee. It’s not unaffordable by any means, just annoying. Pick one, Blizzard…charging 40 dollars for the privilege of paying another 15 per month seems rather greedy even to me, who has a nostalgic fondness for Blizzard going back to Warcraft 1.

    Steam sales play a part for me as well…I don’t think I will ever buy anything off of Steam at full price. Heck, they might as well just not even offer games at full price.

  9. I guess it depends on the game and what is currently out. I just picked up Arkham City on sale, and still haven’t purchased Diablo.

    I am a bit concerned that the F2P model will turn my beloved SWTOR into a pay to win hot mess.

    The new AC3, and GW2 can just take my money.

  10. Divide potential purchases into 3 categories: somewhat fun, fun, very fun.

    Most everything falls into the middle category, and for those I will pay $2 per hour of entertainment it offers me. A game like skyrim that offers perhaps 40-60 hours before I get bored with it, but that sells for less than $80, I’ll buy without a doubt.

    For the very fun stuff, it’s trickier. I try not to go above $20 per hour of entertainment. So going to the theater for $25 and seeing an hour and half film is good value, but if the movie costs $45, it would not be worth it.

    For the somewhat fun stuff, maybe 50-75 cents an hour. I’d pay $2 for a quirky little three hour game. I wouldn’t pay $5.

    Mmo’s are a bit tricky in that they start out fun and then that fades with time. I can’t think of a single mmo I’ve played in the past few years that wasn’t worth the initial cost for the first couple of months. Very few have had enough staying power to be worth the continued subscription after 6 months.

      • I was wondering the same thing when I read @michael’s reply. These are impossible standards which can *only* serve to make the consumer feel good about an individual purchase. It doesn’t speak to the value of the game itself at all, especially not in terms of fun.

      • This is true, you have to guess. Ideally there’d be some system that would allow you to pay after the fact, in proportion to the amount of enjoyment actually experienced. But that’s not feasible at this time. When you buy a game, you aren’t buying it because you value having ownership of a game, you value it for the fun and enjoyment you hope it’ll give you.

        And you’re not interpreting the economist correctly, for this situation. For an item with effectively infinite supply, like a copy of a game distributed digitally without cost, items are priced to maximize revenue. For example, if you can sell a game to x people at $40, and to 2.5x people at $20, then you’ll price the game at $20, to make more money. If you can only sell to 1.8x people at $20, then it makes more sense to sell at $40. The value of the game itself doesn’t change.

        Of course, everyone who actually does buy the game believes/hopes that the game is worth more than what they’re paying. Otherwise, they would not buy it.

  11. The bundles have certainly made me reconsider buying indie games. Too often they come along and I already own all, or all but one of the games. Now I put indie games I want on a year-long wait, and have saved myself over $100 for doing so.

  12. I used to never pay full price for games, always waited and bought everything when it hit $20 or less.

    Of the four games I’ve bought at full price fairly recently (Skyrim, Guild Wars 2, Warlock Master of the Arcane, and Towns) I’ve been very happy with all of them, even though GW2 is still in beta, Towns is in alpha, and frankly Warlock should still be considered late beta. Same could be said of initial Skyrim release too, which was a bit buggy.

    I wasn’t very pleased with having to pre-purchase GW2 in order to check out the beta, but it is actually a better game in its current state than many others are after release + patches. Towns was discounted a few dollars, but I paid more than double what it cost in some indie bundle (with other games!), that I didn’t know about until later. Having a blast with it so far, more than most AAA games and am happy to send some extra money to the devs.

    I still buy most games only during 75% off sales, but most of those games I would never buy at anything close to their original prices no matter what. So I don’t think Steam/GoG/GG sales have really changed my buying habits other than I’ve bought stuff through them that would have been items I searched for in the bargain bin (stores or Amazon.com) long after release. Steam, GoG.com, and GamersGate just make it more convenient to get them long after they are gone from stores. I did buy both Witcher games (still not played yet) at mid-range discounts, partly to support CD Projekt RED/GoG.com and partly because I think I’ll really enjoy them. I would have bought Witcher 2 at full price from GoG.com, but was holding off until I actually played the first game some, but then picked it up at half price during a sale anyway.

  13. Pingback: Whatever happened to Lara Croft? « Welcome to Spinksville!

  14. My ideas on fair pricing have changed dramatically, but not necessarily to the breaking point where I say “nope, not paying that”. If it’s a game I want to play, I’ll generally buy it and then decide afterwards whether or not it was worth the money. At this point in time, I’d like to go on record as saying that video games are comparatively dirt cheap with regards to general inflation. I had to pay £30 and upwards for games such as Sonic the Hedgehog or Wonderboy 3 on the Sega Megadrive, and that was literally decades ago.

    Probably my favourite game in history, the Ocarina of Time, cost me £35. Of course it’s worth noting that when I say “cost me” I really mean “cost mum”.

    Looking at inflation over the last 20 years, which is what I’m referencing, the price of games (and entertainment in general) really hasn’t increased. In fact, if we line it up directly with inflation, games have dropped dramatically in price. The problem isn’t electronic media which is obviously cheap to produce, nor is it the intellectual property which EA want to develop and protect.

    It’s how we view one game against another and subjectively assess its comparative value.

    For crying out loud, I completed Mickey Mouse’s Castle of Illusion on the first day I played it, yet it cost (again) £30. If I compare that to what I paid for Diablo 3, then I can’t possibly complain about the £45 that took. Yet, in the current genesis of games, I think Diablo 3 is hideously overpriced and gave me nowhere near my money’s worth.

    I suppose it depends on what you’re comparing prices to, and why.

  15. I’m not sure if this is being overly semantinugget about it but…

    …perhaps a better way to put it is, a good market price is the price people are *happy* to pay for something?

    It’s not the same as *willingness*. In Jade Dynasty, I was *willing* to pay for a flying mount in order to progress, because you *have* to, and I wanted to see more of the world. So I was willing. But was I happy? Hell NO! I had an inordinate resentment of that $20 I perceived as being ‘forced’ to pay, even though I was ‘willing’. I mean I must have been willing, since I paid it, no? XD

    If I felt anywhere as close to the OOooOoH SHINY initial feeling that Guild Wars gave me, I’d be *happy* to have pre-purchased. Instead, unlike what’s floating around the general MMOSphere and blogosphere, I’m bitterly, bitterly disappointed. If I could cancel the pre-purchase, I would – but I can’t, I bought it from ArenaNet.

    So perhaps the difficulty is that people put different prices on happiness vs willingness, and neither may be enough for the creators to break even on. (Thinking of indies here.)

    • Also – and maybe I’m being overly soft and squishy and rainbow carebear here – I believe that in most cases, if people are dealing with another human being, or an entity they can humanise (e.g. a small company) – if that entity makes them happy in some way, people want to give the happies back.

      They want the things they like to prosper.

      There’s this amazing family-owned restaurant 5 minutes walk from my apartments. She has the best calamari I have ever eaten, and wonderful chilli crab, and her food is so *cheap*. So er yeah, on account of it being so ridiculously cheap – sure Auntie, you ask this price, I pay this price.

      But I’d be more than happy to pay at least 50% more of her current asking price.

      Make it 100% more and I’d move from ‘happy’ to ‘willing if I had a reason such as giving a friend a treat’.

      Maybe nugget is naive – but somehow I feel that in the long run… happy is more money than willing.

      • I … have a strong suspicion that particularly with pre-purchase deals and F2P, they make more money on impulse purchases than on building long term relationships with customers. (I’m absolutely sure that the Blizzard annual pass did, I’ve seen a lot of players musing in retrospect that it wasn’t a great buy for them, and that’s quite a lot of money to throw on an impulse.) They don’t really care so much about the long run.

        Local restaurants are a different sort of business. Yours sounds great. We have a little pizza place near here which is run by the owner and family and we go there almost once a week or so, and the guy knows what we like and gives us a free glass of amaretto with the bill. I don’t even like amaretto (but obv will drink it if its free :) )but I do like the feeling of being a regular.

        Sorry you weren’t having a fun time with GW2, it could still change quite a bit before launch though.

      • @Spinks

        Yah.. I agree that restaurants are different animals. XD

        That being said, it wasn’t impulse buy for me with GW2. I believed in Anet, and that’s why I made the purchase. I’m afraid that I no longer do. :( I don’t feel cheated, I just feel disappointed and betrayed. (loldrama)

        I know the response has been almost overwhelmingly positive, but for me, with GW2, Anet took out or changed near every single feature I *adored* when it came to GW. So much so that it’s unrecognisable to me. And that’s where the unhappehs are coming from.

        If I came to the game fresh, I’m sure I’d not mind it. Like oh look, another new toy. How kyoot. *Twiddle with it for a while*

        But right now, I feel like I was dating Maggie Q and she went, ‘Imma go make myself even hawtter and moar uber!’

        …and she came back as Pam Anderson.

        (Also, I wonder why I see all computer games as women. I always have. O.o In fact, I uh, review them as… women. Looool. Yes yes, I know it’s not at all PC or enlightened or… :( Don’t hate meee!)

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