“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?

[LOTRO] Expansion pricing, and when points get devalued

Turbine had previously announced the pre-release package for Rise of Isengard, which costs $30 for the expansion zones (including raid and dungeons), some pretty cosmetic gear/ mounts, and 25% xp bonus for all characters on your account. Sounds like a reasonable deal for an expansion, and the xp bonus is a nice perk for people with lots of alts.

Yesterday they also released the details for the expansion pricing if you prefer to buy it with Turbine points, and the forums went wild. The price is points is significantly higher than the price if you buy the pre-order in cash. And not only is the price for the expansion higher, you have to pay extra in points for the raid and again for the dungeons.

Note: One of the vaunted advantages of F2P was only having to pay for the content that you wanted. This advantage does not feel so exciting when it’s a) cheaper to pay cash for the entire bundle including the part you didn’t want and b) the price of the basic content has risen so high that you’re paying more for the part you do want anyway.

Now, it obviously makes sense from Turbine’s point of view to devalue points in favour of cash whenever they get the chance. This being the case, anyone who stocked up on turbine points when they were on special deal with the aim of using them to buy the expansion has lost out here. Player vs Developer discusses the expansion pricing in more detail. As PvD comments, even at the best deal possible, this would still be more expensive than paying cash for the preorder.

(Although if you aren’t in a hurry for the content, it’s bound to be on sale in a few months time.)

But the point cost isn’t for people like you, it’s for people like me

Now to get this into perspective, you have to consider players like me. I have a lifetime subscription, but I actually play LOTRO in fits and starts, a few months here and then a few months there. I very very rarely spend Turbine points but my account accrues them at 500p per month.

I have about 7500 turbine points on my account. Buying the expansion with points is a no brainer for me, there’s nothing else I wanted to spend the points on, I don’t have to buy the raid if I don’t plan to raid (which I don’t) and it doesn’t matter to me how much those points would have cost in real money because I didn’t pay for them. I could imagine that my lifetime sub covers the cost of this expansion – because it basically does.

Now I just have to decide if I want to pay the extra for the 25% xp bonus for my warden alt. I think I might not bother, actually. If it had been an account bonus I probably would have done it but the version you can buy with points is for one alt only.

So my advice with Turbine and Points is this:

  • Don’t buy any content before you need it unless there is a particularly good sale on. The longer you wait, the more chance of it coming up in a sale.
  • Don’t buy points unless there’s something you really want to spend points on, regardless of how good the sale is. Turbine have shown here that if they really want people to spend cash, they can always make that more appealing.
  • If something has been in a sale once, it’ll be in a sale again.
On another note, I do wonder how pricing the raid separately is going to affect raiding in Isengard. I don’t think many casual raiders will be quick to plonk down the extra points for the raid instance unless they are very keen.

On the cost of MMOs

Tobold argues today that MMOs are too inexpensive on the grounds that the average US consumer spends $58 per month on hobbies.

I noted on following that link that what it actually says is:

The average monthly cost of Hobbies in the U.S. is $58.

The median monthly expense, which is sometimes a better indicator of typical spending behavior, of Hobbies in the U.S. is $23.

Median. What that means is that most hobbies are not actually as expensive as $58 per month (which is probably closer to what you might intuitively expect.)

The other issue I have with this argument is that many MMO players probably see their hobby as gaming/ computer gaming rather than just one specific MMO. So their monthly hobby spend is split between the MMO and whatever other new games they are buying, probably spread across multiple platforms (eg. mobile phone apps, console, PC, etc).

The other huge argument is that a virtual world environment becomes less pure as a simulation the more people can bring real world funds to bear. There’s a concept of ‘the magic circle’ in games/ simulation which affects how good the simulation is and how easily people can become immersed in the game world.

So really, to me, if MMO devs want more of the monthly hobby budget without weakening the games, they should be looking harder at bringing more aspects of the game offline. This means the spin-off cardgames, the conventions (hi blizzcon), the t-shirts, the community stuff, the branded phone apps, etc. Which is I think where people are going — virtual shops can only go so far, after all and only appeal to certain types of player.

And still, the average (median) hobbyist in the US spends $23 per month on their hobby, which is not a million miles away from the average subscription when all’s said and done. I think game devs get their pound of flesh.

It’s that ‘Gouge the UK’ time of the year again

Apparently games in the UK are due to get a price hike this Christmas. I can’t see this going down well, £50 is a huge amount to pay for a game where an equivalent would have been £40 last year. And to add insult to injury, although they’re happy to put prices up when the pound is weak, we didn’t see them rushing to lower prices back when the pound was strong.

Either way, we lose.

As a PC gamer, none of this affects me overly (yet). MMOs seem like comparatively better value than ever, and there are plenty of good indie/ downloadable games to keep a player occupied while waiting for the prices of the new releases to come down after the first couple of months. (I blame RPS for turning me on to Bookworm Adventures which is my latest timewaster of choice. It’s like a scrabble RPG!)

I’ll be curious to see how these price rises affect sales. Or in technical terms, what’s the price elasticity of games for hardcore gamers in the UK these days? We’ve been hit as hard by the recession as anyone.

Interestingly, EA responded to Activision’s price rises (which will no doubt include Diablo III and Starcraft II, if anyone hadn’t twigged yet) with a thunderous,

“There has been no change in our trade pricing policy and there will be no change in RRP.

It will be interesting to look at the sales charts next January and see who made the smartest call.