The recent release of Comcept and Armature Studios’ new action-adventure game ReCore got me thinking about mid-tier games; in the current gaming landscape they are very rare things indeed. A few years ago they would have been the domain of companies like THQ, but no longer. Games seem to come in only three types now: free-to-play, €10 indie games and huge budget €70+ games like Assassin’s Creed or Call of Duty. Recently, however, ReCore released with a price of €40. One would think that, in this future of digital distribution that we live in where a company can simply upload their game onto a digital marketplace for whatever price they want, that this wouldn’t be a big deal; It is.
Choosing an appropriate price point for their game is a big gamble for developers. The unfortunate thing is that a game’s price really has nothing to do with its quality (or lack thereof). It’s all to do with how the general public perceives it. For example: a game like ‘Castlevania: Symphony of the Night’ released on the PS1 at full price – as it should have been, since it’s a great game that’s packed full of enjoyable content; were that game to release today, however, most people probably wouldn’t pay more than €20 for it, just by virtue of the fact that it’s a 2D game. Since a lot of people would view it as “not a full game”, they wouldn’t be willing to pay as much money as the content may warrant. This leads us into a situation where a developer may not be able to charge as much for a game as they think it’s worth because the way it looks may already be associated with ‘cheapness’ in their potential customers’ minds.
On the opposite end of the spectrum we have the huge games that cost €70 or more. Games these days are more expensive to make than they’ve ever been, there’s no getting around that; however, there’s still a discrepancy in the pricing of games at this tier. To be perceived as a high quality game it has to be priced the same as something like The Last of Us, or else it will probably be seen as ‘lesser than’ by the general public.
While The Last of Us is undoubtedly worth that price tag, should a game like Lords of the Fallen cost just as much for us to buy? As soon as you start to play you can tell that it has nowhere near as much polish as any Naughty Dog game. Maybe if it was priced in the more reasonable €40 region, it wouldn’t stick out as much.
So here we find the dilemma: If you’re an indie studio making an ambitious game, should you go above that €25 soft cap that seems to be the limit for games perceived to be “indie?” And if you’re a big enough studio that’s making a big game, but nothing on the level of Uncharted, should you maybe drop down to €40 if you think that’s what it’s worth, or stick with €70 because you don’t want people to think it’s a lesser product? I don’t have a solution, but I do know that a more flexible price model can only benefit us gamers.