Whichever way you look at it, gaming comes with quite a significant barrier to entry in the form of cost. Yes, some MMOs and mobile apps can provide a (mostly) free experience but they’re still bound to hardware and now-essential services like the internet.
This has always been the case. In fact, much the same reality applies to TV, with streaming services that are sent through the web to the nation’s flatscreens.
Let’s go back a bit. An IGN study that compared console launch prices revealed that one of the most expensive devices in history was 1977’s Atari 2600, which went for $842.41 when adjusted for inflation. We can probably give that one a pass. As one of the first machines to hit the market, it offered something extraordinary: an arcade-style experience in the living room.
A large majority of game consoles launch at somewhere between $300 and $500 when inflation is accounted for. This includes the ColecoVision (1982), NES (1985), SEGA Genesis (1989), the Xbox 360 (2005), and the PlayStation 4 (2013). The major exceptions, coming in at more than $1,200, are the Neo-Geo (1990) and 3DO (1993). So, overall, nothing much has changed, price-wise.
So, why is everybody convinced of the opposite? A recent article from The Gamer lamented the fact that the world’s favorite hobby had become too expensive “for everyone”, inclusive of players, creators, and publishers. With increasingly long development times (Starfield, Bethesda’s 2023 space romp, was trademarked in 2013) companies seemingly have no choice but to keep increasing prices.
The problem isn’t consoles, though. It’s games.
Phases of Stability
As hinted at earlier, entertainment can be a pricey thing. Companies get around this issue with pieces of extra value.
A good example is two-for-one cinema tickets. The casino industry uses a similar trick to cut through the competition. The New Jersey online casino platform PlayStar treats its players to free spins and bonuses, as well as competitive Return to Player (RTP) percentages, which is essentially what players can expect to win back over time.
Gaming has never quite got this right. Sure, you can get pre-order bonuses, beta access, and all sorts of other things but they’re almost invariably a premium extra. Put another way, they drive prices up above the $70 sticker price. If we consider that the broken and/or disappointing triple-A game has become a genre all of its own, the cost of gaming is increasing even as value continues to fall.
Still, there are voices out there that claim that games have actually got less expensive. GameIndustry.biz claims that the price of new titles increases after phases of stability lasting 5-7 years but the Atari 2600 mentioned earlier would have charged an equivalent of $200 per game.
Does that mean that games have become cheaper over time? Possibly. The same source suggests a 2% reduction in prices every year.
Just to complicate matters further, the cost of games may have nothing to do with the products themselves. Entertainment doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and everything from currency exchange and interest rates to tech shortages and import/export costs can send prices soaring. It may simply be that the immediate costs of developing games are secondary to normal influences on the economy.
If that’s true, the size of your electricity bill might be as good a yardstick as any to measure the price of games.
Joel is a whiz with computers. When he was just a youngster, he hacked into the school's computer system and changed all of the grades. He got away with it too - until he was caught by the vice-principal! Joel loves being involved in charities. He volunteers his time at the local soup kitchen and helps out at animal shelters whenever he can. He's a kind-hearted soul who just wants to make the world a better place.