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Feature Friday: Video games are getting (more) expensive
Why consumers will be spending more
Re-casts, early console arrivals, and understanding our new normal as console gamers.
Read time: 9 minutes
Here are small and developing stories you should keep your eye on.
Minecraft + Smash: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has seen a variety of characters enter the arena since its official release in 2018, and not all of them originate from the Nintendo universe. From Joker in Persona 5 to Banjo & Kazooie in the Banjo-Kazooie series, Nintendo hasn’t been afraid to add characters from competing brands and companies such as Sony and SEGA. Well, they’ve continued that trend in the latest announcement, as Minecraft is bringing four of their characters to Smash — Alex, Steve, Enderman, and the zombie. But along with new characters, players will also have access to various themed maps and truly immerse themself in the blocky world that is Minecraft. It’s another cool addition to the roster that’s littered with iconic characters such as Mario, Bowser, Solid Snake, and Pac-Man, and it’ll be great to see just how good people get with these new characters. Plus, it’s also neat to see Microsoft playing nice with Nintendo. The Xbox manufacturer has owned Mojang Studios (the developers of Minecraft) since 2014, with co-founder Daniel Kaplan stating that this result has been in talks for five years. With all the back-and-forth within the community (and even between the console companies) regarding the next-gen consoles, it’s refreshing to see companies working together to provide consumers with a quality experience.
Spider-Man face recast: the remastered Marvel’s Spider-Man game has already seen some controversy. From the $70 price tag to the inability to freely upgrade if you owned the PS4 version, many people are upset coming into the launch of the popular Insomniac Games title. Sadly, it seems like there’s more to be upset about as well. In a surprising move, the upcoming title will have a brand new Peter Parker, with Ben Jordan modeling the remastered Spider-Man (instead of the original John Bubniak). Furious, man fans have speculated the reason for this recast was to have this Spider-Man look more like Tom Holland, who plays the superhero in the movies, but that hasn’t been the case. Regardless, the move left more people upset, and the trailer for the game has actually seen more downvotes than upvotes (it’s now been unlisted). It’s another disappointing decision by Insomniac Games, and it’s one that’ll lead to more remastered titles going unsold. Let’s hope they have more positive news to share, or else this remaster might not see the same success as it did on the PS4.
Series X in the wild: well, it seems like many of us will be playing with people who already own the Xbox Series X before its release. Photos of a functioning version of the Xbox Series X has been shown, and it’s in the hands of the industry’s more influential voices. Both Brian Shea and Danny Peña shared photos of themselves holding the next-gen Xbox consoles, and the community went crazy. And if you weren’t fully convinced, Xbox’s social media manager, Stein, commented on both photos sharing in their excitement. It’s a smart move by Microsoft, as it helps boost the exposure of the Xbox Series X and allows people to see what the console looks like and how it performs by trustworthy people within the industry. With that said, this should come as no surprise, as a handful of gaming publications have already shared content regarding the next-gen Xbox’s performance and appearance. By letting the people do the talking about their console, instead of themselves, it helps build trust for consumers. Microsoft is, again, imploying brilliant methods to encourage Xbox sales, and they're doing a great job.
Console gaming is getting expensive
For those that have just joined, I have a specific vision in my head for how gaming should be:
Accessible. Accommodating. Affordable.
In my mind, that’s where I want gaming to get to. It’s such a powerful medium for entertainment, education, emotional support, and even cognitive benefits, and if everyone had the chance to play video games, I think we could leave better people.
Granted, there are things to take into account, like playing too much or playing overly violent games at a young age, but if done right, gaming can be a best joy in life.
I’ll point to myself as an example.
As someone with social anxiety, periodic spells of depression, and a generally more Type-B personality, I’ve looked to video games to be my escape. Not only does it provide me with time alone (something I value), it also gives me time to immerse myself in a completely different world instead of being left in my thoughts.
I credit video games for helping me manage some of the more difficult moments of my life, and I can’t say where I’d be without it.
But, I’m also privileged. You see, I’m wasn't a kid that had to “do extra chores” to get a game or gaming system. Frankly, if I wanted it, I was able to get it, regardless of how expensive the game or console might’ve been.
I’m extremely grateful for my parents and situation, but that’s not the case for everyone, especially in a climate as limiting and traumatic as the COVID-19 pandemic and 2020 in general.
The truth is, gaming has always been expensive, and this upcoming era of next-gen consoles will only make it more expensive.
We’re already seeing a hike in pricing when it comes to gaming titles, as many PS5 games will now be priced at $70 for a standard edition. Alongside that, we’re also seeing expensive external accessories come to the market at eye-popping numbers, like the 1TB Seagate expansion card, which is priced at $220.
And let’s not forget about the subscription services that will soon litter our news feeds, inboxes, and for some of us, our bank accounts. We already know Microsoft’s intention with the service, and we’re seeing more and more companies get into the vertical (Amazon’s Luna and Google’s Stadia). And as more of these services come up, I’m sure they’ll have exclusive titles that consumers can only get by investing in their specific service (ala Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, etc.), which will force some consumers to purchase multiple subscriptions.
When you add all of that up — new console purchases, expensive accessories, multiple gaming subscription services — it gets extremely expensive, and it moves gaming further away from the vision that I have in my head.
People will be intimidated by these prices, especially during a time where money is tight. In fact, I think this blend of intimidation and difficult circumstances will force a lot of people to avoid upgrading to the newest consoles.
Instead of purchasing a PS5 or Xbox Series X, people will stay with their current consoles, and why not? Many of the next-gen games will also be available on current-gen, with costs ranging around $60 - $65. And with cross-gen features available on games such as Call of Duy Black Ops: Cold War, gamers won’t be punished by opting for a next-gen console right away. They’ll still be able to play their favorite games with their friends and, if they opt for the right version, even get a free upgrade come time they do get a next-gen console.
But, if I’m being honest, my focus isn’t necessarily on the individuals that already own a gaming system or have the capital to purchase a next-gen console. My focus is on those that want to get into gaming, but don’t have the funds to do so.
Gaming has hit mainstream appeal. You’ll see random clips of Warzone on a House of Highlights Instagram post (an account dedicated to sports). Many will read articles published by ESPN on the Esports scene (they even have dedicated journalists for this vertical). This exposure will influence people to get into gaming, and honestly, it’s probably already done so.
But with these increased prices and with the (slowly-dying) stigma that gaming is a waste of time, people will likely be put off by it and opt for something else.
In my eyes, that’s heartbreaking, as that’s a missed opportunity for someone like me, who looked to gaming as a form of escape and, at a certain lense, healing. And with the current lockdown and stay-at-home restrictions in place because of COVID-19, other outlets such as sports or hanging out with friends may not be a realistic option.
So, what exactly can be done?
Frankly, not much. Despite the frustrating uptick in costs, it’s understandable. The companies we love need money to make better games, and with the industry moving forward at a rapid pace, they’re put in a difficult situation:
Maintain affordable prices and risk being placed at a deficit? Or bump the prices and continue making great games?
Even Take-Two CEO, Strauss Zelnick, stated that the industry was due for a price hike, stating “we haven’t seen a front-line price increase for nearly 15 years, and production costs have gone up 200 to 300 percent.”
Companies have been patient, and it’s a little unfortunate that they planned a price increase in the middle of a pandemic.
But what I am holding hope on is cloud gaming.
In my eyes, cloud gaming is the closest the industry can get to my vision of accessible, accommodating, and affordable gaming.
The ability to play AAA, exclusive titles right from your smartphone, tablet, or computer screen can be game-changing, especially since owning a smartphone has become more of the norm.
And assuming you already have access to one of the devices listed above, all you’ll need is a subscription and a controller. That dramatically reduces the cost of gaming, with costs ranging a little over $100 instead of over $500. And with the gaming streaming service continuing to be fleshed out, people will have even more access to quality titles.
Will they have everything? No, but that’s not the point.
We want people to start gaming, and if they love it, they can invest more of their income into it. But by creating a cheaper entry-point, gaming is being exposed to a wider range of demographics.
Although I’m not sure if my vision will ever be a reality, I hope we get close to it.
Gaming is growing to be one of the best and most immersive modes of entertainment, and everyone should have a fair shot at trying it.
Free October Games
Since I’ve spent much of your time talking about the rising costs of video games, I think it’s only fair that I share with you some free games that are coming to the PlayStation and Xbox online stores.
With Halloween coming up, each company made sure to include titles that’ll give you a good scare. Are they door-busting titles? No, but they’ll keep you occupied if you’re looking for a break from your usual games or if you want something new.
Need for Speed: Payback
Slayaway Camp: Butcher’s Cut
Maid of Sker
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy