Publisher 2K games made headlines recently with its announcement that it’s next-gen NBA 2K21 will arrive costing £64.99 for the base edition. For fans of the series, this £5 increase is hardly welcome. For long-time industry spectators, however, this change might have been more of an inevitability. Using this game and other areas of entertainment as a basis, we want to investigate what brought this cost about, and why it may or may not be justified.

Inflation and Cost

When discussing the issue of cost the most oft-cited reason that prices have to rise is that of inflation. In simple terms, video games have cost £60 for decades, but during that time the value of the pound has changed significantly. According to calculations from Officaldata, £60 in 1990 is around the equivalent of £137 today.

So why didn’t games track with inflation over the years? The basic answer to this question is that game developers didn’t want to have to constantly get customers used to paying more. This would discourage people from returning for purchases, at the very least.

The other side of this equation comes from the fact that AAA games are significantly more expensive to make now than they used to be. In 2004, the most expensive game of the year was Half-Life 2 at US $40 million (adjusted for inflation). Ten years later, in 2014, the original Destiny cost $140 million to develop.

From the perspectives of inflation and cost, it might seem that price rises are entirely justified and necessary. By taking a step back though, we can see that not everything is quite so simple. To demonstrate this, we need to take a closer look at developer expenses and the true consumer attitude towards what drives these costs.

Destiny_20150204234132” (CC BY 2.0) by Ferino Design

Alternative Solutions

In the eyes of many gamers, the idea that all video games are necessarily more expensive to make is an issue that falls on the developers. They are the ones to overstep, and often in ways that players don’t appreciate. Fundamentally, the majority of these games are virtually identical to how they’ve always been, they’re just better-looking.

At the highest level, graphics are obscenely expensive, and these costs could be seen as self-inflicted. Many players would argue that better gameplay is a more worthwhile pursuit. After all, games like Minecraft, The Sims, and Stardew Valley aren’t exactly the best in terms of visuals, yet their gameplay has made them popular beyond most developers’ dreams.

Minecraft” (CC BY 2.0) by passtheballtotucker

Season Passes, Non-Traditional Games, and Economies of Scale

Also playing a part as confounding factors are total game packages and shipping costs. In essence, the modern standard edition of a game is only the starting package, and the full experience with season passes and DLC can easily make a game cost much more. Factor the money made from microtransactions in, and losses from inflation and development costs become far slimmer. This is one of the major sticking points for fans.

While most people are fine with games without initial costs that run on smaller transactions, they’re generally not fine with a full-priced product with additional purchases. Free to play games are a popular example of these, with games like League of Legends drawing immense profits despite having no financial barriers to entry. Initially, F2P titles like these were commonly derided as non-viable, though in reality, they tie into the existing success of alternative choices from another industry, games of chance.

Take the long-established pattern from services like the live dealer games at LeoVegas online casino as an illustration. Players have long been keen on putting down money for games like Mega Sic Bo, Blackjack, and Roulette, with decades of evidence backing this up. Just as with F2P games, there is no game purchase required, rather players can choose to pay what they want to get their personal most of the experience. Compare this to traditional video games like NBA2K21, which offer additional microtransactions on top of season passes, on top of a full game. 

Finally, we also need to remember that selling games is far cheaper now than it has ever been, and sales numbers are also bigger than ever. Rather than cartridges and printed manuals, modern games typically only include cheap printed disks or, even cheaper, they’re delivered digitally. These savings are rarely passed onto the consumer and are instead taken by the developers and publishers.

Nintendo N64 NUS-001 (USA) Game System,” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by France1978

Ultimately, the question of whether or not an increase in the costs of video games is justified comes to your position on the industry as a whole. While some might see modern costs as the avoidable price of unsustainable myopia, others take this as an inevitable part of gaming tech’s evolution. However, given that the indie market is now better than ever, at least we can all be happy than nobody ever has to miss out.