There’s no way around saying it: players of PC, Xbox One and PS4 games are a dedicated bunch. There’s no amount of money some wouldn’t pay to have the latest consoles and hardware. There is no way to satisfy the insatiable appetite with which gamers devour new entries in franchises like Uncharted, Halo, Super Smash Bros and Call of Duty. For some players, gaming is their vice.
However, for a growing number of people, the video game console market looks like a money sink. Many thought that we’d reached the apex of game pricing when the Xbox 360 and PS3 pushed single game prices to a solid $60. A new generation of Xbox One and PS4 games have shown us otherwise.
Seeing video game developer Bethesda raise the price of the Fallout 4 Season Pass by a huge amount this week had even some hardcore console gamers tallying up how much they actually spend on games. Xbox 360 and PS3 owners are likely on the sidelines tallying the costs of current-generation console ownership, too. Only a small amount of developers still offer the latest games on older platforms.
So Gotta Be Mobile decided to start tallying up the costs. We found what we expected to. No paradigms have pushed the cost of console and PC gaming to new highs.
Consoles & Hardware
Any conversation about the expenses involved in console gaming starts with the hardware that gaming requires. Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PS4 consoles are required for any serious living room gaming setup. There’s also Nintendo’s Wii U to consider.
A lot about the gaming market has changed, but not the trend of expensive console hardware slowly coming down in price. A price war always breaks out, putting buyers who decide to upgrade or buy a gaming system far after release in a better position than early adopters.
Both the Xbox One and PS4 start at $349 now. What’s more, both consoles come with a lot of the essentials that users need to get going. An HDMI cable, wireless controller are all included in the box. Sony and Microsoft have started including new releases that would normally cost $60 separately with their consoles.
PC, Xbox One & PS4 Games
Surprisingly, the base cost of video games has remained on course, too, with Microsoft and Sony choosing not to raise the cost of new games purchased on their latest systems. Every major video game from every major publisher on the latest consoles this fall launched at $59.99. That’s the same price as games for the Xbox 360 and PS3.
There’s still pressure on the market coming from smaller game developers. The independent studios continue to churn out hits with smaller budgets. Minecraft is still selling. Rocket League, a game that debuted on Windows PCs and Sony’s PS4 last year, had sold a million copies by year’s end. Independently developed games range from $15 to $20, with only very popular titles able to muster anything above that.
Almost every game has online connectivity, and to take advantage of it you need Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus on the Xbox One and PS4. That’s another $50 a year for gamers on PlayStation and $60 for Xbox One owners, with the best pricing available. This cost isn’t new to Xbox One owners, but is new to PlayStation owners who didn’t have to pay for content before.
Season Passes & Add-On Content
The base cost of games has gone unchanged and consoles have actually gotten cheaper. Publishers are squeezing more money from players through add-on content market. Specifically, we’re seeing big price increases on season passes. Games that don’t have season passes are relying on new business techniques and gameplay mechanics to reach into the wallets of gamers frequently.
With content add-ons for individual games growing in numbers, we saw the rise of the season pass halfway through the Xbox 360 and PS3’s life-span. A season pass gives you access to every piece of content a developer plans to add to a game, ensuring that you’ll not have to buy each add-on piecemeal. Season passes were hailed as a way to make the add-on content market a bit easier to understand.
What we’ve seen in the last few years is season passes almost treated as a second game in some regard. Where season passes started at around $25, they’ve grown in price and scope. Publishers are extending the shelf life of their games by as much as a year with new content and then charging big bucks for it. Fallout 4, which cost gamers $59.99 last fall, now has a season pass that costs $49.99. Batman Arkham Knight cost the same amount that Fallout does when it launched in 2015. The $49.99 season pass got users a ton of new content until January.
A steady stream of new content is great if you plan to continue playing that game for as long as the season pass runs. What’s troubling is that game developers are growing clever in their marketing of season passes and add-on content. Besides add-ons and new areas, some games now promise exclusive events with their season passes, helping to lure gamers in. We hardly ever know whats inside a season pass before it arrives. News about them is incredibly hard to avoid, too. Every game developer includes advertisements and links to their season pass directly from their game.
To fully experience a game and unlock every Achievement and Trophy that it has to offer, a season pass has become essential. This pushes the cost of a game from $60 to around $100 if users buy a version of the game with the season pass included. This is $40 more, to unlock all the possible content, than the $60 we all used to spend on a game and get everything.
Free to Play & Other Schemes
Beyond even season passes, there’s a new gray area growing in popularity with developers and publishers. These schemes aren’t necessarily dangerous or outrageous, but do obfuscate the true price of a game. Worse, they have no end date.
Long popular on PCs, free-to-play games allow users to download a game at no charge, but depend on in-game currency to get extras. Earning that currency in the game is possible, but players are encouraged to take a shortcut to new gear by spending real money on acquiring more in-game currency. Neverwinter and DC Universe Online are perfect examples of this business model. If done right, users can earn everything with by playing missions again over time. For some people, these in-game currencies are an afterthought that they don’t realize they’ve spent lavishly on until its too late. For example, ships in Star Trek Online are free, but a decent one with power-ups will set players back $35 in real money.
Some games are taking a hybrid approach, keeping a cover charge, but eliminating the cost of add-on content packs. Developer 343 Industries doesn’t add paid content to Halo 5: Guardians. The studio gives new maps to everyone for free, hoping to make up the money on the sale of digital card packs that unlock gear and weapons in the game’s multiplayer experience. A single Halo 5 REQ Pack with a chance at getting rare gear costs $2.99. Gamers can purchase bundles of the REQ Packs for $24.99.
Playing Games is More Expensive Than It Has Ever Been
The truth of the matter is simple, high-end video game development hasn’t gotten any cheaper with this latest generation of consoles. Rather than raise the cost of games as a whole, publishers have opted to hit users with the increased costs through add-on content and micro-transactions. Really, it’s no different from some of the most popular iPhone and iPad games and apps. It’s anyon’es guess at this point what the answer to the rising cost of PC, Xbox One and PS4 games costs is. Maybe when gamers are ready to accept mid-tier titles in mass, pricing will stabilize. It’s also possible that it’s time to accept that base game prices need to be increased.
Whatever the fix, the symptoms are manifesting. We’re paying more for PC, Xbox One and PS4 games even if we don’t realize it.