According to Xbox boss Phil Spencer, customers will decide if the controversial $70 next-gen game pricing is right for them.
Discussions around the expected spike in retail game costs with the upcoming next-gen PS5 and Xbox Series X bubbled over last month as 2K Sports revealed a $70 price point for the next-gen version of NBA 2K21. The move led to widespread speculation that the next-gen signal a price increase across the board.
In an interview with the Washington Post , Spencer explains:
As an industry, we can price things whatever we want to price them, and the customer will decide what the right price is for them. I’m not negative on people setting a new price point for games because I know everybody’s going to drive their own decisions based on their own business needs. But gamers have more choice today than they ever have. In the end, I know the customer is in control of the price that they pay, and I trust that system.
As far as placating statements go, Spencer’s comments strike me as a veiled attempt to address gamers’ and publishers’ concerns simultaneously without taking a firm stance or providing straight-forward confirmation that games are indeed getting more expensive.
The notion of consumer advocacy with talk of ‘control’ over the price point is certainly laudable but feels detached from the reality of how publishers operate within the gaming space.
Yes, there are more ways to buy games than ever before, but the day-one prices of big-budget AAA games are immovable. These are the games expected to adopt the $70 price tag, not the indie labor of love, nor the resource-efficient AA effort, which is often priced lower.
If it’s a question of choice, it’s a very narrow one – playing a game or not – which doesn’t scream customer agency or a sense of ‘control.’ And here lies the crucial factor: even at $70, the games will sell in vast numbers, giving these publishers very little reason not to up the price. Gamers may be reluctant to lay down cash, but they still will.
The vast marketing budgets thrown behind the industry’s biggest releases assure this. Hype is a powerful tool in the game publisher’s arsenal. EA, 2K, Ubisoft, Activision, and even PlayStation and Xbox have mastered it to great effect, ensnaring gamers in a trap of FOMO and quality games that we want to play. With profits rolling in, publishers will pay little heed to any backlash from players.
This isn’t to say that games don’t warrant a $70 price tag – from The Last of Us Part II to Animal Crossing: New Horizons by way of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the steady rise in the quality of games is clear as day.
Equally, there is no doubt games are more expensive than ever to develop. Keeping studios open is crucial to the long term prospects of the medium as a whole. Whether that’s downsizing the scope and ambition as former PlayStation boss, Shaun Layden, suggests, or passing on the heightened costs to gamers.
Instead, it’s this prevailing sense of secrecy and veiled justification that is frustrating. A slow, laboring procession of publishers revealing a $70 price point for their games. Players would be far more willing to accept the price hike if publishers and platform holders weren’t tip-toeing around the topic.
Rather tellingly, Spencer refused to comment on the cost of upcoming first-party Xbox Series X titles. As far as widespread adoption goes, nothing is more telling than what the platform holders themselves are doing.
Should Microsoft slap the $70 price tag on Series X launch titles, third-party publishers will take this as carte blanche to do the same. At this point, the consumer can’t do little but watch as the $70 price point becomes the norm, short of a highly unlikely concerted boycott effort.
It’s canned justification – ‘Xbox is doing it, so it must be okay.’