Being patient paid off. I now have Tomb Raider for free.
I remember a time when every trip to the video games store / section was an expensive exercise in decision-making. Do I pick up this Amiga title for $60 today (which is what I remember paying for Ghostbusters II in 1990 or so) or risk never seeing it again? The price of video games was balanced by their scarcity – the physical versions might sell out and there was no guarantee that the stores would be receiving any more of any particular title.
Incidentally, Ghostbusters II on the Amiga was terrible:
But game scarcity is thing of the past – it’s rare for a title to truly disappear, or be out of print. Used game sales and digital distribution means that most modern titles will be around for a very long time. Without scarcity, there’s little chance of games being sold at premium prices for long; in fact, where scarcity increasingly comes into play is during game sales, when it is the discounted price that is only available for a limited time. Gamers have also been trained to wait for the deep discounting of gaming sales, which only serves to push prices down further.
Which is why publishers push the launch period so hard – because if a game doesn’t sell large numbers at launch, it is quickly lost in the gaming market and sales promotions are usually the only lever left to drive purchaser behaviour. Long tail revenue is only usually worthwhile if you sold a huge number of units up front, at least in the AAA space.
On the whole, video games are approaching commodity market status. Perhaps they aren’t commodities in the truest economic sense of the term, but they certainly aren’t a creative product that hold their monetary value for long and are fairly interchangeable in broad terms.
As a point of interest, I tracked the sale price of Batman: Arkham Origins and BioShock: Infinite at EB Stores near me. The following is in Australian dollars:
These AAA games received solid review scores, but within roughly six months they sold for around 50% of their launch price. (UPDATE 12 July 2015: Because I meant to say this earlier: BioShock Infinite does see an increase in the price of a new copy in December 2014, but that’s because the new version includes the DLC season pass.)
And that’s even if you pay for it, given that video games are often given away free in promotions like they are toys in the bottom of cereal boxes. Both BioShock: Infinite and Tomb Raider were offered for free in March 2015 to Xbox Live Gold account holders. I already (regrettably) paid full price for BioShock: Infinite, but Tomb Raider was a title I didn’t have but had planned to get.
However, since Xbox Live gives me two or so free games each month, plus my existing stockpile of titles that were themselves often bought at a discount, I’d held off buying Tomb Raider just in case.
Through patience, victory. At least for me, the video game consumer.
But I can’t help but wonder for how long such a pricing model can keep supporting gaming. A race towards the bottom of the pricing barrel just makes it harder for studios to make enough money to survive, especially when a studio can spend five years working on a title that receives strong reviews but is still in the digital discount bin the month after next.