The introduction of microtransactions changed the way video game developers, publishers, and government regulatory bodies looked at the gaming industry, forever. And, yes, we're including DLCs. But, while the entire industry seems to have treated the $70 price point as fait accompli, the pricing remains a fascinating topic. After all, if we were to ask you, what does the ideal price tag of a video game look like to you? For example, what if a game had everything on the day it launched - think The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for the PS5 and Xbox Series S/X except it came out on May 18, 2015 - what would you consider a fair price for such a game?
The loud minority of gamers protested against the $10 price hike of the de-facto price tag of video games a couple of years back. At the time, $60 was seen as the immovable starting price point after Sony, Microsoft, and, well, Activision, established it during the Xbox 360 / PS3 era. The rest of the industry, including Nintendo, had no choice but to follow suit when the biggest players appeared to have agreed on a new price point.
Interestingly enough, video games were actually cheaper than $60 for a brief period in the late 90s and early 2000s and this was largely due to the original PlayStation. Sony effectively forced devs to sell some games for $29.99 at launch while others were sold for $39.99 and AAA titles went for $49.99. This was largely seen as a huge game-changer after Nintendo sold its most expensive titles for as high as $74.99.
As seen on this image that's going around on Reddit recently (we're pretty sure it's occasionally been a point of discussion for a while on the internet), the likes of Doom 64, Turok, and Gretzky's 3D Hockey all sold for $74.99. Meanwhile, the "cheapest" games like Mario Kart were priced at $59.99. In comparison, the original PlayStation had cheaper and arguably better titles. It's no wonder then that the original PlayStation outsold the Nintendo 64 by a huge margin (102.49 million vs 32.93 million).
Based on these prices and adjusted for inflation, today's games "should" sell for at least $60 and $150, at most. Yet, this isn't the case.
The argument could be made that games at the time had everything on day one and that you didn't need to pay extra for expansions and DLCs, which is largely true but isn't always the case. Also, back then, you could rent and sell games. However, as we've mentioned, if video game prices kept up with inflation as with other commodities, paying $150 for a copy of a video game today would give you a "Collector's Edition" version, which comes with a physical copy that you could sell and trade as well as other collectible items, in-game bonuses, as well as access to future content for the game.
For example, Elden Ring, which won GOTY last year and is already in consideration as the GOAT of gaming, carried a base price of $59.99 for just a digital copy. A little further up the price range is the "Digital Deluxe Edition" at $79.99. Finally, the most expensive version, the "Collector's Edition", quickly sold out despite selling for $189.99. In exchange, you'd get a copy of Elden Ring, an exclusive steel book, a 40-page hardcover artbook, a digital copy of the game's soundtrack, and a 9-inch figurine of the game's most infamous boss, Malenia.
Now, keep in mind that the most expensive variants of today's games, which come close to the price of video games some 30 years ago when adjusted for inflation, come with a lot of extra content aside from the base game. These are limited edition collectible versions for an enthusiast - not for all gamers. Most of us can get everything that the game has to offer, including a physical copy, for less than $100.
When you look at it from that perspective, today's video games aren't expensive - they're cheap.
Even when you consider that some games package "extra" content separately, games will literally need to sell for double their current sticker price to match the selling price of games throughout the 90s if adjusted for inflation. To make things worse, today's games cost more and take longer to make with additional expenses like advertising, publishing, as well as post-launch support, to consider as well.
Jason Schreier recently mentioned that starting a new big budget from the ground up will literally take up the vast majority of the current decade and the game will likely be ready for the next PlayStation and Xbox console. If we assume that the PlayStation 6 comes out in 2028, this means that developers will spend at least the next five years full-time on a video game only to be criticized for selling it for $70.
In such a cut-throat market with rising costs and slimming gains, it's no surprise then that so many video game company acquisitions are happening left and right.
The point that we're trying to make here is we're lucky video games didn't keep up with inflation and we shouldn't be too quick to call out studios for selling extra content to make more money.
However, if you insist that $70 is too much for a copy of a new game, don't worry. Microsoft and Sony have the Xbox Game Pass and the PlayStation Plus, respectively. These only cost roughly around the price of two full games for an entire year's worth of subscription, you'll get access to a boatload of video games, some of which will be available at launch.