“Do Games Cost Too Much?”: An Analysis of Modern & Historical Video Game Prices

UPDATE (Nov. 2012): In response to complaints made about the recently-announced $300 price point of the Wii U, I have added an addendum to this article addressing console prices.

UPDATE (July 2013): The article has been revised to take into account the announced price points of the PS4 and Xbox One as well as statements from Sony and MS regarding the price of next-gen software. The console price charts have been updated to account for those new systems.

Update (Dec. 2013): Software price charts have been rebuilt using a spreadsheet program to make them look a bit nicer than the old charts, which were made by hand in MS Paint. Prices were also updated, though the difference from the older figures are negligible given that it has only one extra year of inflation.

Update (Feb. 2015): Updated to add pricing information on PS4 & Xbox One games. Software price charts updated to 2014.

(Note: All prices cited in the article are in U.S. dollars.)

If you read any online discussion about video gaming, you’ll see all sorts of arguments and complaints. Some are classic standbys, such as “Console vs. PC” or “Nintendo vs. PlayStation vs. Xbox” or the relative merits (or lack thereof) of the business practices of EA, Activision, Sony, Microsoft, etc. However, one thing that appears to unite a plurality if not outright majority of gamers (or at least those who post their opinions in online forums), the thing that draws their ire seemingly more than just about anything else, is the price of a video game. Many people believe the $60 price point is “too high” and some even believe games cost more now than ever. But are complaints about game prices valid? Do games cost too much? Do they cost more now than they did in the past? The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that the answer to these questions is a resounding “No.”

Now, it is true that $60 is a lot of money to be throwing around. Money that could be spent on a lot of other things like food, gasoline, & other necessities or other forms of entertainment. Forking out sixty bucks is a serious investment, and if we find we don’t like the game, then we’ve essentially lost out on most of that money (you probably won’t get all that back selling it off to someone else). The fact that a lot of people were hit hard by — and many of them still feeling the effects of — the recession of the late 00s certainly doesn’t help the public perception of the $60 price point. But I contend that complaints about game prices are overblown and based on false assumptions. Personal issues regarding said industry, such as resentment due to being burned by a bad purchase and/or general mistrust/dislike of big business (i.e., the “corporations are bad” mindset) may be a factor influencing people’s opinions as well. For example, many people claim that game companies are engaging in “price gouging.” This sometimes gets ridiculous to the point of unintentional parody. Case in point: Some guy on Yahoo who was complaining about game prices described game companies as, and I quote, “video game robber barons” whose “drive for profit is wrecking the industry.”

Let’s examine first the claim that game prices are at an all-time high. The gamers who are complaining that games are more expensive than ever have a serious lack of historical perspective, and if I had to guess, many if not most of them are either too young to know better or they simply haven’t been gamers for very long. It’s also possible they’re just being hyperbolic, something many gamers are prone to do (e.g., when an 8/10 rating is decried as “terrible” when in fact that’s actually a very good rating).

As it turns out, though, $60 is hardly an unusual price point for a new console game (nor do all new games today cost sixty bucks; $50 is the standard for Wii titles, and even some new 360 and PS3 titles can go for that as well), and you can go back 20 years and find games that cost just as much if not more. For example, see this chart I made showing prices of select console games of note going all the way back to the second generation (I’m leaving out the Neo Geo for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who knows of the system):

gameprices-unadjusted

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