Lack of support for digital console games is impacting our wallets and the video games industry at large. Keeping in mind the spectacular collection of both ending and impending Black Friday deals on the frequently updated MONG Moneysaver page, competition between the digital and retail space is very real, but what keeps digital prices so high?
I’m a console gamer. I’m young. I’m married. I’m unemployed. I’m cheap. There are many factors that prevent me from coughing up $60 for a new video game. Every time I’m interested in a new game’s release, I get on the web to look for the least expensive avenue to acquire it. That usually means giving my money to a retailer offering me pre-order discounts, new game discounts, trade-in credit, or any variation of a sale. That also means I almost never buy the digital version of a game from Sony or Microsoft, because let’s face it, if you’re buying a new game digitally (on console), you’re probably paying full-price for it. Even though I own systems that allow me to purchase games without stepping from my front door, I’ll make the trip to my mailbox or even directly to a retailer’s shelves in order to save a buck.
Ignoring sillier arguments like not having to get off of the couch to change a disk or preventing clutter, my internet connection is moderately fast, so even I sometimes feel tempted to buy from the digital store to take advantage of some of its merits. I wouldn’t have to worry about losing or damaging a game, even though I’ve never really had that problem in the past (except for losing my Pokémon – Blue, but I think someone stole it). I’d be able to take part in pre-loading and playing games immediately upon release, but a year into the current generation and digital prices are still so high that I can’t justify playing a game a few hours earlier.
Taking advantage of every deal I could, the total spending for my last four new games came to $70.22. Because most new AAA games on the PlayStation Store and Xbox Games Store are $60 I probably would have spent $240 by going digital. To keep spending to a minimum, it was a no-brainer to buy games elsewhere (just about anywhere else).
I benefit most from saving as much money as possible while also receiving maximum enjoyment from my purchase, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a conscience. These are games that I intend to play extensively, and I know that an unbelievable amount of hard work has gone into producing them. I’m still a consumer and I’m entitled to purchase a product (legally) for as little as the market allows. I’m far from stealing this content, but part of me does feel a little culpable when I pay a fraction of the asking price for a new game. Why is that? Who is hurt by my savings?
Let’s start with the used games market. What happens when I sell a game in exchange for a new one?
- I pay less for a new game, cutting down on both retailer and developer profits.
- The retailer acquires a used game for resale.
- Someone who would be buying a new game, instead buys the used one that I sold.
By participating in selling used games, I directly contribute to increasing prices for all games. I hurt the market because someone else is buying my used game, cutting the developer out of the exchange, and making certain that one less person will buy a new game (where the developer would have seen some green).
Do I do my part by pre-ordering games? I suppose I take a risk by not waiting to read reviews before buying, and I could end up with a sub-par final product that’s practically unplayable. However, I don’t buy games that frequently, and the ones that I do buy, I feel confident that I’d purchase regardless of what a reviewer says because I’m just that excited about it. I’m counting on the game being made available on its listed release date, but really the five dollars I’m paying isn’t much of a commitment, and it does nothing to benefit the gaming industry since that money goes straight to the retailer.
But I get discounts through my pre-order. I’m not even going to pretend that it’s out of some faux support for the industry that won’t see a cent. No, I’m all about saving that dough, and if pre-ordering something I’m sure to enjoy gets me there, then take my money, albeit less-none of it.
Major console developers have taken measures to prevent undermining retail prices. They depend on retailers to sell their technology and (for now at least) their games. In an effort to preserve healthy relationships with these retailers, digital game prices remain high and uncompetitive. There are still rare, tempting digital sales and free monthly games, but retailers rarely carry these games (most of which are indie), or they are games with slumping retail sales.
That doesn’t mean the used games market and retail sales should be ignored when considering digital pricing, though. Digital stores cannot depend on a few features (pre-loading, safe storage, etc.) when just down the street, I can save almost $40 on a new game. If a digital game lacks shipping, packaging and a Blu-ray disk (nearly $15 in all), then the price should at least reflect that.
The reality is that digital game sales drive down retail prices. By some vicious cycle, my support of physical, retail games (and how inexpensively I acquire them) actually perpetuates higher digital prices. It seems that instead of being in competition, digital and retail sales are in some sort of parasitic bond. Sales of physical copies are leeching off of profits made from digital to maintain the status quo, and it’s about time retail buyers realized it.
Digital console games should be less expensive and more appealing to gamers. Digital stores should be incentivizing more in order to keep up with their retail counterparts who can and will drop the price of a new title by more than 50 percent. I fully admit that I am part of the problem. Consumers like myself continue to make this transition a more difficult process.
The digital market is not new. Digital stores have a grandparent to look up to. Steam has been thriving on tenets of reasonable pricing and regular price-drops for years, sometimes encouraging customers to impulse buy older titles. When a game costs me $15, $30, or $45 I’m unlikely to even want to resell it. It costs me less from the start, and I know that my next purchase won’t break the bank either.
Maybe the influx of indie titles in digital stores is the beginning of a new era, ushering in lower digital prices. It’s possible that we’re only seeing the start to tantalizing sales in this new generation. I want to participate in the digital field, to encourage the growth of the gaming industry and its newest, most exciting ventures. But the impatient child in me wants something else more: new, cheap games. I still feel encouraged to purchase from retailers because it remains considerably more affordable, and as guilty as I feel, I don’t yet see all of the right signs that will turn my attention digital.
Jordan Loeffler is an Associate Writer for MONG who drives a 2006 Pontiac Vibe with Minnesota license plates even though he lives in Portland, OR. She’s seafoam green, and she drives like a wave. You can follow him on IGN.