For families, finding something fun to do can sometimes be a challenging endeavor. When I was a kid, I remember going with my parents and sister to the local video store. My mom and dad would pick up a movie and we usually were allowed to get our own. As time passed by, the choices increased from movies to NES cartridges. For less than two bucks, I could game for the weekend and everyone had a piece of content to keep them entertained.

As the years have gone by, the rental policies have changed. Families going into a local Blockbuster, or other rental store, can now find movies relatively cheap thanks to Redbox DVD rental kiosks and $1.00 a day pricing. Games, on the other hand, have gone from being an affordable price to eight dollars or even more! Sure, you could always use a service like GameFly but the newest games are rarely in stock resulting in playing older titles or waiting for your games.

A trip to a local Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, or other retailer will see a similar story on pricing. Purchasing a movie will normally run around the twenty dollar mark. This price has stayed relatively the same from VHS to DVD and even Blu-ray is coming down in price. For the gamers out there, getting a brand new game is going to set you back fifty to sixty dollars! Why exactly is there such a large difference in price between movies and games?

David Jaffe, long-time developer who has been involved with Twisted Metal, God of War, and more, was complaining about pricing of games on his Twitter account. This opened a dialogue with him and he got me thinking. Why are games so much more expensive than movies? We know that both hollywood blockbusters and PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 AAA titles cost a lot to manufacturer. But for Hollywood, you can get in to see a movie–big or small–for $10 bucks a person. Granted, this experience only lasts a few hours. For a game, no matter if you pick up an epic Role Playing Game, a short Action title, or a First Person Shooter with heavy emphasis on multiplayer, you are going to spend sixty dollars to buy or eight plus dollars to rent it!

In a global economy that finds itself struggling to generate momentum, the high cost of gaming is beginning to slow down sales. Is it possible for the industry to sustain growth when its core audience is struggling to make ends meet? Despite what seems to be an impossible situation, there is reason for hope. This industry can grow, reach new markets, and make more money if the industry will move in a new direction.

(1) Give Players bite-sized installments
People face an enormous amount of pressures on a daily basis. Adults have their job to go to, a family to support, housework to do, activities to accomplish, and more. As gaming begins to cater to older audiences, they have to take into account that gamers with a full schedule are trying to play their games. Taking price out of the equation, who has time, these days, to invest 20+ hours in the latest game? The solution is to offer players smaller portions of their games. The result of this can be clearly seen:

(A) Gamers with less time on their hands can feel they can accomplish something when they make it through three to five hour chunks of gameplay

(B) The pricing of these “bite-sized chunks” can be priced accordingly. For example, $9.99 to $14.99 for single player episodes with additional fees for multiplayer content.

(2) Finish a story before releasing installments
Episodic content has come a long ways but very few developers are taking advantage of the opportunity. Valve tried their hand at creating episodic content with the Half-Life 2 series. When development time for Episodes 1 and 2 stretched out into years apart, the company backed off from saying anything about their plans for releasing episodes of content in a short timeframe.

Despite Valve failing with episodic content, TellTale Games has seen much success. They have tackled this by providing gamers with episodes lasting around 5 hours for around ten bucks a piece, offering a disk of all the content for a small fee, and then selling a season of content for around $35.00 after the season ends.

Whether or not the system TellTale Games has introduced can succeed is up for debate. However, the thing that can’t be denied is if you price it for the masses, they will buy it.

Lets take a moment and examine how TV shows are packaged. There is a set schedule for Television. These shows air weekly during the Fall and Spring and are supported by the networks paying for the development of the show. The content is also now made available, in most cases, as a per episode paid download through services like iTunes. Once the “season ends,” the show is packaged and sold as a Full Season for $29.99 up to $79.99. The average cost usually falls somewhere around the $49.99 to $59.99 which just so happens to be the same cost as a game.

Imagine a game like Fallout 3 if it were priced in this model. It would come out and there would be a set schedule of main story episodes, then they would have had their set schedule for DLC episodes, and along the way, they could have added more and more optional content. But when you are building a world as large as Fallout 3, the DLC didn’t have be seen as separate. The entire game would have continued on a path until the Developers felt the need to end the story. When all was said and done, Bethesda could have released a “Fallout 3 Complete” disk on all platforms for whatever price they felt was fair.

As games move more and more to DLC content that is planned in the development cycle, it makes even more sense to release content in bite sized chunks at a lower price per episode.

I do understand that this is a complete departure from what we have seen from the gaming industry. But as costs rise and the economy struggles, the only way we can hope to keep our industry growing is to reach out and try new models to bring in business. With a little creativity and a fresh perspective, we can give the industry a new direction for the next generation of gamers.

By Kaleb Rutherford – 08/25/09

Screenshots for The HIGH Cost of Gaming