It was being widely reported in the past couple of weeks that publishers may possibly consider to raise the retail price of next-generation games. Those reports turned out to be true when 2K Games became the first publisher to officially announce that NBA 2K21 will cost $70 on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X while costing the same $60 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
2K Games remains alone at the time of writing but other publishers are expected to confirm the new $70 de facto standard for next-generation games in the coming months, and which was a long time coming.
Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan stated only last month that the kind of jaw-dropping gameplay as shown in the recent Unreal Engine 5 demo will not come cheap on PlayStation 5. The same notion has been voiced by numerous publishers in the past few years as well about how the current ceiling for game prices has never been lower when put against inflation and the general increase in the overall cost of development.
The fact is that the games industry needs to keep up with renewed development costs which have kept increasing on a regular basis. Halo Infinite, for example, is reportedly the most expensive project in the history of the games industry. Grand Theft Auto 5, as another example, had a development budget of nearly $300 million, which implies that the next-generation Grand Theft Auto 6 follow-up was probably awarded an even larger development budget.
That being said, increasing retail prices of games from $60 to $70 is only one solution. To combat increasing development costs, publishers have been relying on microtransactions, most often hiding behind predatory business models, and expansion packs akin to cash grabs, for years now. The assumption that increased retail prices of games will convince such publishers to stop fleecing players by locking content behind paywalls is unfortunately wishful thinking.
Bundling games with differently priced editions at launch, add-ons, expansions, slew of microtransactions and general cash grabs have become standard and are here to stay. Hence, they will undoubtedly be part of the coming next-generation games but at $70 as a starting line. Those deluxe and limited editions are about to become even more expensive. Furthermore, with COVID-19 pushing for multiplayer games to cater a new stay-at-home audience, those cosmetic options are about to become even more stuffed with payment plans.
Something else to understand is that there is actually little correlation between the retail price of games and publishers trying to nickel-and-dime their players. The current $60 price tag was raised from $50 with the start of the last generation around 2006, meaning that games are becoming costly by another $10 after nearly 15 years. The price increase will more or less have no impact on how major publishers have been banking on microtransactions and post-release content for secondary revenue streams.
The only thing the new $70 price tag will do is help publishers to some degree to make up for ballooning development costs by bringing those prices in line with historical inflation. The increased basic retail price will not extinguish the desire of publishers to exploit further revenue opportunities. The proverbial icing on the cake here being a seemingly costlier next-generation of consoles.
However, it must be said that much like now, it will all come down to the publishers in question. Cory Barlog, game director of God of War, recently spoke in favor of increasing retail prices. He stated that he would “prefer an initial increase in price to the always on cash grab microtransaction-filled hellscape that some games have become.” CD Projekt Red is another well-respected name that has reiterated a stance against greed. As far as the more infamous publishers are concerned, it would actually be incredibly surprising to see a renewed focus on quality content instead of rushed fleecing DLC.