Amidst all the gaming sales this holiday season was a surprise. A most unwelcome one.
First was the surprise that the PC version of the Final Fantasy 7 Remake (FF7R) even came out. I was so giddy when the original news came out in 2015, but that giddiness has been tempered by years of self-restraint from not purchasing a PS4 to play just that game, and the constant endeavor to avoid spoilers. Somehow that avoidance must have led me to disregard news articles that the PC version was coming out. The fact that FF7R is an Epic exclusive also didn’t even register. But that’s because…
Secondly, seventy what-the-fuck dollars?!
I understand that FF7R is by no means the first to try to raise the hitherto $60 price ceiling of games. Many games of this new console generation are trying the same, including major franchises. It does seem a little weird that the PC port of a game that came out 1.5 years ago is trying to sell at a premium price though. Especially since one could purchase the PS5 version of the same PC bundle (main game + DLC) for $39.19 straight from the Playstation Store. That’s the winter sale price, of course, but there are cheaper options at GameStop and presumably other retailers.
I also understand that gaming companies have technically been raising prices this whole time via DLC and microtransactions and battle passes and deluxe editions and so on and so forth. Some have made the argument that it is because of the $60 price ceiling that game companies have employed black hat econ-psychologists to invent ever more pernicious means of eroding consumer surplus. That argument is, of course, ridiculous: they would simply do both, as they do today.
What I do not understand is gaming apologists suggesting inflation is the reason for $70 games.
Sometimes the apologists make the argument that games have not kept pace with inflation for years. One apt example is how Final Fantasy 6 (or 3 at the time) on the SNES retailed for $79.99 back in 1994. That is literally $150 in 2021 money. Thing is… gaming was NOT mainstream back in 1994; the market was tiny, and dominated by Japan. When you are comparable in size to model train enthusiasts, you pay model train enthusiast prices.
Gaming has been mainstream for decades now. Despite ever-increasing budgets and marketing costs, games remain a high-margin product. FF6 may have sold for $150 in today’s dollars, but FF7 sold three times as many copies for the equivalent of $100 by 2003*. So how does an “inflation” argument make sense there?
“The costs for making games have increased!” I mean… yes, but also no? Developers like to pretend that they need bleeding-edge graphics in order to sell games, but that is clearly not the case everywhere. For one thing, indie developers have been killing it with some of the best titles this decade with pixel graphics and small-group passion projects. Stardew Valley sold how many copies? Remember when Minecraft sold for $2 billion? Not everyone is a big winner, but the costs of game making has only increased in specific genres with specific designs. Do we really need individually articulated and dynamically moving ass-hair on our protagonists?
And that’s where the “iT’s iNfLaTiOn” folks really lose me: who gives a shit about these corporations? I wrote about this 8 years ago:
As a consumer, you are not responsible for a company’s business model. It is perfectly fine to want the developers to be paid for their work, or to wish the company continued success. But presuming some sort of moral imperative on the part of the consumer is not only impossible, it’s also intellectually dishonest. You and I have no control over how a game company is run, how much they pay their staff, what business terms they ink, or how they run their company. Nobody asked EA to spend $300+ million on SWTOR. Nobody told Curt Schilling to run 38 Studios into the ground. Literally nobody wanted THQ to make the tablet that bankrupted the studio.
Why should we take it as a given that PlayStation 5 games cost more to develop? A lot of things in the economy actually get cheaper over time, regardless of inflation. Things like… computers and software. Personnel costs may usually only trend upwards, but again, someone else made the decision to assign 300 people to a specific game instead of 250. Or to scrap everything and start over halfway through the project. And somehow these companies continue making money hand over fist without $70 default pricing. So I find it far more likely that the price increase is a literal cash grab in the same way the airline industry added billions in miscellaneous fees after their bailouts and “forgot” to remove them after they recovered. Basically, because they could. Some informal industry collusion helps.
In summation: fuck the move towards legitimizing $70 MSRP. That 14% price hike is not going to result in 14% better games with 14% deeper stories and 14% more fun. In fact, it’s probably the opposite in that you will just afford 14% fewer games. And unless you got a 6% raise in 2021, you are already eating a pay cut on top of that.
Oh well. Waited this long for FF7R, so I may as well wait some more.
You are probably aware of the Epic Game Store’s predilection towards bribing indie developers with fat stacks of cash to get them to sign one-year exclusivity deals, sometimes after Steam has been giving the same developers months of free advertising by being listed (and even preordered!) on the store. That can be considered an erosion of consumer surplus or clever use of game (business) mechanics, depending on how you feel about the taste of boots. What has hitherto been unmentioned is Epic’s stick on the other end of the carrot: declined exclusivity will keep you off the Epic store.
On July 27th (Saturday) I uploaded a new trailer anouncing Steam launch date. On July 30th (Tuesday) I was contacted by the Epic Store, proposing that I enter into an exclusivity agreement with them instead of releasing DARQ on Steam. They made it clear that releasing DARQ non-exclusively is not an option. I rejected their offer before we had a chance to talk about money.
Now, maybe there is a less nefarious reason for why the Epic store “is not in a position yet to open the store up to games that simship.” Perhaps it is related to the reasons why a Shopping Cart or Wishlist are apparently impossible to implement even with bigdick Fortnite money in a digital game store in 2019. Maybe Tim Sweeney is just an odious asshole, celebrating a “multi-store future” with GOG – a competitor in financial trouble – but not with Steam, which would invite embarrassing comparisons.
The bottom line is that the developers of DARQ turned down Epic’s exclusivity deal and now they will not be able to sell their game on Epic. Because “reasons.” It makes me slightly more sympathetic to the (indie) developers of these games, as it was not just the ready cash, but also the threat of losing out on tens of millions of other eyeballs on other storefronts.
As a reminder, none of this exclusivity bullshit is necessary. Epic could simply undercut the Steam price by 5% forever AND grant developers a larger percentage of the cut, and I would buy all my games in the Epic store. I do some ridiculous shit to save $1-$2 after all. Maybe that’s Plan B for when they run out of exclusivity money?
Oh well. Let’s see how they spin this.
It’s a real shame that Borderlands 3 isn’t coming out until next year…
Memes aside, I won’t rehash why (Epic) exclusives are bad. Instead, I wanted to talk about Rohan’s closing paragraph about the subject:
Ultimately, I think Epic’s exclusives strategy was entirely predictable. It’s also possibly the only strategy with a chance of breaking Steam’s hold on the market. I expect that while Epic may pay lip service to complaints about exclusives, they’re going to ignore the community clamour, and follow this strategy until they get established.
It’s already been admitted/established that Epic is doing this because they have an inferior product with no hope of creating better value for customers. But what struck me with the above paragraph was what happens if it succeeds. Like, they get X number of people to buy Borderlands 3 (etc) in the Epic store. So… now what?
I guess the hope is that each time you log into Borderlands 3 or whatever, you see whatever handful of other games Epic is selling. Okay. But we’ve kinda already established that the people buying from the Epic store are those who don’t really care about storefronts – they are just following specific games. And at the moment, Epic isn’t actually competing on price either. Metro Exodus is $50 instead of $60, but it’s not a “deal” because you can’t buy it anywhere else.
The endgame, such as it is, appears aimed squarely at game publishers just eventually not ever listing their games on Steam anymore. Which wouldn’t make much sense until the userbase of the Epic store is much higher, which these exclusives are attempting to achieve. But, again, there’s nothing really keeping customers coming back. Steam has a social ecosystem between reviews, forums, modding (i.e. Steam Workshop), chat, streaming, and so on. That and Steam sales. Epic so far has… exclusives… bought with Fortnite money.
I suppose the real best-case scenario here is that Epic bribes enough developers that Valve eventually responds by lowering their percentage ratio for everyone across the board. Epic could still buy timed exclusives, but it’s possible the bigger fish no longer bite as the Steam install-base remains in the tens of millions. In which case… fantastic? It’s not as though Valve actually makes games anymore, so them losing revenue doesn’t actually impact anything.
But in the meantime, fuck Epic and this ridiculous storefront war waged at the expense of consumers.
It is 2012. We should not be living in a world in which I cannot play The Last of Us without buying a six year-old, $250 console. I mean, look at this:
Metal Gear 4 wasn’t enough, but goddamn if The Last of Us pushes me to it. Probably not really, but who knows what kind of holiday sales there will be between now and then. Hopefully one that includes the Ico/Shadow of the Colossus HD pack, MGS4, and… err, the Uncharted series? Am I missing something else exclusive to the PS3 worth playing?
Also, looking forward to Far Cry 3. Luckily, it will be on the PC.