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Inflation

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.

Black Market AH

Heeeeeelllllloooo, nurse.

Yes, please.

So the lede here is that Blizzard may be introducing a “Black Market” AH into Mists that is capable of selling, say, the Ashes of Al’ar. We can have the discussion as to whether that devalues the 0.13% mount or not in a moment. What I am more interested right now is in the very notion that:

  1. These mounts (etc) potentially becoming BoE or otherwise Bind on Use.
  2. This being a brilliant money-sink into a rapidly inflationary economy.
  3. Blizzard getting into the business of selling in-game items with in-game currency.

That last point may seem odd (vendors have been around since Day 1), but what I mean is not necessarily the selling of the Ashes of Al’ar, but of any of the mounts/items that otherwise are only obtainable by grueling hours /played.

The initial reaction may be to say that this is counter-intuitive; by definition, what Blizzard is doing is making these items easier to obtain, which not only reduces their scarcity, but allows players to actually eat the carrot. In the long view, players actually accomplishing their goals is bad for business. As the classical argument goes, the Black Market AH should be the equivalent of cheat codes, which hollows out the enjoyment that comes from restrictions and limitations – an infinite life Super Mario Bros is a less fun Super Mario Bros.

However, I must ask this: is a Konami Code-less Contra a less fun Contra?

Contra Title Screen

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, get off my lawn.

Nethaera on the Blizzard forums mentions:

It’s worth noting that since we’re in beta, we’re still looking into what our philosophies are for what should and what shouldn’t be on the Black Market. We’re also trying to discern the frequency/rarity of what shows up there as well.

So perhaps we will not ultimately see the Ashes of Al’ar on the Black Market after all.

But… why shouldn’t we? I brought up Contra because, as anyone who attempted to actually play the game without the Konami Code can attest, the game was stupidly difficult to beat within the default number of lives. So much so, that I imagine few would even try without the Konami Code. Thus, the Konami “cheat code” probably generated more enjoyment in the aggregate than was lost from “bypassing” the difficulty.

In other words, while the “legitimate” owners of Al’ar or the TCG items or whatever Blizzard ends up selling on the Black Market do “lose” something of value (scarcity), I believe the incremental gain by everyone else results in a net positive. Obviously, the average player doesn’t have the 200,000g+ that it will require to actually obtain these items, but they couldn’t get a group together to farm Kael’thas either. What the average player can do is farm herbs or run dailies and otherwise set X amount of gold as a goal to reach in the pursuit of Al’ar; something that was largely unobtainable before, but now has a “reasonable” path towards.

Will these undoubtedly obscene prices encourage gold-sellers? Maybe, maybe not. Just keep in mind that unlike the sale of BoE raiding epics – whose prices already can encourage gold selling – the final gold price of Black Market items are removed from the economy permanently, regardless of whether they can be resold or are BoP from the mailbox. Any reduction in inflation is a net positive for everyone.

So, I say: bring it on. And not just because I have oodles of gold with nothing else to buy.

P.S. The Daily Blink has the right idea:

WTB that Actual Subscriber Data.