Are Video Games Too Expensive These Days? This Developer Certainly Thinks So

According to People Can Fly's Adrian Chmielarz - former creative director of the game Bulletstorm - the currently accepted $60 price tag for modern AAA games is "a little insane." Perhaps because of how many fantastic indie (and free to play) games on the market these days, gamers expect significantly more for their money. By focusing so heavily on the $60 AAA price tag, developers are "leaving money on the table" - and potentially alienating their target audience.

"Everybody is smart in retrospect, and looking back I do think that we were possibly among the first victims of this giant shift in gaming, where the middle-class AAA games began to die--not 'middle-class' by quality, but we didn't have ten multiplayer modes and co-op and all of that," Chmielarz told gameslndustry International. "The saying in the industry right now is, 'If you want to sell a game for $60, to the player it has to feel like $200.'"

"Bulletstorm was a $60 game for $60," he continued. "And these days $60 for a game sounds basically crazy, when there are literally hundreds of high quality games out there for a much smaller price--even on console. In 2014, $60 for a game is a little insane."

How can we nip this thing in the bud? How can we prevent AAA development from declining any more than it already has? It's clear that this is an industry-wide problem, after all. 

According to Chmielarz, we need to look at how games are developed. The problem - and perhaps one of the reasons AAA gaming is being slowly overtaken by independent developers - doesn't lie with the games themselves. There are plenty of unique, creative, and interesting concepts, ideas, and mechanics being pushed out by big studios, and large developers are every bit as capable of being innovative as indies - he points to The Last of us and Wolfenstein: The New Order as a few examples.

So...what's the issue, then?

To put it simply: both the industry and its audience are too hung up on arbitrary details; too obsessed with outdated notions of price, length, and perceived value. As a result, far too many good ideas are funneled towards the same basic, cookie-cutter objectives. There needs to be multiplayer. There needs to be DLC, and extra outfits for all the characters, and a hundred different game-modes. There needs to be a focus on combat, and a means of appealing to every single gamer in the world.

Have you ever heard the phrase "when you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one?" This applies here.  And it needs to stop.

"There is a necessity to add filler in AAA games, whether it be collectibles or one more wave of enemies," explained Chmierlaz. "It's unfortunate, and it's also proof that the world is insane. Because you have players demanding that games are long, but then you look at the data and see that not even half of those people see even half of the game. There's clearly something wrong there, right? 70 or 80 per cent of people never finish the game. That's insanity, right?"

"But I think that's connected to the price, and there we go again. Lower prices would allow us to stop thinking about filler for our games, and start focusing on making the experience just right. You have to live with the fact that some players will complain no matter what, but I think that when your game is tight, and the story you want to tell is told exactly the way you want, I think the effect is way more powerful than anyone complaining that they didn't get 100 hours of entertainment for their $60." 

In other words, if the industry is really going to mature - if we're really going to avoid another video game crash - we need to lower the price of our games. We need to let developers focus on what they want their games to look like, not on how they can justify their games having such an exorbitant price tag. That, I think, is a message that everyone in gaming - developer or no - should take to heart. After all, true innovation can't really happen when all we're focused on is dollar signs.