Culture Trips

Pay station: are video games too expensive? | Games

In the Guide’s weekly Solved! column, we look into a crucial pop-culture question you’ve been burning to know the answer to – and settle it, once and for all

Last year, something terrible happened. No, not that. Or that, even – something else, that you might not even be able to blame on the Tories. With new consoles from Sony and Microsoft expected, a raft of video game publishers announced that the RRP of their new releases would increase for the first time since the mid-00s. Games such as PS5’s Demon’s Souls would land at £69.99, not the £50-£55 of previous console generations. Most gamers reacted sensibly to this news. Others, not so much: remarks such as “GAMES RUINED 4EVA SO I FLUSHED MY XBOX DOWN THE DUNNY”, written by users with names like n00bsl4yer135 and @URMUM69s, were a common sight on comment threads.

But do the Sl4yers and 69s of Reddit have a point? While an extra £20 won’t break the bank for some, games might already be stretching what little disposable income many people have, particularly when twinned with the £250-£450 cost of the shiny new console on which to play them. A hardback book is £15-£20. A Blu-ray is more or less the same, as is the new Steps album on picture-disc vinyl. Compared to these, £70 for a single entertainment product seems ludicrous, particularly when there are monthly subscription services through which, for much less than that £20, you can gorge on books, films, TV and music to your avaricious little blood-pump’s content.

The (virtual) reality is, though, a little more complex than this apples-and-orangutans comparison suggests. For starters, the cost of producing an AAA game – big-budget, big-studio, tentpole titles – is now akin to that of making a Hollywood blockbuster. Grand Theft Auto V, released in 2013, cost £195m in development and marketing. December’s Cyberpunk 2077 – despite being unfinished, riddled with bugs and, on consoles, uglier than a pooing pug – came in at £228m. That’s in the same ballpark as the budget for Avengers: Infinity War. No offence to Steps, but if they spent similar sums making their new album, it was not reflected in the final product.

So if blockbuster films are analogous to games in terms of the sheer cost of putting them out, why are Blu-rays only £20? It’s here you also have to consider bang for your buck. A Martin Scorsese film lumbers in at three hours long. Most narrative-led games clock in at 15-or-so hours – five whole Scorseses; a hundred quid’s worth of Marty. You’ll get 25 hours out of 2020’s The Last of Us Part II, and you’ll have sunk 100 hours into the most recent trio of Assassin’s Creed games before seeing all they have to offer. And open-ended games like racers, sports sims and multiplayers are truly bottomless. You’ll be counting their per-hour cost in miserly fractions of pennies. Services such as PS Now and Xbox Game Pass even bring the Netflix model to games: as many titles as you can handle for £9 a month. Suddenly, the value on offer starts to look pretty good.

New games were £40 in the early 90s, back when they were short, shallow, unsightly, simple and rubbish. Adjusted for inflation, that £40 is £86 in 2021. The best modern games are slick, deep, beautiful pieces of art and are, in real terms, cheaper than they’ve ever been.

Yes, £70 is a lot. But choose wisely and you’ll never, ever feel short-changed.

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