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High Horse: When did $10 become a “cheap” XBLA/PSN download?

High Horse is a rotating opinion column in which GamesRadar editors and guest writers are invited to express their personal thoughts on games, the people who play them and the industry at large.

When it first launched, I was pretty dubious of the 360’s software line-up. Perfect Dark Zero was a bust, games like Gun and King Kong didn’t look all that improved compared to the Xbox versions, and the less said about Kameo the better. Just as I was deciding dismiss the 360 until the “real games” started coming out, I kept hearing from friends and reading online that easily the must-own launch game was a title called Geometry Wars. The best part? It was only five dollars.

Geometry Wars was an incredible game and the perfect experience to introduce new 360 owners to the concept of Live Arcade, with the attractive price being part of the fun. After that came a long series of games priced at 400 MS points/$5, some that were barely-improved arcade ports like Frogger, Galaga and the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but that had a certain novelty at the time. Alongside them came a few $10 titles, but those typically were of an obvious higher quality than 30 year-old arcade games. Cut to today when $15 sets the standard and any high profile title being $10 seems like a gift. What happened?

Downloadable games as a concept were around long before Live Arcade and the PlayStation Store, but those emerging and quickly growing platforms were very new in the console market, with many publishers unsure how to react. Who’s to blame for this situation that’s before us now? While Sony has some responsibility on the pricing (Nintendo has barely had an impact so far), Microsoft easily has the strongest influence in the console downloadable space. And over time, Microsoft has altered its pricing structure and driven up the definition of “normal” prices to the state we’re in now.

Though a couple games had been $15 before, if you look back to 2008 you’ll see a time when $15 was a hard sell to players. In the first Summer of Arcade promotion, Braid was set at 1200 points and the internet reacted so negatively to it, creator Jonathon Blow had to personally defend it. It was such an unprecedented case to charge $15 for that and Castle Crashers (which launched two weeks later), that PR had to address the controversy. Yet in the 2009 Summer of Arcade, four of the five games were priced at $15 with little public complaint. All five SoA titles were $15 in 2010, last year’s SoA featured only one $10 game, and few batted an eye.

Beyond Microsoft ultimately setting the prices for these titles, another big factor in the increasing acceptance of the rising cost was players growing accustomed to paying that much for games that justified the price tag. Few that played Braid, Castle Crashers, Shadow Complex, Limbo, or Trials HD would argue that they didn’t get premium content for $15. As players saw proof that these prices could potentially be vindicated by the right game, more publishers saw their downloads as on the same level and priced accordingly. The increasing quality of XBLA games matching the rising costs has been Microsoft’s defense in the past too. But ask yourself; is a graphical powerhouse like Trine 2 worth the same as (admittedly quality) old ports like Marvel vs Capcom 2 or Radiant Silvergun, let alone TMNT: Turtles in Time?

On the bright side, perhaps things have quieted down some lately in the realm of pricing for downloadables. Of the 23 games released on XBLA since October 19, only five of those titles were $15. Aside from two $5 releases, the rest were $10, proving that $10 has become the average for “low cost” downloads. It’s also heartening to see how very few $20 titles are on the service, outside of games like Telltale’s Sam & Max seasons, whose price tag makes sense. In fact, the originally $20 Penny Arcade Episode 1 now goes for half that price, so it seems unlikely future games will top the $15 price tag any time soon.

Price vs quality backlash happened recently with titles like Hydrophobia, a poorly received game that the publisher eventually updated and slashed to $10. Sega gave Sonic 4 Episode 1 a similar cut from $15 to $10, perhaps because many felt it hardly had the content to support its high price. Microsoft has actually gone to the trouble of permanently lowering the price on several older titles that were once $15. Could this be a sign that publishers along with Microsoft have come to realize you can’t get always expect players to accept a premium price if the content can’t deliver?

Even if there seems to be a partial step back from the edge of $15 becoming too common a price, we’ll probably never return to the days of frequent $5 downloads. The most recent $5 XBLA game was Quarrel, a free app on many phones, which shows you the acceptable level of quality to warrant that price. I had hoped that more companies would learn from Capcom’s aggressively-priced $5 Dead Rising: Case Zero, which was a tremendous deal (and still is). Instead, we got $5 releases like EA’s Dead Space: Ignition, a glorified browser game.

At best we can take solace in the fact that Microsoft has at least gotten better at temporary price cuts, with eye-catching weekly sales. The cuts often aren’t as low as PlayStation Plus exclusive deals and can’t compare to Steam’s very aggressive pricing, but it’s a step in the right direction. Looking to the future, only two of four games in the next XBLA promotion are priced at $15, and we can hope this type of pricing continues into the next Summer of Arcade. Sadly that’s what we’ll have to settle for, as the days of truly great games launching at $5 aren’t coming back to XBLA/PSN.

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34 comments

  • Ravenbom - February 6, 2012 5:34 p.m.

    Yeah, Steam sales are fucking amazing. So are the Humble bundles which is where I picked up VVVVVV and Super Meat Boy and Shank and others for $6. I just wish that they would have sales instead of mostly fixed prices. How about a Winter or Spring of Sales to sell the Summer of Arcade games at a slight discount.
  • BigDannyH - February 6, 2012 2:15 p.m.

    Gotta say Henry, I'm a little disappointed with this article. We gamers are tight enough as it is, we really don't need the people we respect in the press egging us on. I live in London, so can only go by sterling, but I feel 800 points (£7) is a cheap, or at least very reasonable price for a piece of non-essential entertainment. Cheaper than your average trip to the cinema, price of a gig, DVD or a few pints down the pub. 1200 points is hardly breaking the bank either. There are so many decent, medium-sized developers getting closed down at the moment and if we start complaining about spending 15 dollars on the things we love I don't know where we're heading. Also, almost all XBLA games have a demo. It's much easier to decide if the games worth spending the money on. You don't always get that with boxed games which are a far bigger investment and not necessarily of a higher quality.
  • McNeelyJ - February 6, 2012 1:14 p.m.

    Certain games are worth $15. Most aren't. I wait for a price cut. I only paid $8 for Bastion and Renegade Ops...partly because i upgraded my xbox - 20GBs (really 13GBs) doesn't get you too far when games are more that 150MBs. So I jumped at the Bastion price cut, as well as the Renegade Ops. I was not willing to pay $15 for Renegade Ops, especially when Steam was offering buy 2 get 1 free, which was basically $10 per copy, which I would have done if MS had a gifting system in place. I would have paid $30 to get it and give two copies away. Pity MS isn't that innovative.
  • CameronPoe - February 4, 2012 10:58 p.m.

    So when are we going to see a High Horse article by B. Buttercup?
  • FauxFurry - February 4, 2012 11:21 p.m.

    One written while he is high on 'grass'. It must be done...for Science!
  • slimjim441 - February 5, 2012 8:52 p.m.

    Pretty sure B. Buttercup did a High Horse article a while ago. Like a month ago.
  • xarab4lyfex - February 4, 2012 7:08 p.m.

    Capcom, as much of money whores as they are, are actually surprisingly cheap with some DLC, RE 5 LIM, a great DLC, was only 5 bucks, and we got a lot of content from that and so was the less than steller Desperate Escape, but still only 5 dollars for a lot of content.
  • Arucard04 - February 4, 2012 6:09 p.m.

    wtf was wrong with Kameo?
  • FauxFurry - February 4, 2012 5:02 p.m.

    The Deals of the Week and similar promotions are the entire point of the new pricing scheme. It provides additional incentive to purchase Xbox Live Gold and, since the deals are completely random(to outside observers, anyway), to keep one's subscription current. Sony is just following suit. I can't say that it is ineffective as I have far more XBLA games and PSN downloads than I otherwise would have even considered buying primarily because they were available for 1/2,1/3 or 1/4 of the original prices.
  • Redeater - February 4, 2012 4 p.m.

    I actually just purchased Pigsey's Perfect 10 last night for 800 points. That was a tough pill to swallow as Enslaved is selling new everywhere for $10. There is about 5 or 6 DLC for games I still want to get that are about 800-1200 each but when you add up all the points that is going to run me about $80-$100!!
  • asspills - February 4, 2012 2:29 p.m.

    Even though we've all heard way too much about it, The biggest villain in this price fiasco is DLC. Nevermind having to shell out 20 bucks for an arcade game of limited content, I'm paying more for 3 Call of Duty maps than I am for the entirety of Battlefield 1943, an entire (albeit multiplayer only) game, that comes with 4 MASSIVE maps. I used to be able to get Gears of War and Halo map packs for free. At worst I'd have to wait a couple weeks.
  • angelusdlion - February 4, 2012 1:24 p.m.

    I remember my mother feeding our family of 5 on 100 bucks a week. I just spent 100 bucks to feed myself for a week. Inflation is a bitch, isn't it? If you seriously don't like it that much don't pay for the game at all. They'll get the message.
  • yonderTheGreat - February 5, 2012 3:48 a.m.

    1)The cheap stuff doubled in price in 6 years. That's not just inflation. 2)100 bucks a week to feed yourself? Either you have an eating problem or you don't know how to shop for groceries & then cook them for yourself. Someone who knows how to cook should be able to spend about $2.50 per meal, considering that some meals will be a PB&J sammich with a coke and some will be a big juicy steak with fries and a few beers. Either stop going thru the drive-thru or stop buying "individual serving" portions at premium grocery stores. Also... yeah... I agree with the basic, overall premise of this article. But I'd also wager that OVERALL the quality of XBLA games are increasing. I still wish Dungeon Siege would be released on XBLA!
  • larkan - February 6, 2012 9:32 a.m.

    Sounds like you're living the high life if you're paying $100 a week for food and drink. To each their own though, if you have the money to spend, more power to you. As far as the games go, I usually wait for deals on Steam for a game to drop in price, or really just search the web for deals. I picked up Bulletstorm for $6 this weekend from Gamefly (formerly Direct2Drive). I usually don't buy the downloadables from PS-SEN unless they are multiplayer and worth it (Perfect Dark, Castle Crashers). I do agree that most games today, even full priced, packaged games, are way, way overpriced. The replay value for most games just isn't there anymore. I bought Uncharted 3, beat it within a weekend, beat it again on the hardest difficulty, and there was nothing else for me. No new game+ or anything. Yeah it had a multiplayer, but really it wasn't that fun. To me, that game should've had the option to pay $30 for the single player, $30 for the multi, or buy the package for $50, but in no way shape or form was that game worth $60. I couldn't believe when they charged $15 for Limbo. I had a friend beat the game in under 3 hours...what the hell did he pay for...the "super artsy" direction? No, he paid way too much. A 3 hour game should be priced at $5, not $15.
  • Darkhawk - February 4, 2012 1:02 p.m.

    Try buying XBLA titles in Canada! 1200 MSP is roughly $19.50 when you include HST!
  • EroticInvisibleMan - February 4, 2012 4:03 p.m.

    $30 AUD. Quit your bitching.
  • Scoob - February 4, 2012 12:47 p.m.

    I always buy these games on sale. The come on sale sooner or later, usually twice a year on XBL, PSN, or Steam. It's just a matter of waiting.
  • slimjim441 - February 5, 2012 8:54 p.m.

    Steam sales are ridiculous. Got both Mass Effect games for $15 last Christmas.
  • Fuzunga - February 4, 2012 12:39 p.m.

    Let's stop and think for a minute here. These games are $15. Not $60. Not $40. Not even $20. $15. They are usually of high quality and constantly on sale. Let's stop bitching about this now, please. Did I mention these games are ONLY FIFTEEN DOLLARS!?
  • Redeater - February 4, 2012 3:48 p.m.

    Yeah except $15 is quite a price to pay when you consider how fast games drop down in price these days. Hell I just picked up Dead Rising 2 for $10. That is about twice the cost of the already low priced DLC and it is what.....10-15 times the length and size? Trust me buddy, if you aren't already on Steam you should be. They understand how to sell games. I have about 20 twenty times as many games on my Steam account then I do on my Xbox and I have a shitty computer that can't play half of them.....yet.

Showing 1-20 of 34 comments

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