When it comes to prices, gamers can be very fickle. Many gamers won’t hesitate to drop hundreds of dollars on fancy new systems, cool accessories, and collectible gaming paraphernalia. At the same time, the prospect of paying extra for the video games themselves causes quite the uproar!
That’s exactly what happened when both Sony and Microsoft dropped a pricing bombshell on us. It looks like $70 (or $69.99) will be the new industry standard price for games. This is up $10 from the $60 (or $59.99) industry standard price of the past 15 years. The news originates from the announcement that NBA 2K21 will cost $70 for next-gen consoles (while remaining $60 for current-gen).
While the price increase may sound like a big jump, it’s not. In fact, for longterm gamers, these prices are cheaper than they seem! Here is the history of gaming industry prices.
All about inflation
To understand game prices throughout history, you must first understand inflation. The depressing truth is that a dollar was worth a lot more in the 1980s and 1990s than it is now. Thus, the game prices that seemed cheaper in the past may not have actually been cheaper.
For example, $59.99 was a pretty common price for games on the Sony PlayStation or Sega Saturn. But if you account for inflation, that $59.99 you might have spent back in 1997 would be nearly $96 in 2020.
We’re going to highlight several price comparisons in this article and adjust for inflation. But if you want the TL;DR version, gaming has been cheaper for most of the last decade than it was in the decades before. And even with the next-gen price hike, we may be coming out ahead!
Gaming’s early years
The early years of gaming were a bit like the Wild West. Game creators often stole as much as they invented, and there was no single idea of what a video game could be. On top of that, there were no standard prices, either.
In 1976, it cost about $100 to bring Pong into your home. But if you account for inflation, that $100 is equivalent to over $450 today!
Things got a bit better with the advent of the Atari 2600 and other home consoles. However, game cartridge prices varied dramatically. You could pick up Activision’s Tennis from Sears for only $19.99 in 1982. While that sounds like a good deal, the cost would be over $53 today.
And some games were even more expensive. B-17 Bomber on the Intellevision cost $39.99 at the time, which would be over $106 today!
The NES era
The Nintendo Entertainment System is largely credited with saving gaming after the video game crash of 1983. Additionally, the NES helped to stabilize game prices, although there was still a surprising amount of variation.
For example, you might have paid $60 for a top-of-the-line NES game back in the day. But $60 in 1985 would be a whopping $142.97 today!
Some game prices would drift as low as $10, especially after they had been out a while. Ten dollars in 1985 would be the equivalent of a little over $23 today — pretty much in line with our modern discount game prices.
Generally speaking, though, the average NES gamer paid $40 per game, or $95.31 in today’s dollars. With that in mind, you can tell why paying only $60 per game for so long has been a good deal!
Bigger games, bigger prices
While Nintendo dominated the 8-bit era, they had some competition in the 16-bit arena. The Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis each fought for supremacy. Unfortunately, this rivalry didn’t help keep the game prices down.
It wasn’t uncommon for a new Genesis game like Strider to sell for about $68, which would be $133.40 today. And popular SNES games like Street Fighter II and Final Fantasy III would sell for $69.99.
Obviously, the $70 price tag for games is nothing new. And $70 in 1990 would be $137.32 today!
Out with cartridges, in with discs
By now, your head is probably spinning with these high prices. What, then, helped bring these prices down to earth? The arrival of games on discs.
It was far cheaper to publish games on CDs than on cartridges. This helped drive the cost of games down, though it took a bit of time to do so.
As noted earlier, early PlayStation and Sega Saturn games often sold for $59.99, and some went as high as $69.99. However, these prices gradually fell, and for a few years, gamers generally didn’t pay more than $40 or $50 for a disc-based game.
Granted, $50 in 2002 would be more like $71.26 in today’s dollars. But gaming prices were slowly falling into what we’d consider the normal range.
The new normal
With the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3, we had our new normal. New games would cost $59.99, and that cost would tumble down after enough time had passed.
This is why we put so much emphasis on inflation when it comes to understanding game prices. On paper, a gamer in 2006 was paying more for a PS3 game than he would have paid in 1985 for a NES game. But adjusting for inflation, that $60 in 2006 was effectively cheaper than $20 in 1985.
The gaming community has enjoyed this “new normal” for about 15 years. And it looks like the next generation of gaming will bring that to an end.
Is it worth it?
Only one big question remains: will these new games be worth the higher cost? Only time will tell.
One thing we do know about that standardized game price of $59.99 is that game development became much more expensive during its reign. With any luck, a higher cost per game will make it easier to create games and maybe even help eliminate the dreaded “crunch” of rapid game development.
If nothing else, you can use these new systems’ backwards compatibility to enjoy all your favorite old games and catch these new releases on discount later on!