When 2K Games revealed that its upcoming basketball game NBA 2K21 will cost $70 on the PS5 and Xbox Series X, the internet immediately stirred into debate over a possible $10 price hike for next-gen titles. This increase may have a big impact on the way people buy games — and it could be a huge boon for subscription services like Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Now.
You could argue that the jump from $60 to $70 for most major console titles is expected, and even long overdue. Retail games first jumped to $60 in 2005 during the dawn of the Xbox 360 generation, and the price has remained in place for 15 years. Since then, games have only gotten bigger and more expensive, all while keeping the same price.
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“I think it’s a matter of inflation coupled with the fact that AAA PS5 and Xbox Series X games will generally be more costly to make due to a wide variety of tech improvements that allow for greater audiovisual detailing work to be done,” said Lewis Ward, research director of gaming, esports and VR/AR at IDC, a marketing research firm. “We’ll see if that’s the standard price for full games on these consoles, but my gut says that unless there’s a big revolt by gamers, it will become the norm pretty quickly.”
Will gamers buy less on PS5 and Xbox Series X?
Given that PS5 and Xbox Series X games will be built around advanced technology such as ray tracing, 4K to 8K visuals and fast SSD loading, a bump in price seems reasonable. But will gamers buy fewer titles as a result? The answer seems mixed so far.
“The typical console gamer buys just a few full games per year, and so while a $10 price hike may reduce demand at the margins, I also suspect that more gamers will instead just wait until the price drops either on packaged games or on the digital stores to $60 or $50.” said Ward. “So the main effect may be to push out sales to a later date for a portion of gamers with limited spending power.”
But dedicated gamers might not be put off by the increased price, according to Rachel Weber, managing editor for our sister site GamesRadar.
“If you’ve already invested in a next-generation console, you’re going to want to make the most of that investment with the real AAA games,” said Weber. “Just like investing in a 4K TV and then skipping cheaper Blu-rays for Ultra HD versions.”
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In an informal poll I put out on Twitter, 61% of the 121 people I surveyed said they would buy fewer games if $70 became the new standard price. Some comments echoed the same sentiments shared by Ward, as many gamers may simply wait a few months for most AAA titles to go on sale.
And they have good reason to. Major 2020 titles such as Doom Eternal and Resident Evil 3 have already seen discounts as big as 50% since launching earlier this year. So unless you’re buying Nintendo games (which very rarely go on sale), it seems safe to expect that PS5 and Xbox Series X titles will follow a similar pricing pattern once they’ve been on shelves for a bit.
A subscription-based future
A bump to $70 for PS5 and Xbox Series X games might not just affect the way people buy games; it could also make subscription services such as Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Now even more prominent.
“Subscription services are a very attractive and cost effective way to increase your gaming collection, but the hardcore, early adopters will always want to play the new games at release,” said Weber.
That’s where Microsoft could gain a big advantage. Xbox Game Pass currently gets you access to more than 100 AAA and indie games for $5 to $15 a month — and that includes all major Microsoft releases, such as Gears 5 and Halo Infinite as soon as they launch. Sony’s PlayStation Now service isn’t quite as generous with first-party games, but it does let you play hundreds of PS4, PS3 and PS2 games for $10 per month. When you compare that to paying $70 a pop for individual games, these services suddenly seem like an even better deal.
“Microsoft is pushing hard at subscription plans like Xbox Game Pass, and free-to-play console games have gotten huge in recent years, so the retail price of AAA games right out of the gate has become less of an important factor over time for a growing portion of the console gamer base,” said Ward.
Ward makes an important point about free-to-play console games. As of this writing, the most played games on Xbox One are Fortnite, Call of Duty: Warzone and NBA 2K20 — the former two are free-to-play, while the latter is on Xbox Game Pass. Gamstat paints a similar picture for PS4 games, with 3 out of the top 5 games being either free-to-play or recently included with PlayStation Plus subscriptions. In an age in which there are more ways than ever to access big games for next to nothing, perhaps a retail price jump to $70 won’t be so hard to swallow after all.