Last month, Electronic Arts and DICE launched Star Wars Battlefront, the shooter that’s replacing what would have been a Battlefield launch this year, and it’s a great game, as evidenced by our recent review of it by Dane, and the first impressions that my brother Matthew and I wrote during the beta. But while it is deserving of the accolades it’s been given by critics elsewhere on the internet, I never noticed until these past few weeks that Battlefront has finally taken us past the point of no return – the game costs R1,000 in most walk-in stores and online retailers. Yikes! But it’s not just Battlefront, as I later discovered. Hit the jump and join me as I learn more about this sad situation.
|Star Wars Battlefront PS4 online pricing 25 November 2015 compared to retail prices (no discounts applied)
| Playstation store (Deluxe Edition)
|CNA (online and in-store)||R999.90|
|Musica (online and in-store)||R999.95|
|BT Games (in-store)||R999.92|
|Makro (online and in-store)||R899.00|
|Game (online and in-store)||R1000|
I called around a few stores to verify pricing and to make sure what the regular price was without promotions. BT Games in Walmer Park shopping centre, Port Elizabeth, straight up told me the in-store game price was R999.92 without me asking, as if the consultant knew what my next question was going to be almost immediately. I went to my local CNA and Musica – both sold the game for the same price as their online store. It’s fairly unprecedented, at least for me, to see a base game shipping without DLC, without colour-printed multi-page manuals, without extra codes for DLC, or any sort of freebies, for R1,000. That’s the kind of price territory usually occupied by collector’s editions of many video games.
The copies of the games on offer are also all of the vanilla variety with the exception of Sony’s offering, which is the Deluxe Edition which comes with “instant access” to the DL-44 blaster that Han Solo uses, as well as the Ion Detonator and the Ion Torpedo. There’s also two emotes included, which are Victory and Ion Shock. None of this really seems worth the extra R100 you’re paying over the base game but it’s still something that the physical copies don’t have, and the base game sells for R899 on the PS Store. That’s the funny thing about the Battlefront release – purchasing the game online through PSN or Xbox Live is finally cheaper than going to buy it in a retail store!
It’s not just Battlefront either, as I said earlier. Almost every single new AAA title released in November 2015 is priced at around R1,000. This applies to Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Need For Speed (2015), Rise of the Tomb Raider, Forza 6, and Halo 5 Guardians. Just a month before, titles like Assassin’s Creed Syndicate had price ceilings of R899. In one month, we’ve jumped up by R100, and if reports from insiders are to be believed, we’re in for another R100 price hike before the year is out. Imagine that, paying R1,100 for a brand new console game. It makes being a PC gamer ridiculously cheap by comparison (and it is).
Now to be fair, some retailers are taking proactive approaches to the price hikes. Some have dropped the pricing online to a more affordable level, and in Takealot’s case, R899 is the price ceiling for them before discounts are applied. There are definitely people working in these companies and in the local gaming industry that have probably told the right people that games being priced at R1,000 is considered excessive, and unaffordable for most people. I’m reminded of walking into Toys R Us at the beginning of 2008, and seeing stickers of R1,000 on games for the PS3 at the time a week after the global economic crisis spread to the rest of the globe. At the time, finance minister Trevor Manuel hadn’t even briefed parliament on the situation, and retailers were already being told to hike up the prices of games to make up for any shortfall.
Intrigued by the lack of people complaining about game prices online on social networks, I took to four forums to gauge the response by gamers to the price hikes, knowing that some people don’t keep track of price changes like I do, and knowing that some people have the disposable income to shrug off such hikes. I ran polls on the NAG Online forums, the MyGaming forums, Mybroadband forums, SA Gamer forums, and on Twitter. I also had polls on Facebook, but those were ultimately hijacked by people not taking the issue seriously. 136 people voted for the options listed here through the forum polls. Here’s the results of the polls thus far.
Now, here’s the bit that I’m not so sure of. Many people here voted for “Hell no!”, but I know that the trend is that people will say they’re not supporting something, and quietly relent later. This is not a criticism aimed at you at all, dear reader, this is purely looking back at what’s happened before in the past. For example, thousands of people vowed to boycott buying Call of Duty: Black Ops II before the game’s launch because it didn’t have dedicated servers, but relented weeks later for reasons that are all perfectly valid, such as that’s what their friends were playing. This image exists as a reminder that people’s opinions change over time, and acceptance comes after denial and depression in the five stages of grief. Consumer reactions to things like price hikes may be strong initially, but few people have the patience or frame of mind to just not buy products at these higher prices.
15% of voters agreed with me that the situation was depressing. The reality is that we’ve been largely sheltered from price fluctuations by companies like Megarom, Prima Interactive, and Ster Kinekor, who have tried to keep pricing on a stable level. It benefits the local distributors if they change pricing every month to suit their bottom line and to offset losses, but these companies aren’t run by heartless people – some are gamers just like us, and they know that charging high prices will result in a drop in sales. Mo’ money, mo’ problems.
To better get an idea of how people are reacting to the pricing, I took a look at some of the comments and opinions in the forum threads and on Facebook. In the minority were people who view their game purchases in slices of time, where they divide up the time they’d spend in-game and work out how much it costs them per hour of entertainment. Playing a 6-hour-long campaign for Black Ops III for R999 yields a per-hour price of R166.50, but sinking 200 hours into the multiplayer drops that to R4.99. It’s an interesting viewpoint, because what else gives you as much fun as the multiplayer in Black Ops III for just R5? Movies cost much, much more per hour by this metric.
“If you break down the cost per hour, you will see this is one of the cheapest forms of entertainment compared to the rest. I bought Killzone Shadowfall for R500 – 2nd hand – I spent over 350 hours playing it, works out to R1.40 / hour.Where are you going to get entertained for R1.40 (+electricity) an hour? (Normal RRP -R899- would work out to R2.50/hour+-). This is what I base my purchases on, replay-ability and longevity.”
“I feel that buying a very expensive game forces the game into a set standard that the game can normally not achieve. I wish I could play games and then pay for what the experience was worth accordingly. For The Witcher 3 I would pay R1000. For Starcraft 2 I would pay R2000, the amount of hours spent in absolute entangled pleasure directly influences this pay-amount.”
The next, much larger, group of people were the ones that immediately said that they disliked the price and didn’t want to pay up for a game that had a price tag of R1,000. Lumped in with this group were the people who likewise didn’t like the price, and said that they found it difficult to justify buying a game for such a high price, and others mentioned that they only bought games during sales. And from my standpoint, I’d agree – a single AAA title can chew up as much as a tenth of the salary of many South Africans. However, because games are an interactive medium, there’s an argument to be made that, again, you’re not going to get this much entertainment for the same price anywhere else. Perhaps Batista’s point is one that more people should consider.
“Holy ****. I thought it was just Battlefront. Then I thought it was just EA games, but what the ****? At this rate I’m never buying another console again, let alone a PS4 which I planned for next year.”
“I’ve never paid more than R400 for a game on the Xbox store but that’s because I have waited for sales. I picked up Sunset Overdrive for R350, AC Unity for R199, Titanfall for R130 with all the DLC. Just last week GTA V was R400 or so.”
While there were other trends in opinions that I could see, like people who only bought a few games a year, or those who played free-to-play titles like Hearthstone, League of Legends, or Team Fortress 2 to save money, there were also those that implied that anyone paying these prices wasn’t consumer-savvy enough, and that no-one was forcing them to buy games from the retail stores, or from online shops.
“People that scoop up **** AAA games as fast as they are launched for hundreds of Rands and then try to justify it with entertainment value by rand per hour nonsense is just plain dumb. EA amongst others used to sell their AAA titles for sub R400 in SA and it wasn’t many years ago so their pretty much doubled their retail prices in say 2-3 years which is just plain greedy.”
“Yes, if someone actually pays R999 for not only this game but any other game, then clearly they have no idea what shopping around means. There is even a Pricecheck website that does the work for you.”
“Well if Parents are buying their “kids” R1000 games then clearly they don’t have a cash problem…. Most parents will also shop around… just because they are a parents they don’t lose all intelligence/common sense when buying something…”
Which… to be fair, is also a valid opinion. People who walk into CNA and buy Rise of the Tomb Raider for a grand might not know that they can get it online for cheaper. When I was younger, I’d be the one asking my parents to buy a game I’d seen in a store, and I clearly remember asking my father to pay R399 for Gran Turismo 2 when I was much younger, hoping that we’d be leaving the store with it, and ready to complain if we didn’t. Still, I sat down with my mom and asked her how they’d shopped for video games for us as parents, to see how they justified the prices back then.
Jacqui, my mom
“Well, when we were going around the mall shopping for your gifts, especially at Christmas, your father and I would go to all the stores that might stock the game you wanted and see what the price was. Because we’re there already, we’d be looking at what the price was at other stores in the mall – if it was the same everywhere, we’d grab it. If it was cheaper in one place, we’d get it there. But there was no justifying how much we’d actually paid for the game, it was just something that you wanted, and we wanted to make you happy. We didn’t want to waste time buying things online either – we were at the mall, we could get all the Christmas shopping at the same time in a few hours, and we paid whatever the price was for the games.”
There’s more to this issue than I’m able to fit into an article here, and I’m not the only person who thinks that this situation could be a whole lot better. Gaming is an expensive hobby no matter which way you slice it, and unless you’re only playing free-to-play titles and somehow not paying for anything, then you’re clearly winning this battle better than I. My love for the franchises that I pour hours into means that I’ll have to pay for them, but given how much prices are increasing for everything across the board, the rising cost of the standard of living means that I’ll have to buy less games every year, limiting myself to a few franchises that I can support.
A few years ago, NAG magazine ran a survey that looked at what gamers were paying for their hobby and surprisingly, many of the magazine’s readers said that they’d spent in excess of R3,000 on games per year, while PC gamers said that their budget spent on hardware per year clocked in at around R13,000. It’s clear that many of you already pay a lot of money for your games, but are these rising costs sustainable for you, or is there a breaking point, and is there a chance that you’re close to it? Let me know in the comments below.
There will be more on this story as my investigation continues. Stay tuned.