There has always been a difference in prices between games for the current consoles and for the PC. While the general margin for both has gone up in the last few years, the gap has remained surprisingly stable. Until recently, that is.
As long as we are talking about standard editions, the pricing is quite simple. Nowadays, new PC titles usually retail between ZAR350 and ZAR400, console titles range from ZAR600 to ZAR700. Similar price gaps exist all over the world, as a quick check with the major retailers and online stores will confirm. They’re not always in the same proportion, but they are there.
A short while ago however, some publishers started retailing their A-List PC titles closer to the ZAR500 mark, a price tag that is more common for SEs and Limited Editions. Modern Warfare 2 was one of the first to retail in this range, with the upcoming Starcraft 2 being another example. It doesn’t surprise me that so far it’s only being done with sure-fire sellers, but I don’t think it would be good for the market if this had to happen on a wider scale.
There has aways been a fundamental difference between games for the PC and the different consoles. While PC titles were always easier to copy than console titles (rumour has it that that’s the reason for the lower price tag as well), their resalability has gone down to pretty much zero. Virtually all games that come with an online component also come with a unique key which is usually tied to a user account. Trying to revert a once-used key back to unused is often enough an exercise in futility. Bottom line, reselling a PC game is mostly just as impossible as trading it – unless you can find a dealer who doesn’t have the knowledge. I have found second-hand Steam-based games in shops before and even bought one accidentally – the seller either didn’t know or didn’t care that I would be unable to play the game and had essentially just acquired a R150 coaster.
So let’s put this into some numbers, shall we? You can buy a new X360 or PS3 game for R600, play through it in one or two weeks, then sell it for R400-450. You’ve essentially spent no more than R200 on the game. Put those towards another game and you’ve spent R800 on two titles – R400 per title. Now you’re close to PC prices. Or you can take the brand-new game that you’ve finished in two weeks, find someone who wants that game and has another brand-new game for trade that you want. Whoopee. You’ve just pushed your per-title cost down to R300. Got to love being a console gamer.
Meanwhile the PC gamer spends 350-400 bucks on his game, finishes it and it ends up on the shelf, because thanks to ever more restrictive DRM his copy is now forever dongled with one of his own user accounts, and he couldn’t sell it if he wanted to.
(Yes, I might be exaggerating just a little.)
Don’t let me go off on a tangent now, we’ll talk about the piracy issue some other time. The bottom line is: you want to raise prices for PC titles? Go ahead, knock yourself out. But then you’ll have to give the customer something in return. More value for money. More tradability and resalability. Less restrictive and/or intrusive DRM. Take your pick. I’ll gladly spend R500 on a game, if I can sell it again in case I don’t like it or don’t want to keep it, without having to jump through all kinds of hoops. But leaving everything as is and just upping the margins may well spell doom on the PC market.
Unless, of course, that is the objective…