Sony, next-generation pricing and fluidity

Sony’s been stepping up its game by courting the hottest indie developers, showing off games instead of apps, and pushing digital games harder than anyone else who isn’t named Valve. As of today, Steam is the best place for all of your digital goodies, and for good reason. Despite not dealing with the scarcity of retail, Steam’s pricing of games and DLC keep pace with consumer interest. When we hold PSN against Steam, Sony’s platform is more static, and less successful because of it. If Sony wants to go for the home-run with fans, while keeping up with the direction digital games are heading, it needs to see what’s wrong with its pricing model and how to fix it.

Let’s look at Game of the Year editions of games; probably the best way to get a truly complete version of a game on the cheap. Despite collecting all the DLC in one place for cheap, the actual digital content festers at full-price. For example, Batman: Arkham City, standalone, is around $20 new. Separately, the Arkham Bundle includes Nightwing, Robin, and skins for $15 on PSN and XBL. There’s also the Harley Quinn’s Revenge DLC, which extends the campaign and costs $10. The total cost for the retail game and all this content is around $45. But, for the GOTY bundle that includes all the DLC in one package, costs around only $20. Why hasn’t the price decayed same as the game itself has? In a world of scarcity, the price follows off the demand as well as the physical space available. In the nigh-infinite capacity of the cloud, there isn’t any scarcity, so it makes sense that the price should match the demand.

Oblivion’s great horse armor rip-off

How about another example, this time one that’s more forward thinking? Fallout 3’s DLC costs $5 each, across five packs, totaling $25. The vanilla game without any DLC is around $10-$15, meaning the game and all the DLC will cost $35-$50 if you don’t go for that juicy GOTY bundle, which on its own costs just $20. There is a twist, though. This is one of the few cases where Bethesda permanently lowered the price of the DLC packs from its original price of $10 to $5. Seems it’s trying hard to make up for the famous horse armor atrocity of 2006. If only every developer was so forward-thinking.

Here’s a quick list of games and DLC that’s frozen in time

• Through Gamestop, the 2008 Prince of Persia game is used for $2.99. The actual end of the game is separate DLC, for $9.99.
• Red Faction: Guerilla, released in 2009, is now $4.99 through Gamestop, and offers DLC packs priced at $9.99, $6.99, and $4.99.
• Call of Duty 4’s Variety Map Pack is still $9.99, as much as a used copy of the game itself, $9.99. Gamestop graciously offers the two bundled for $29.99.

These games are old enough that bargain bins barely want them anymore, yet in almost every case the DLC remains trapped.

On PC it’s a different story. My favorite example (care of Managing Editor Kyle Prahl) is Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s DLC, The Missing Link. The permanent price on PSN is $14.99 with an occasional sale, whereas on Steam the current price is $6.99. The retail price of Human Revolution is around $14.99, as low as $12.99 through Gamestop. It doesn’t make much sense for a game’s extra content to cost nearly as much as the game itself.

Of course, this is where Sony can swoop Microsoft and its less-than-friendly attitude towards pricing. Sony is already leaning towards the PC way of doing things, and I think that by going all out for fluid pricing that actually reflects current value, and not value from 2007. A generation jump would be the perfect time to introduce this, and unless the house of Xbox has been cooking a similar idea, Sony could start miles ahead.

Picture this: a game releases, and three months out they release DLC for $10. Three months later and the game falls to $30, and to match this decay the DLC slides to $5. We see it today, though rarely. Retail games usually end up on downloadable platforms, and sometimes mirror the physical version’s price depreciation, but other times the price remains as static as the DLC. For example, why is the inFAMOUS Collection $39.99 on PSN but $29.99 through GameStop?

Even EA seems to be leaning for the price matching the content, as they recently made a whole mess of online passes and bundled content that would otherwise have cost money, free (though for now only on Xbox 360). These games are old enough to the point that, if someone is buying Battlefield Bad Company 2 from a bargain bin for $5, why would they throw another $15 at it? Yes, if a game is fun and there’s extra content, the developer and publisher deserve to be paid for its hard work, but by being relatively static it’s more likely to see 100 sales at $15, instead of 1000 sales at $5.

If nothing else, I’d be happy with DLC scaling to how much it costs in bundles. I bought Arkham City at launch, and all the DLC when it went on sale, except Harley Quinn. Now, I can pay $15 and get Arkahm City with all the DLC, or pay $10 for just Harley Quinn. They’re going to get my money regardless, but all this does is make me wait for the blue-moon sale. I’d gladly buy it right now for $5, but the fact that every piece of content is just $5 more than one piece of content feels mean.

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