Like all commercial enterprises, video game makers are in the business of making money. The funny thing is, while the cost of making video games has gone up over the years thanks to more powerful gaming hardware, the standard price of a video game has remained the same since around 2005. Big games cost $60, and that’s that. You don’t need a degree in mathematics to realize something has to give if we want to keep getting big games.
Publishers make up that extra money in a number of ways, some of which are more creative than others. Here are some of the ways game makers are taking more and more of your money.
Before gaming consoles were connected to the internet, when you finished a game, that was all you were given — at least, until a sequel came out. That’s not the world we live in today. Downloadable expansions offer new content to games that have already been released for several months, so you no longer have to worry about finishing a game too quickly.
There’s a right way and a wrong way for games to treat expansions, however. When done right, like in Fallout 4 or The Witcher 3, expansions offer new areas or missions that feel like valuable additions to the core game. When done wrong, they can seem like content that should have been in the core game but was cut so the publisher could sell it piecemeal to customers who have already paid full price.
2. Season passes
While we’re on the subject of expansions, we have to discuss season passes. Buying a season pass when a game comes out is essentially like preordering all of the game’s downloadable content. Season passes range in price, but they generally cost in the ballpark of $30. They can be a good or bad value depending on the game, but the real problem with buying season passes is that you often don’t know what exactly you’re buying. You’re just hoping whatever DLC the developers whip up will be something you want to buy.
If you buy the season pass before you even play the game, there’s a chance you’re not even going to like the game — in which case, why would you want even more of it? Making matters worse, digital content on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 is usually non-refundable. A word of advice: Hold off on that season pass until you have a good idea that you’ll like the DLC.
3. Early release
One of the clever (or insidious) new ways publishers entice gamers to buy the Legendary or Ultimate Edition of their games (which generally includes the core game along with the season pass) is to release the special version days before the standard version.
So let’s say you were super pumped to play Forza Horizon 3 the second it came out. If you wanted, you could wait patiently until launch day and hand over $60 to play it. But if you couldn’t wait, and wanted to play it four days earlier, you could buy the Ultimate Edition for $100. You’re getting several additional car packs included, so it’s not like you’re paying an extra $40 just to play it early, but letting people who pay more play the game before everyone else seems kind of slimy.
4. In-game purchases
Ever since mobile games popularized the idea of the in-app purchase, gamers worried that it would show up in console and PC games, too. Lo and behold, it has. Not only can you sink tons of cash into free-to-play games like Hearthstone, but in-game purchases have even come to $60 games like Overwatch and Batman: Arkham Knight.
In Overwatch, you can drop anywhere between $2 and $40 to buy loot boxes. These digital add-ons contain random items like new costumes, animations, spoken lines, and graffiti tags for your characters. In Batman: Arkham Knight, you can spend a buck or two apiece to unlock all kinds of iconic costumes for Batman and the Batmobile. None of these purchases are mandatory, but charging more money for little stuff like this after you’ve already paid for the game can seem like nickel-and-diming.
5. Modes you don’t care about
Lots of video games these days have multiple modes you can dive into right from the title screen. From online modes to single-player campaigns to time trials and whatever else game makers want to offer players, these can all be great fun. The problem is that players almost never use — or even want — all the modes that are offered.
Say you’re a die-hard Call of Duty fan, but you’re all about the online offerings, so you skip the campaign every year and hop right into team deathmatch mode. Or let’s say you prefer the campaign and completely ignore the online mode. In either case, you’re paying for content you never use. Unfortunately, unless you find a game that’s made exactly to your preferences, there’s no getting around this one.