Experienced Points: Activision vs. Sony

By Shamus
on Jul 17, 2009
Filed under:
Column

This week I make a series of (very) loosely related observations on the passive-agressive threat from Activision that Sony should lower the price of the PS3.

Sadly too late to make it into the column, another story popped up today that throws a new twist on this old argument: Activision is raising prices on games in the UK. I’ve been banging on for years about the fact that games are too expensive. The solution isn’t to charge more, it’s to spend less. Find a spot in the tech curve where you can afford to make games, and stay there, because there’s no limit on how much you can spend on development. There is just no sense in making games that look so good nobody can afford to buy them.

It’s bad enough raising prices when a worldwide recession is in effect, but raising prices while demanding that Sony take an even bigger loss by lowering theirs is a move that requires heroic levels of audacity.

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From the Archives:

  1. Steve says:

    Looks like I’ll be sticking to DS games for a while yet then (and possibly the new Monkey Island series when I get round to it).

    I’ll probably be tempted by the new Diablo (assuming it’s released this year), but it’s the only “new” game I’ve had any interest in in ages. The last game I bought (and am loving, incidentally) was Etrian Odyssey, which is about as old-school as it gets!

  2. Adeon says:

    I was amazed when I bought Overlord 2 to find out that the PC version was $20 cheaper than the console versions. I know there has always been a price gap between games for PC and consoles but I always thought it was confined to older games (with PC game prices dropping faster and further). I don’t own any consoles so I’ll admit I don’t pay much attention but a $20 delta on a new game surprised me.

  3. jdelcom says:

    That’s not entirely surprising…
    This week I found that Monkey Island: SE was only 10 bucks, so I decided to get a copy of course! To my demise I found that D2D wouldn’t sell me a copy (country restrictions) and after all I’ve read here, I won’t install Steam.
    As you regularly say, if there is a customer that wants to buy a game… why are you forcing him to get the easy way: Torrent? :(

  4. radio_babylon says:

    yay for indie gaming on the pc. ive bought more $5-$20 games in the last year than i ever bought annually when i was buying the big publisher’s games. and ive had a far far better gaming experience than ive had in well over a decade in the process. theres been some misses in there, but its mostly been hits, and when an indie game turns out to either suck or just not interest me its not a huge deal because i didnt spend $50-$60 on it.

    all things considered, im pleased with the direction gaming is going. i say, YAY for the mega-publishers moving to consoles and away from the PC! YAY for the ever increasing spiral of costs for the mega-publishers! and YAY for the rise of digital distribution on the PC! the first has created a large captive audience hungry for what the indies are producing. the second will hasten the demise of the mega-publishers. and the third has made it possible for the indies to affordably serve the aforementioned captive market without selling their souls to the mega-publishers.

    its a win/win no matter how you look at it, and its an exciting time to be a pc gamer because of it.

  5. McNutcase says:

    It seems Sony decided to do with the PS3 what Sega did with the Saturn.

    What’s the betting there’s a truly good PS4 that doesn’t sell enough units to be viable in the next generation of consoles?

  6. Magnus says:

    As a Brit, I would just recommend to anyone to get the PC version if possible.

    A good current example of pricing is pre-order for Dragon Age from Play.com. PC = £26.99, XBox/PS3 = £39.99.

    Bit of a no-brainer there.

    Not sure how many Activision games will be available on PC though.

    Also would like to say that indie gaming on the PC is still going as strong as ever (perhaps more so), and is usually cheap as chips.

    On the PS3 front, I think the whole price of the console is really a non-issue.

    If a console has a great selection of games, it will sell units. I think the PS3 failed to convince people that it had a good selection, and since it lost out in that initial battle with X-Box 360, it’s far harder to pick up extra users.

    Also the failure of Blu-ray to make a big mark is probably hurting it’s sales as a Blu-ray player.

  7. New Activision: now with more balls!*

    *May contain less brains.

  8. Telas says:

    I actually went and got an Escapist login for this…

    I used to work out with a playtest manager for a large gaming company. When the original Xbox first came out, he told me that the developers were instructed to leave (I believe) 20% unutilized overhead in memory, processor, and video processing. This 20% would be utilized by later games, to show that there games were improving after the initial splash.

    With their “intentionally hard to develop for” theory, Sony may have been expecting this effect as well.

  9. Rutskarn says:

    jdelcom: To your demise? Geez, licensing issues are even more strict than I thought.

    /smartass joke

  10. rofltehcat says:

    Yeah, right… of course I’ll pay you more for games that have the same quality as before. Well, actually the quality of most games seemed to be decreasing!

    Stupid measure and imo they should rather lower their prices than increase them.
    You know, maybe more people could afford them? Less pirating, more customers? Naaaah, can’t be. Let’s spend another million on a DRM that will cause problems for 30% of our customers!

    Really, those publishers must be run by people who collected plenty of experience in a record company!

  11. Sam says:

    Of all the companies out there, why is it that one of the most outrageously profitable ones is complaining about the PS3 being too expensive? These people make tens of millions of dollars a month simply from that accursed WarCraft-ian game on the PC, and a new Guitar Hero game every week only adds to their likely enormous profit margin. They don’t need costs cut unless they want a fourth Porsche in their garage because the other three have specks of dust on them. They’re nothing but a group of greedy bastards.

  12. bob says:

    God damn, £55 for a GAME! Talk about a rip off. Looks like I wont be getting this game if its any good for months if not years to come when it will be in the bargain bin for £5. I was slightly interested in the last COD game but have not got it yet as I could not justify spending £30 on such a short game.
    No wonder people pirate games, even myself, a person with a job can not justify spending £55 on what is in all likely hood a game of a few hours no more (I’m not interested in multiplayer and can barly afford £15 a month of a very limited Internet connection)
    As others have pointed out since online activation has become the norm for the big publishers I have been buying lots of cheaper indi games from people that a) respect their customers, b) offer good values (Typically £5 to £15) and c) make a good game.
    On another topic EA confirmed last week that C&C4 wont have any DRM in it then in the same sentence said it would need to be ‘online all the time’ to play the single player campaign. Call me a cynical bugger but shortly having a perminante Internet connection for the single player game IS a form of DRM. Source: http://uk.gamespot.com/pc/strategy/commandandconquer4/news.html?sid=6213111&om_act=convert&om_clk=newsfeatures&tag=newsfeatures%3Btitle%3B2&page=1

  13. ima420r says:

    I bought my 360 last October (worked a heck of a lot of overtime so I could pay the bills AND buy myself a toy). I have since bought some 60 games. ALL except 4 are used and most were released during the 360’s first year. I have saved a ton of money just by being behind the times, and games like Assassins Creed look just as good now as they did when first released (plus they are all patched up and the bugs are minimal). I just started playing Bioshock, and Mass Effect, and Overlord. I figure I need to have them finished by the time their sequels are released and drop to about $20-$30.

    I have bought a few newer PC games, though, but only because the price drops so much quicker. L4D for $20?! Heck yeah! World of Goo for $5? Big yes for that! I have a hard time passing up a deal. I know some don’t like Steam, but as I have a PC that is always connected to high speed internet, I have no problems downloading games when I am getting such a deal!

    I don’t know why anyone would want to raise the prices on games right now, they should be working to reduce the costs. I suppose as long as people are buying, they will sell them for as much as they think they can get from us. I won’t be buying, though. I waited until I was able to get my 360 Elite for under $250, new (amen to online coupon codes), and I won’t buy a PS3 until I can get a good deal on it as well. Though with the prices of games what they are, I may just put together a new gaming PC next instead, my current one is a little outdated.

  14. Arzar says:

    On the other hand, if you compare with the rest of Europe, the price of games in the UK seems to be insanely low.
    I take a quick look at Amazon. The following is typical :

    Amazon.uk
    Anno 1404 collector (PC) : £29.99 -> €34.7
    Arma2 : £19.99 (PC) -> €23.1
    Infamous : £26.99 (PS3) -> €31.2

    Amazon.de
    Anno 1404 collector : €60,45
    Arma2 : €43,45
    Infamous : €52,95

    Amazon.fr
    Anno 1404 collector : €69,95
    Arma2 : €38,99
    Infamous : €67,08

    There is always this odd difference, from 10 to 20 euros.
    It’s so glaring, that now, Amazon.fr and Amazon.de let you choose between the normal version and a [import UK] one. For example, on amazon.fr you can choose directly between the french version of Infamous (€67,08) or the [import UK] one (€44,18).

    So, it doesn’t shock me, if the prices are raising now in the UK. It’s seem to be mostly a correction of a weird state in the first place.

  15. Kdansky says:

    “You can’t continue to trade as normal when the biggest territory in Europe has seen cost of goods increase by 30 per cent due to the strengthening of the Euro. ”

    I find it hilarious how we are supposed to pay more due to differences in currency, but at the same time, US games are currently mispriced 20-50% in europe due to the hilariously weak USD and strong EUR (or CHF). Ordering stuff from Amazon.com instead of Amazon.de is cheaper, even though you have to pay like 10$ for shipping.

    I call Bullshit on this press release.

  16. Brandon says:

    Y’know, I bet this is part of why the Wii, DS, and Xbox Live are doing so well – lower game costs and less “blockbuster” development cycles.

  17. Your article nicely complements a blog post I wrote back in May. My point was essentially that the people who buy consoles may care more about the devices themselves, and what else they can to with them, rather than the games. Judging by the comments here, it would appear I was slightly off, but the point remains: console manufacturers have their priorities wrong. Not sure what the game producers are thinking (or smoking, as the case may be).

  18. Broc says:

    What I hate the most is when companies *cough*Nintendo*cough* DO invest less in their games and charge 60$ anyway.

  19. James Pope says:

    My point was essentially that the people who buy consoles may care more about the devices themselves, and what else they can to with them, rather than the games.

    I know I use my 360 more to watch downloaded television and play old Xbox games than anything else. Sure, every so often I wade through Fallout 3 but basically I’m waiting till every game hits the used bin at ~$20 before I buy it. My stack of Xbox titles I bought at $2 is amazing though, when I start considering that all of them were purchased for less than that Fallout 3 game.

  20. lebkin says:

    @Broc
    Not a major defense of Nintendo, but they do not charge $60 for their games. As far as I know, all new Wii games are only $50. But the principle is the same.

  21. MrPyro says:

    Hi Shamus,

    Just a quick note: your Experienced Points articles don’t all have the ‘experienced points’ tag on the Escapist, and since the banner on this site is set to find all articles with that tag, it looks like this article was the first you’d written since February if you follow the banner link.

  22. Daimbert says:

    Interesting that this comes up the day after I ask if Overlord II would be a “must-have” game for the PS3 that might make me want to buy it.

    To be fair to Activision here he isn’t really saying that they’ll stop producing PS3 games unless there’s a price drop in the system. He’s saying that the PS3 is hard to program for (thus it requires a lot of manpower to make a PS3 game, relatively speaking) and that there isn’t enough of a user base there to justify the extra work. So, they’ll stop making PS3 games unless the user base expands. His suggestion for doing that is to lower the price of the console.

    Which would be fair enough, if he was right about the reason that the PS3 has a lower user base. But I don’t think it is, not really.

    What caused the PS3 to start out slowly, in my opinion:

    1) Didn’t they come to the party a bit late? I could be wrong, but I thought they were the last one to come out.

    2) Unlike the PS2 — where there was only one DVD format in play — the PS3 had tied its “A console AND a next-gen DVD player” sales pitch to Blue Ray. The 360 used the other format. So people looking for a combination of console and HD DVD player didn’t know which one was the better bet, and so probably sat on their wallets a bit.

    3) The PS2 was still alive and kicking, and lived a lot longer than anyone expected it would. It’s only now that I — a dedicated PS2 user — have to start thinking that there aren’t all that many PS2 games coming out anymore. The PS1 seems to have died out a lot faster than the PS2 did.

    4) The Wii lept into the game by being a surprisingly fun console for the whole family, while being the cheapest one. It’s amazing for how long the Wii was hard to buy; it was hard to get in Canada for over a year.

    But in my view, right now, Sony has a glorious opportunity to make in-roads if it does things right. First, the PS2 is dying out, and so people who stuck with it are now starting to think about their next console. Also, if I’m not mistaken Blue Ray won the HD DVD war and is now pretty much the on-going standard for high definition DVD movies, which WILL increase. So the PS3 is wonderfully positioned to take advantage of those customers … if they pitch and price it right.

    I’m thinking that maybe a re-release of a 40G backwards compatible version, especially if the HD can be upgraded later if required (I have no idea if it can be; I’m not all that interested in technical issues) at a slightly lower price. Then all the casual slackers finally to the point of abandoning their PS2 and dipping their toes into the world of high def have something to buy that does both.

    I’d buy a PS3 tomorrow if they offered the 40G backwards compatible version (or a backwards compatible version at all). I’m odd, but I can’t be THAT odd.

  23. Blanko2 says:

    okay, my information may be incorrect, but based on what i’ve read and seen you can’t blame sony for their tactic. from what i recall, when the PS2 came out it was also incredibly difficult to program for. it featured multi-threading and, at that point, was the only console to do so. not only that but it was impossible to use anything BUT multithreading. now, im not programmer, but getting used to something like that, probably isn’t so easy.and it showed, if you compare the first game releases on the PS2 to the ones released shortly before the PS3, there was an incredible leap in graphics. In fact, you have mentioned this yourself when complaining about graphics card requirements on computers. so as the programming improved, the graphics in the games improved. i wouldn’t be surprised if sony expected the same thing now. the problem is they became microsoft’s XBOX here, releasing the more expensive console, latest in the race, even though the graphics capability was better.

    also the PS3 is a monolith. just like the XBOX yet so few people complained about it this time around.

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