A new generation of video game consoles may come with a new standard price point for big-budget games. That’s the impression 2K Games is giving, at least, with today’s announcement that the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 versions of NBA 2K21 will come in at an MSRP of $69.99.
That price point is $10 higher than the $59.99 asking price for the Xbox One and PS4 versions of the same game, which are due to launch September 4. And an NBA 2K spokesperson confirmed to Ars Technica that the premium pricing is based on what it sees as the increased value represented by the power of new consoles.
“We believe our suggested retail price for NBA 2K21 on next-generation platforms fairly represents the value of what’s being offered: power, speed, and technology that is only possible on new hardware,” the representative told Ars Technica. “While we are confident that NBA 2K21 will be a monumental leap forward for the franchise and a standout visual showcase on next-generation consoles, we recognize that it’s our responsibility to prove this value to our fans and NBA 2K players.”
When asked whether the $69.99 price point represented a new standard for 2K’s console games, the representative kept the focus squarely on today’s pricing decision. “2K’s suggested retail prices for its games are meant to represent the value being offered,” the rep said. “With nearly endless replay value and many new additions and improvements only possible on next-generation consoles, we believe our updated suggested retail price fairly represents the value of NBA 2K21.”
2K also confirmed that NBA 2K21 won’t be supporting Microsoft’s Xbox Smart Delivery system, which lets players buy a game once and download versions across multiple console generations. That said, 2K is offering a $99.99 “Mamba Forever Edition” for NBA 2K21, which includes a current-generation version and a download code to upgrade to a next-generation version in the future.
Raising the roof?
The last time the game industry saw a generalized price increase for big-budget, high-end games was the mid-’00s. Back then, the $40 to $50 asking prices for PS2 games increased to a $59.99 standard for games on the PS3 and Xbox 360.
Major publishers have been reluctant to break through that ceiling for the last 15 years, through two entire console generations (two and a half if you count recent mid-generation console upgrades). Meanwhile, inflation has slowly eaten away at the “real” value of that price ceiling—a $59.99 game in November 2006 was worth the equivalent of $76.33 in today’s dollars, according to the BLS inflation calculator. In fact, thanks to inflation, high-end games are now cheaper than they’ve ever been in real-money terms (especially when compared with the ’90s era of $70 to $80 cartridge-based games).
To make up for that slow erosion of value, some publishers have relied on Collector’s Edition packages, raising the average asking price by throwing in optional art books, statues, limited edition scarves, or, uh, luxury cars. Other publishers have increasingly leaned on microtransactions to provide a continuing income stream from players past an initial $59.99 purchase, often with annoying results.
A $10 increase in the top-end asking price for major games isn’t going to lead to the death of microtransactions or anything. But it could help fill in the bottom line for publishers and developers who are already worrying over higher development costs necessary to create the more realistic graphics in new console games.
“I think, to the extent that the technology enables the graphics side of it to become more interesting and life-like, [the games] will become slightly more human intensive and capital-intensive to produce,” Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan said of PlayStation 5 development in a May interview with GamesIndustry.biz. “So yes, we think there probably will be an increase in development budgets.”
Then there’s the question of whether players will accept a world where new big-budget games approach $70 as a matter of course. Again, the real inflation-adjusted value of that price suggests there’s some slack in the buying power available to today’s gamers. But today’s video game market is also absolutely flooded with free or heavily discounted high-quality gaming alternatives in a way that wasn’t really true 15 years ago. Those cheap games could end up looking about $10 more appealing in a world where the top-end competition starts regularly selling for $70 instead of $60.
In any case, a new console generation (with the optional capability to carry games across multiple generations) could serve as just the excuse major publishers need to raise their standard asking price. We’ll keep an eye out to see if 2K’s move today ends up as the beginning of a trend or a one-off experiment.