Take-Two says $70 game prices arent necessarily a new next-gen standard

  • $34.99 for Centipede on the Atari 2600 might sound cheap, but that 1983 price is the equivalent of roughly $90 today. Retro Waste
  • Check out the premium pricing for Zelda titles above other NES games in the 1988 Sears catalog. Hughes Johnson
  • If you wanted Streets of Rage 2 from Electronics Boutique in 1993, you'd better have been ready to pay extra. Hughes Johnson
  • $70 was a common price for N64 software, and that was in 1997 dollars! Hughes Johnson
  • By 2008, top-end disc-based prices had settled to the current standard of $59.99. Beyond Media Online

After announcing a higher-than-normal $70 MSRP for NBA2K21 on the PS5 and Xbox Series X last month, publisher Take-Two is now suggesting that increased price point might not be the standard for its next-generation console games going forward.

"We're definitely announcing pricing on a title by title basis," CEO Strauss Zelnick said in an earnings call Monday evening. "I would just observe, there hasn't been a frontline price increase for a very long time, although costs have increased significantly."

That's a fair point: the functional ceiling for high-end games last increased back in 2006 or so, when the standard rose went from $50 to $60 alongside the rollout of the Xbox 360 and PS3. When adjusted for inflation, the top asking price for big-budget games has never been lower, while development costs have never been higher.

Despite those pressures, though, Zelnick was unwilling on the call to set $70 as his company's new de facto standard pricing. "We're applying this price point in the case where we think the quality not only supports it, but demands it," he said. "Production costs have gone up greatly. But most importantly, the consumer experience is more robust than ever before. And I'm utterly convinced that NBA 2K21 will be nothing short of extraordinary, so I don't expect that there will be any concerns."

Zelnick's comments expand on a less specific, more anodyne statement from the company in July: "2Ks suggested retail prices for its games are meant to represent the value being offered," a 2K rep said at the time. "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."

An outlier or a harbinger?

While it's still early in the console transition cycle, no other publisher has yet publicly followed Take-Two onto the $70 game pricing limb, even as a trial balloon. In contrast, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot said explicitly in a recent earnings call that its "Christmas games" for 2020 would be sold at the current standard price of $60.

  • Fig. 1: When adjusted for inflation, the top-end price for big-budget console games has never been lower than today's $60 (lines are a moving average of the last three data points).
  • Fig. 2: In nominal terms, top game prices have tended to go up slowly, save for a big dip at the beginning of the disc era.
  • Fig. 3: Inflation-adjusted cartridge-based game prices dipped a bit after the mid-'80s industry crash, then soared to record height in the '90s (lines are a polynomial fit to the data).
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