A costly game

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Record numbers of people have been out of work in the past six months, and millions more have had their hours and pay reduced. This is a tough time to justify a price hike, absent a shortage.

Sure, toilet paper, lumber, and homes in the exurbs have seen prices climb due to coronavirus-caused supply-demand imbalances. None of these factors apply to video games. So, why are game prices going up 16%?

While gamers are happily shelling out $300 or $400 for the newest Xbox and Playstation, it is a point of some consternation that the top-of-the-line video games for these systems will sell for $69.99 instead of the customary $59.99.

The price hike “risks jeopardizing gaming for a new generation of young gamers,” worries Bartosz Skwarczek, who founded and runs an online video game bazaar.

“I think this is not a good idea to increase prices when people are suffering and the economy is suffering because of coronavirus and the economic crisis that we have,” Skwarczek told CNBC. “I think that could be played with a little bit more empathy towards gamers.”

Indeed, 59% of gamers said games are already too expensive in one poll this year. Yet, whenever a new FIFA, Grand Theft Auto, or Red Dead Redemption has come out in recent years, gamers have nevertheless shelled out the $60.

It’s seemed like an iron-clad rule forever. The best games (“AAA games” in industry parlance) cost $60. It’s been that way for the entire life of young gamers. And maybe that’s the real story here.

How did the price of top-tier video games stay the same for 15 years? When Call of Duty II came out in 2005, it cost $60, according to Business Insider. And that’s what all the top-shelf games have cost. We’ve had two housing booms and a bust. Dining out has become much more dear. Beer, wine, cars — all way up in price. And while video games have improved immensely in graphics, action, and storyline, the price hasn’t changed. When Call of Duty: Modern Warfare came out in 2019, it cost $60.

So, while a 16% price hike in one year sounds big, it’s the first price hike for AAA games since 2005.

We’ve come a long way from playing Space Invaders at the arcade for a quarter.

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