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The Value of a Gaming Dollar

Discussion on pricing structures for different consoles and devices, and how companies and gamers are perceiving a game's "value".

Call of Duty: Black Ops on a next-generation console: 60 dollars

Pokemon Black Version for the Nintendo DS: 35 dollars

Angry Birds on the iPhone: one dollar

Creating a place to live in Cityville on Facebook: priceless

There has been a lot of mudslinging lately between the big companies about what a game "should" cost.  Microsoft tried to justify the pricing of Halo: Reach for its Game on Demand service.  

Nintendo has had a few things to say itself about prices in Apple's App Store, along the lines that it is "devaluing" the price of games.  Bold words from a company that hasn't dropped the price for Twilight Princess, Mario Galaxy, and Smash Bros. Brawl, years after their releases.

On one hand, this is understandable.  I may love Steam, but when I pay less than five dollars for a game, it tends to not stick in my mind, regardless of its quality (that may explain why I have yet to play Knights of the Old Republic).  I have iPhone apps I downloaded for free and have yet to touch.  But when I bought Radiant Historia for $30 on the DS, you can bet I played that game all the way through.

Simply put, the more money you pay for something, the more likely you are to enjoy it.  There's probably science behind my claim, though I'm too lazy to look it up (feel free to give a link in the comments!)  

On Game of the Year awards, the games that weigh heavily in people's minds are the big hitters on the Xbox 360 and PS3.  The Wii, DS, PSP, and indie games all have plenty of excellent titles worthy of accolades, but it's the big, expensive games that get the attention.

Yet $60 per game is still way too much for many gamers.  At the time of writing, Amazon is having a lightning sale, with games like Bulletstorm, Dead Space 2, Dragon Age 2, and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit for $40 each.  

But going by the comments on Cheap Ass Gamer, none of those deals are nearly as attractive as You Don't Know Jack for $16.  Frankly, I would have to agree: loading enemies with bullets may be fun, but the hilarious trivia game is half the price and has just as much entertainment value (possibly more).

The extreme here is Zynga's success on Facebook.  Farmville, Mafia Wars, and Cityville are completely free to play, and are designed to market themselves.  By allowing everyone to play their games for free, Zynga is able to tap into that very small market that's willing to go the extra mile for their games.  

People may hate on Zynga for just how ridiculously successful their business model has been, but we're seeing developers try their own methods at game prices.  EA gives freebies to customers who buy their games new, instead of used.  THQ released You Don't Know Jack for $30, and the new MX vs ATV game will be going for $40, instead of the standard 60.  

Their key point is that the consumer can purchase these games, then make a decision whether or not to purchase additional content for them on the Xbox Live Marketplace and PSN.  I think this is a great business model, because it gets games to gamers cheaper, and lets the public pay for the product they want.  Just imagine if Activision decided to sell the next Call of Duty game in two $30 versions: one with the single-player campaign, and the other for multiplayer.

On second thought, I'm not sure Activision needs the help.

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