At the time of writing, a month has passed since 2K Sports announced that they would increase the retail price from $59.99 to $69.99 for the upcoming Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X versions of their annual ‘NBA 2K’ series – starting with ‘NBA 2K21’. That move (unsurprisingly) has been quite controversial, as who exactly wants to pay more for anything willingly?
The general defense is that due to the increasing costs of producing AAA games, and that the retail price of such titles hasn’t yet been adjusted for inflation since the mid-2000s; that publishers (and subsequently game developers) are not earning as much as they should. Although I agree with the sentiment that game developers should be paid for their due diligence and that we are overdue for publishers to issue a price hike; I don’t entirely believe that this is as sincere or forthright as publishers make it out to be.
DIGITAL VS PHYSICAL
For one – as a society, we have since evolved from the dark old days of yore where rhinestone-encrusted denim on denim fashion was en vogue; so too have the gaming & technology industries progressed from such staples since 2005, namely distributing disc & cartridge mediums. Sales of digital games have overshadowed physical copies, as eight out of ten video games were sold solely on digital platforms for 2018 in the US, and the trend has yet to plateau, let alone yield.
With digital distribution, consumers have a plethora of choices that weren’t possible pre-internet storefronts; and as such, a diverse array of debut retail prices that (in practice) depend on the scale of the production in question. The advent of these digital stores across all platforms has opened the marketplace for independent developers to compete, and sometimes – supersede (such as ‘Minecraft’, ‘Rocket League’, and ‘Limbo’, just to name a few).
MICROTRANSACTIONS & DOWNLOADABLE CONTENT
Then, there’s the implementation of microtransactions (MTX) and downloadable content (DLC), which the general consensus of gamers as of 2020 is one of general tentative apprehension until further notice. When executed well, MTX & DLC serves to bolster and add further value to the experience of a property you enjoy. However, if done wrong, it can be tasteless and shill, quite possibly break the fundamental game, and well, anybody remember the notorious “Horse Armor”?.
On a similar note, the steady rise of “Collector Editions” and the sort that was ever-present during the 7th Generation of consoles (the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 era); of which was first touted as extra physical content or merchandise for the game you purchased. But as is the case with all good things in the gaming industry, it must be exploited for maximum profit with minimum effort (for example, ‘Fallout 76’s “Power Armor” Edition).
GAMES AS A SERVICE
Most recently, the explosion of “Games as a service” (also known as “Live Service”) subscription-based models have become the latest in a series of hot trends publishers & developers are keen to tinker with. Though “Live Services” have long since existed before ‘World of Warcraft’ popularised the model, the meteoric success that is ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ and its online component (aptly named ‘Grand Theft Auto: Online’) has had every publisher smacking their lips; eager to take a neat slice of the pie. But as per usual, subtility and finesse are hard to control when you’re ravenous; so for many, they decided to instead dive bomb both fists through the table and left a right mess (looking at you AGAIN ‘Fallout 76’!)
WHY NBA 2K21?
If it weren’t for what franchise 2K Games & parent company Take-Two Interactive deemed appropriate to lead the charge on the $10 increase, I would assume that gamers would be more accepting to adopt the price hike – so long as it was for such high quality, large scale productions like ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’, ‘Death Stranding’, or ‘The Last of Us Part II’. None of which (may I add) are annual, glitch-prone, microtransactions laden video games.
The NBA 2K series has been marred in its controversies as of late, from their mandatory unskippable advertisements to their tactless incorporation of gambling by way of an in-game casino (which is rated “E for Everyone”). It’s as though the series is more of a BS barometer rather than a basketball sports simulation game; to see how much BS people are willing to put up with.
ACCESSIBILITY & FREE-TO-PLAY
The cherry on top for the argument against the need for a tenner injection is accessibility.
Gaming is already an expensive hobby, be it the current and impending new hardware or the in-game practices that separate you from your coin; the move to expect everyone to comply with the increase in 2020 is pretty tone-deaf (and that’s not to mention that there is a global recession happening, and has been happening since March). Specifically, for NBA 2K21 (and the majority of sports games in the past, present, and future), they need to pick a lane and stick to a model that isn’t everything all at once. This is just another painfully obvious exploitive move against the consumer, and tact of gatekeeping in a culture that monetizes FOMO at it’s best.
Case in point, the most popular games that make the most bank are either relatively cheap, continuously go on sale (like, for instance, GTA: Online), or are “free-to-play” (FTP). Profitable Juggernauts such as: ‘Fortnite: Battle Royale’, ‘DOTA 2’, ‘League of Legends’, ‘World of Tanks’, ‘Apex Legends’, ‘Hearthstone’, ‘Call of Duty: Warzone’… even CoD has gone FTP!
I thought it fair to mention that the recommended retail price on any video game ever only decreases in value over time (that rule may not apply to Nintendo, though they do throw us a bone once in a blue moon). So you could always just wait for a price drop or sale to come your way. Alternatively, if you have Xbox’s “Game Pass”, you can hope that your game of choice will appear around the grace window of about four to twelve months!
NEXT-GEN TRANSFERS & “SMART DELIVERY”
With the push from 2K Games & Take-Two Interactive to climatize consumers to the prospect of a $70 price tag on standard editions, I find it telling how different publishers are handling the move from Gen 8 to Gen 9 – and you should be paying attention too!
Below are a few examples of what games will transfer over, and what you need to do to be applicable for such upgrades:
- ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ is dividing its Campaign and Online services for next-gen – being Free for early adopters of the PlayStation 5 in the first three months of launch.
- ‘Cyberpunk 2077’, ‘DOOM Eternal’, ‘Far Cry 6’, ‘DIRT 5’, and ‘Destiny 2’, ‘WRC 9’, ‘Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla’, ‘The Elder Scrolls Online’, ‘Marvel’s Avengers’, and ‘Watch Dogs Legion’ will have a free upgrade to next-gen if you bought it one 8th Generation Systems (PlayStation 4 to PlayStation 5 / Xbox One to Xbox Series X – no cross-platform)
- ‘NBA 2K21’ and ‘Control’ will be free to upgrade only if you had purchased the corresponding highest tier of collector’s editions: “Mambo Forever” for 2K21, and “Ultimate” for Control.
Now that the cat’s out of the bag, and $70 games will most likely become a thing during and onwards of the ninth generation of consoles, how long do you think it’ll take for Bethesda to release a Skyrim port on the PS5 & XBX? And will they be so brazen to charge the full $70 for it?