Why Are PlayStation Vita Games So Expensive?

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While the PS Vita has quite an extensive catalogue of games offering something for everyone, many gamers have been frustrated over the years about the price of the titles on offer. The majority of games purchased these days are as digital downloads from the PlayStation Store so now more than ever, the pricing of these games and selection on offer to us plays an increasingly important part in how we make use of the console. The importance that the Store has to play can’t be underplayed with so few physical releases (at least in the West)  but it is the price of these that has gamers concerned…

What has caused so much frustration is the prices offered for games not only with those of smaller, indie titles and the former PlayStation Mobile and Minis releases as I discussed recently, but digital versions of physical retail games. While this is something that certainly isn’t exclusive to the PS Vita (and is a major sore point where the PS4 is concerned) it is becoming irritating for Vita owners. With memory cards prohibitively expensive for gamers with prices rising steadily – even on the second hand market – every time a Vita owner even considers making an online purchase, they have to weigh up a number of considerations first. This includes the initial size of the game and whether any future space may be required for add-ons or patches. While sufficient space may be available for the initial download, there is always the issue of having additional space needed later on. A prime example was PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale which required over 800Mb of space for its first update or titles like Final Fantasy X/X-2 that required 4Gb of space to download the second game of the two in the EU/US release. Bearing all that in mind, the price of the game is often weighed up alongside the memory card resources needed.

PlayStation Mobile

One area of concern in the past were the the PlayStation Mobile titles. It has to be said that overall, the ill-fated range represented fantastic value for money and the majority costed less than £3 although there were a couple of exceptions. Like their predecessors, the Minis, they were intended for short bursts of gameplay, but many did feel somewhat “cheated” when it came to pricing, especially where titles have been released on other formats.

When looking at the range as a whole, were these games really that expensive though? PSM was intended to tackle the mobile games market head-on and run across a range of devices and were meant to be truly “pocket money” games affordable by everyone. With one or two exceptions, virtually every game for Playstation Mobile was under £3. Most were under £2.50, many were under £2 and there were a lot of incredibly high quality titles for under £1 as many of our reviews would attest to! Even if these were games that you only played occasionally, or for a short while, for less than the price of the average DLC package, there wasn’t really a financial reason to not try out at least one or two games from the range. There were some games that gamers did consider to be over-priced in the PSM range, with some that were close to £8 each but those were a rarity out of the 500+ titles that were released. Generally the “sweet spot” for games was around the £2 mark though.

But Aren’t These Games Free On Other Formats?

I’ve heard this argument a number of times before. People looked at the range of games available for Playstation Mobile (and a few of the Minis) and seen some times that have been released on other platforms and compared the prices between them. They have then refused to buy the Sony versions, citing lower prices (or even free versions) on other formats. However, it’s not as clear-cut as that. Ever since the modern games industry began, prices have varied across formats – Commodore 64 games were more expensive than the Spectrum, Amiga games were more expensive than the Atari ST and so on – so it’s nothing new. When games are released on different platforms, developers need to take into consideration a wide range of factors:

  • Economies of scale – how many copies a game is likely to sell on a particular format. If a game will sell in greater numbers then the unit price can potentially be lowered
  • Supplemental charges – if there is the potential for additional charges to be made to the gamer, then games can be sold at lower prices (or even offered freely) knowing that income will be received at a later, or even ongoing basis. This is the core principle that F2P (Free To Play) is based on.
  • Game content – are the different formats identical or are there significant differences between the platforms or do some have features that the others don’t?
  • Development time – how long does it take a publisher to port a game between platforms. In some cases, conversions can be done relatively quickly if the core programming language is similar (back to the 8-bit era, the Spectrum and Amstrad used the same processor, as did the Amiga and Atari ST) but if machine specific elements are involved it can make conversion more difficult. We’re finding the same happening today with consoles and games developed using the same core engine such as Unreal or Unity.

At the end of the day, if a game is free on iOS but the PlayStation Vita version is £2.99 and it’s a great game, then it is still worth the price. If you really begrudge the developers £2.99 then buy an iPad or an iPhone and get the game on that but if developers don’t receive any income from their games they’ll stop developing them. In fact, the majority of games on PlayStation that are free on other formats actually have paid premium content or giving players the option to unlock levels early.

The Greed Of Sony…

It’s all too easy for people to blame Sony for everything that goes wrong with the PlayStation Vita. Whether it is down to marketing, the PlayStation Network, hardware issues, content on the store or availability of games or apps, gamers seem to lay the blame firmly at Sony’s feet no matter who is responsible. While that is true for a lot of issues surrounding the console, in the case of games on the PSN Store, the reality is that Sony has far less influence than people may realise…

When it comes to pricing of digital titles, most of this is set by the authors themselves. For PSM there was a set royalty payment of 40% per title to developers from Sony per sale from the sale price, but the actual sale price itself was to be set by them author from a series of price points available for the platform. The only guideline for PSM was that titles couldn’t be offered free of charge unless there was some financial transactions involved so “free” titles had to include additional DLC available of some form of F2P gameplay element.

For the main PSN Store titles, while Sony Interactive Entertainment still take a percentage from every sale, this is to cover hosting costs, local taxes, and their own profit margins but the core selling price is still set by the developers. If a game retails physically at £34.99 and the digital version also costs £34.99, it isn’t Sony demanding that the game is sold for that price – it’s the publisher wanting parity between both versions of the game. If anything publishers should be encouraging us to make the switch to digital if they want to reduce the after-sales market for second hand games to maximise their own profits by offering digital titles at a lower price leaving those of us who prefer physical copies paying a premium for the privilege.

For most indie games, these are often sold as part of the Cross Buy initiative so you generally get two games for the price of one (even if the second format isn’t one that interests you) and as a whole sales would be lower than that of larger budget “mainstream” titles. Games either need to sell in larger quantities or need to be priced in a such a way to recoup their development costs, even if they only have relatively small development teams behind them.

Limited Edition Releases

That brings me on to limited edition releases. A number of companies now produced limited edition physical releases of digital games – Limited Run Games, Eastasiasoft, Badland Games, and most recently Strictly Limited Games who are all catering for the PS Vita collector. All of these have taken digital exclusive titles and working with the original publishers have strived to bring us physical releases of numerous titles for the last few years. One thing that has been a common factor with all these releases in the price differential between the original digital release and their physical counterparts. Take the horror game Home for example. The digital release sells for just £3.99 yet the physical release from Limited Run Games was on sale for $24.99 (approximately £20 before shipping costs). Now LRG are not the only company to price games in this manner before anyone thinks that I am singling out this publisher, but at least in these cases the price increase can be justified…

The production costs for the physical releases are always initially absorbed by the new publishers handling the re-release taking the risk away from the developers. Their involvement is usually limited to working to agree the limit on the production run and ensuring that the release is as bug free and complete as possible including all of the patches in a single release. Now, while the selling price is higher once the initial production costs have been recovered the net sales will result in a significant income to the developers and in most cases provides a valuable source of revenue to help develop further titles.  Certainly in the case of the Vita at least, this extra show of support could ensure that some may choose to stay with the format rather than move to greener pastures knowing that there are sales after the interest in the digital release has long gone.

The Future

While there are plenty of bargains to be had on the PlayStation Store with many titles still in the sub-£10 price point and a large number of those even more affordable, I don’t know how long this will continue, especially if the active market for the Vita continues to decline. While the console may have sold 16 million units worldwide, it’s difficult to tell just how many of those are still being used on a regular basis or how many are now relegated to long-term storage or have simply been abandoned by their owners as they’ve moved on to other platforms. The Nintendo Switch has already caught up with the PS Vita in terms of global sales figures and as such is a more attractive system for developers commercially so unless games can guarantee enough sales to make them profitable we may just see a rise in digital prices to ensure that we keep getting games releases for the Vita. If we want to see the support for the console continue, now is the time for all of us to put our money behind the developers who are still supporting us.

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