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Console games need more variable pricing, says Riccitiello

Console games need more variable pricing, says Riccitiello

Tue 22 Oct 2013 7:43pm GMT / 3:43pm EDT / 12:43pm PDT
MobileBusiness

Former EA CEO laments that “$60 is a giant FU to a very large number of people"

New consoles are launching in under a month, and for the average consumer, buying new hardware in addition to several games at the price of $60 each is a significant outlay of cash. Game pricing has been a sensitive subject for some time now, and former EA boss John Riccitiello believes that the console/PC side of the business could learn a thing or two from the booming mobile space.

"Another thing that console and PC guys could and should learn is variable pricing," Riccitiello said at the recent Gaming Insiders Summit, as reported by the [a]list daily. "$60 is a giant FU to a very large number of people. There's not been a console game with even half as many installs as Clash of Clans. Puzzle & Dragons has got more installs than any console game in history. Getting a larger audience through variable pricing is a really useful thing."

The executive also noted that even with all its efforts of late, the traditional games industry still hasn't been able to get "games as service" right. The recent GTA Online hiccup serves as the newest example.

"More than anything, what the traditional game industry should learn from mobile is it's really about service," Riccitiello said. "It's an ongoing business. You'd think we would have learned this some time ago, but I find it interesting that WoW and Sim City and GTA and Starcraft and many other games all fell over at launch when they put their service components together. Some of the biggest brands - I'd argue almost all the biggest brands - fell over from lack of the testing and research that mobile people do in the regular course of their day."

And the traditional industry still makes games too complicated for the masses, he argued. It may be fun for the hardcore crowd, but it's ultimately limiting when it comes to audience. "The third thing to learn is simplicity," he said. Riccitiello noted how games used to come with "500 page manuals" and while games have gotten simpler, "It's incredibly rare for a new game from a traditional game company to be learnable without instruction in ten, fifteen or twenty seconds and get to the fun that quick."

Be sure to check out the full article with much more from the former EA chief at our sister site the [a]list daily.

16 Comments

Jim Webb
Executive Editor/Community Director

2,265 2,399 1.1
Popular Comment
John, I agree with what you say regarding price but I really would have loved to hear this from you back in your EA days. EA could have led that charge. And you led EA. Board of Directors, executives, shareholders...I get that. It's not a dictatorship. Even if you wanted to implement these ideas, you would have been met with obstructions every step of the way. But vocalizing those thoughts - that would have been good for the industry.

As for games as a service....I don't think that all of us want all our games as a service. I don't want to subscribe to every game I own. You have to start keeping up and managing this service and that service and this game and that game. Suddenly, it starts to sound less like play and more like work. Less like subscriptions and more like bills.

Posted:10 months ago

#1

Rick Lopez
Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 942 0.7
@Jim Webb

I second everything you said.

Posted:10 months ago

#2

Christophe Danguien
games developer

69 83 1.2
He talks about making games as service cause he thinks money money money. But most of the gamers don't want games as a service, people want to buy the game and have their own rightful copy...

Posted:10 months ago

#3

Tameem Antoniades
Creative Director & Co-founder

196 164 0.8
It looks like the threat & domination of digital will ultimately drive retail to embrace tiered pricing as a last gasp. It's such a shame that this didn't happen 10-15 years ago. So many talented game devs have gone under, so much creativity lost and so many games left unplayed. It's very sad indeed.

Posted:10 months ago

#4

Jordan Lund
Columnist

27 59 2.2
Hey Riccitiello - How did your "Game as a Service" work for The Sims? Everyone should note, there's a reason he's not the head of EA anymore. The reason Clash of Clans and Puzzle & Dragons have so many installs is because they are Free to Play. Like many Xbox Live Arcade and PSN titles.

Consoles DO have variable pricing. If you want to pay $60 for a AAA retail copy you can do that or you can buy a $5 digital title or download a F2P game. That ecosystem is already on consoles. Monday Night Combat was huge on the Xbox 360 from what I remember.

It's like Riccitiello has no idea what he's talking about... oh, wait...

Posted:10 months ago

#5

David Serrano
Freelancer

299 270 0.9
Riccitiello should do what Jerry Levin did after leaving AOL Time Warner... disappear for an extended period of time, come back and publicly accept responsibility for his mistakes.

Posted:10 months ago

#6

Tobias Sjögren
EVP Business Development

10 2 0.2
First point, many (most!) retail games see a actual price drop already just weeks after release. So guess it is more about skimming the market with the original 60 USD price point and the real actual first 3 month price is usually quite lower.

Secondly:
Dear Riccitiello, when I worked at DICE heading the Stockholm studio I brought this up, mainly because we sold BF1942 as a service with a lot of users playing it for months if not years, supporting mod-community which really helped the sales and we did expansion packs (these days I guess it is called DLC but then it was 14.99-29.99 boxes in retail). I pointed on the fact that if we lowered the price from 60 USD we would get even more users in DICE/EA could monetize them with more add on sales later. However, I was wrong!!! Battlefield 1942 was, at least up to that point in time, the product that kept its original SRP the longest, over a year if remember correctly, quite an achievement!
I think it is rather this, the competition is so much harder today as there is more great games competing for the consumers money that you need to compete on price as well, remember we had that 60USD price level for a long time now which effectively already been over the years been a price cut. Throw in a financial crisis in the mix and free to play business/marketing model into it and of course prices will have to go down on that piece of plastic you pick up in the store and that you know by experience perhaps only is good and in worst case is prone with bugs other issues. People don't value games as much as they did 15 years ago and honestly why should they, market decided the price needs to go down and here we are.
Keeping a game up to date and adding value over the life time of it is these day a hygiene factor (in the "Two factor theory" by Herzberg kind of way). If you don't do it your average price per game will go down quite rapidly..

My job these days is heading sales at Paradox Interactive, I work a lot with both games as a service but very much variable pricing and creating great offers for our amazing Paradox gamers. They love our games, they deserve a great deal and they love us even more for getting great entertainment for their money. That said, and just to mess with your minds, our most expensive SKU so far is the "Valhalla Edition" in the Steam Early Access version of "War of Vikings", will put you back a 149.99 USD (and we sold a lot of them because it is a good deal. And there was the 19.99 SKU as well).

Posted:10 months ago

#7

Richard Browne
EVP Gaming and Interactive

98 114 1.2
As someone pointed out above, consoles have had variable pricing forever, there's retail day one price which is for AAA games $60. For other games, such as kids games, there used to be lower pricing, from $20-$40. Then there's digital games on XBLA/PSN which retail from anywhere from $5-$20 and yes there's even an acceptance toward pushing FTP on console now too. In the old days before Gamestop's fleece to win strategy came to pass $60 would reduce in price over time thanks to a thing call supply and demand. If the game was sat on the shelf too long, units weren't moving, a Publisher would lower the price to incentivise getting it moving again. Human nature suggests people like bargains. Unfortunately the churn model killed that concept and now Gamestop gets to drive AAA pricing (and reaps all the rewards for doing so).

Tameem the concept that the lack of tiered pricing is the reason for developers disappearing is beyond laughable. Enslaved didn't sell poorly because it wasn't decent, nor because it was $60 on day one, but because it was an enjoyable single player romp that was finished relatively quickly and returned to Gamestop for credit. Had it been $30 it would have been returned at the same rapid rate and Namco would have been even worse off with their revenue slashed. It also is highly unlikely to have sold a single unit more because of the price, actually it was probably more likely to have been looked over as "sub standard". We tried a lower price point with MX Unleashed, didn't do one iota of good.

Posted:10 months ago

#8

Spencer Franklin
Concept Artist

93 124 1.3
@Jim Webb
"As for games as a service....I don't think that all of us want all our games as a service. I don't want to subscribe to every game I own. You have to start keeping up and managing this service and that service and this game and that game. Suddenly, it starts to sound less like play and more like work. Less like subscriptions and more like bills."

I couldn't agree more. and as games start to try and make a change to service, those games will be ones I will not hesitate to pass on. I don't want a service, I just want to play good games, without any BS tacked on social or other attachments.

Posted:10 months ago

#9

Tameem Antoniades
Creative Director & Co-founder

196 164 0.8
We will never know if you're right Richard but steam and app stores have proven that there is a diverse marketplace for weird and wonderful games in genres that would never have been green lit or stocked under the 60 dollar model.

Posted:10 months ago

#10
as for the idea of further dumbing down games? Its not a one size fits all world. Fun little games you can learn in seconds are fun and have a place, but they need not be end all be all of gaming. Some of us still actually dont mind deep challenging games that take a while to learn and even longer to master. There is nothing wrong with a game that requires you to actually read and comprehend and think.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 24th October 2013 12:13am

Posted:10 months ago

#11

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,173 1,121 0.5
The funny (well, not so funny) thing is... many gamers today are now used to NOT running out and buying that AAA on day one despite the overblown midnight launches and hype about pre-order this and that. Many now wait for sales or in some cases the inevitable bundle roll out on some under-performing titles to the point that I've seen entire threads on some boards about "buy now or wait for a price drop in a month" or something like that where the consensus is going heavily to waiting it out even for the biggest releases.

Now, this doesn't work at all on the marquee titles that publishers rake into the next year after that big holiday release at full price for up to a year or more (and SHAMELESSLY, at that). But between trade-ins and other coupon deals (BOGO, etc), paying $60 a game is for suckers, early adopter bragging rights, gift buying adults who know no better, collectors and fools.

Of course, this stinks because great games SHOULD be paid for and the people who work hard on them rewarded. On the other hand, bargain hunting won't ever go away and thanks to people learning not to settle for the highest cost, it looks as if that price point is one a lot more won't be paying as time creeps onwards...

Posted:10 months ago

#12

Tameem Antoniades
Creative Director & Co-founder

196 164 0.8
I should also like to add that the main reason devs go under is mainly because they don't sign new projects rather than failing to sell numbers. I would argue that a AAA game that sells well and profits the publisher will rarely see the developer receive royalties. The AAA model is largely a work-for-hire gig. I think many game devs would like to make smaller cheaper games that take more creative and gameplay risks but since every game has to assume $60, they become bloated risk averse affairs. Not every dev can nor should operate in that space so arguing that $60 soon becomes $20 misses the point that the $60 eco system is not healthy for smaller and creative studios, nor for players.

Posted:10 months ago

#13

Richard Browne
EVP Gaming and Interactive

98 114 1.2
Tameem - I totally agreee and Enslaved delivered digitally for $30 without a resell market probably could have performed much better, as it deserved. But even then your development budget would probably have had to be cut quite drastically to make ot work.

Posted:10 months ago

#14

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,530 1,330 0.9
I totally agreee and Enslaved delivered digitally for $30 without a resell market probably could have performed much better
Something which, by the way, will be tested when it releases on Steam (later today, I think it is). Of course, those who have a console and want to play it won't buy it on Steam (they'll pick it up cheap second-hand, if they haven't already). But it'll be interesting to see what happens. :)

Posted:10 months ago

#15

Tameem Antoniades
Creative Director & Co-founder

196 164 0.8
Enslaved was green lit, budgeted and scoped as a $60 game. If we were to target a low budget digital game, our entire development and creative effort would focus on how to make a game to support that model - i.e. it wouldn't be Enslaved. It would probably be much more art house, episodic and aim to serve a sizeable but still niche audience interested in storytelling . Anyway good luck Monkey & Trip, whatever happens!

Posted:10 months ago

#16

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