Rise in XBLA prices bucking digital trend

Portfolio director Chris Charla admits rising prices - and there's no comment on free-to-play

Xbox Live Arcade's portfolio director Chris Charla has admitted that the average price of a game on the service is increasing.

Speaking to at the Develop conference, Charla stated that prices on XBLA aren't subject to the same downward pressure as other digital retail platforms.

"If you look at Live Arcade, and do the math, and look at the publicly available sales numbers, you can see that average prices on XBLA have crept up over the last few years, which has been an interesting trend because on some app markets there's been a race to zero as fast as possible," he said

"We've seen a little bit of the opposite happening. I don't really know where prices are going to go - ultimately, that's set by the market - but it has been really gratifying to see that people are willing to a premium price for digital content."

Average prices on XBLA have crept up, which has been interesting because on some app markets there's been a race to zero as fast as possible

Chris Charla, Microsoft

In 2009, 21 of the 86 games released were priced at 1200 Microsoft Points. That figure rose to 27 out of 85 games released in 2010, and 2011 already has 20 games confirmed at 1200 points, with a number of significant releases due before the end of the year.

However, the proliferation of more expensive games has coincided with a rise in quality. Charla claims that the average Metacritic score for Xbox Live Arcade releases has risen by 12 points since the start of calendar year 2008, challenging widely held assumptions about where to find the best products.

"Sometimes, when [developers] talk about Live Arcade they're like, 'We want to do a boxed quality game on Live Arcade', and I'm like, 'What does that mean?' I can point at a bunch of 38 and 42 and 56 metacritic scoring boxed games, so it actually kind of pisses me off."

"I think the games that we're shipping - a Limbo or a Castle Crashers - are as good as anything on the market."

For Charla, the "beauty" of the XBLA service is that it allows games to be "the correct size," so the experience doesn't suffer in the pursuit of scope.

However, when questioned about the possibility of free-to-play games appearing on the service, Charla had less to offer.

He pointed to Magic: The Gathering, Magic: 2012 and Pinball FX 2 as examples of the service experimenting with micro-transactions, with Pinball FX 2 performing "extremely well".

"For us that's a really interesting model, and we're always looking to be the pointy end of the spear when it comes to experiments, and that's kind of where we're focused right now."

Charla wouldn't comment on free-to-play games on XBLA, but he believes that developers underestimate how open the company is to new ideas, and the company expects innovation on the service to be "game-led."

"Sometimes people get this incorrect impression about Microsoft, that we're very hide-bound or set in our ways, and just because somebody might not have been seeing everything that we're doing, they might think that Microsoft will never do that."

"The reality is... it's actually a pretty dynamic company, and always eager to look and learn. We want to do things right, so we might take our time, but we're always eager to see the innovations people are bringing us."

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Latest comments (8)

Thomas Würgler Staff writer, Geek Culture10 years ago
These price hikes are what keeps me from buying XBLA games. I bought pretty much everything the first couple of years. I have only bought a handful since then.

Why should I spend 800-1200 points on an XBLA title or Xbox Original unless it offers the same (or better) entertainment than what I can pick up at a Steam sale or on iOS? My PS+ subscription also offers access to a lot of the same games for a low price.

I realize that money has to be made, but if others react like I do, the platform will eventually hurt - or could potentially make more money than it does now (lower prices would certainly get me to buy more games).
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Sam Maxted Journalist / Community / Support 10 years ago
Its become rare for me to buy an XBLA game unless it's in some sort of sale. Most are simply too expensive for what they are at the moment.
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Matt Hackett Game Developer, Lost Decade Games10 years ago
Honestly I do love XBLA, but I've noticed that the few higher-priced games I've purchased (Castlevania and M:tG among them) I've barely played. Pretty much $15/each down the drain.
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Thomas Würgler Staff writer, Geek Culture10 years ago
Saying "simplistic iOS games" about most of my $1 purchases would be rather unfair. Some of these are lengthy, meaty RPGs and action titles that rival a lot of what's on XBLA.

I do miss what XBLA was all about, though: Arcade games. As in quick pick-me-up-and-play games. There are still some that function like that, but I really enjoyed the early titles. From Paperboy to Geometry Wars it was all good to me. I know GameRoom was supposed to pick up the slack, but it has been horribly neglected and the games selection is close to absolutely uninteresting to me. Even though I'm old enough to remember arcades, I just don't care about most of what's available on there.

Nay, give me Iron Man Stewart's Off-Road Racing with online multiplayer at 400 MSP and you'll have my dough. Or give me something else that's different from a retail release. Trials HD was a great recent example of what an XBLA game is all about for me.

You are absolutely right about impulse buy price. New games are outside of that - yet they don't offer the same value as a retail game I can pick up cheaply after a month or two. That means two things: One, I do my impulse shopping elsewhere (there are competitors after all) and two, I get the retail games instead of the XBLA games.

I hope XBLA becomes competitive again someday and it doesn't just evolve into digitally delivered games of typical retail quality.
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Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 10 years ago
Nothing overly noteworthy in raising prices. Its just how the world works.
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Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator 10 years ago
This is another reason I'm waiting for Bastion to come out on Steam/PC rather than get it on XBLA.
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Thomas Würgler Staff writer, Geek Culture10 years ago
There is something noteworthy in raising prices on digital platforms. After all digital delivery was always the holy grail to keep prices yet have decent income. But I guess volume has to be part of it as well, which is what the iOS ecosystem delivers to a greater extent than XBLA.
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Prices are high, quality bar is raised. Ok to me.
Btw, I expected Ms Splosion Man to be a 1200Msp title, but it is only 800 and it worth much more. Its a insane great game.
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