When you’re a kid, the connotations of the word inflation – bounce houses, balloons, paddling pools – are all pretty great. Sadly, the meaning changes a bit as you grow older. We’ve been used to a $60 price tag for premium games for quite some time now, but with the next generation of consoles, it looks like that might be about to change.
2K games announced last week that the PS5 and Xbox Series X versions of the upcoming NBA 2K21 would be sold for $69.99 – a $10 jump from the PS4 and Xbox One editions. While sports games have long been the target of complaints regarding microtransactions and other price-gouging efforts, in this case, it seems they might be serving as a portent of things to come.
The $60 price tag has been around in gaming since the early days of the PS3, 360, and Nintendo Wii. Excluding a small hike for Switch cartridges, it’s largely stuck since, too. If anything, the average price of games may have decreased thanks to the bloom in indie releases on consoles, as well as titles like Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which blurs the line between AAA and indie. However, the range of deluxe and bonus editions offered for games has also increased, bumping up the price tags of popular titles for more in-game and physical rewards. The real question now is whether other large game studios follow suit with 2K’s pricing model. Several publishers have certainly been pondering a price hike, citing increased development costs for AAA releases, but so far there’s no conclusive view across the board.
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Currently, the approach towards next-gen pricing is far from established. Microsoft is offering a generous Smart Delivery system on many of its titles, meaning anyone who purchases the Xbox One version will get free access to the game on Series X as well. Though less extensive, Sony’s PS5 also has an upgrade system for certain titles. Games-as-service titles such as Destiny 2 have also detailed free upgrades, and even the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 will include a free upgrade to next-gen (though a visually updated, fully next-gen version will be sold further down the line). It’s likely these games won’t charge more for the next-gen version, as consumers could simply buy the PS4 or Xbox One version and claim their free upgrade.
By comparison, 2K’s confusing and expensive options may not sit well with many players. Instead of joining in with Smart Delivery, 2K21 will only offer cross-generation support with the more expensive $99 Mamba Forever edition. Even then, buying the special edition on Xbox One or PS4 will only unlock the standard edition on PS5 or Series X. It’s an extremely confusing system that led to the creation of an even more confusing chart you can view and attempt to decipher below. The reasoning behind the price hike and separation is that the next-gen version NBA 2K21 has reportedly been built from the ground up, with improved graphics, load times, and more. It’s this latter region, in which games are developed solely for the new consoles, that a price hike could seem justified.
In short, games are bound to get more expensive eventually, and the $70 price of NBA 2K21 seems a pretty good indication of what we can expect the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X to wheedle from our wallets and purses. However, with such confusion already present around the game, we’ll need to wait until more big studios announce their price points for titles without Smart Delivery or upgrades to be sure. The increase may be tough in a year when many a squeezed more for money than ever before, but systems like Smart Delivery will at least ensure we’ve got games to play when the new machines arrive in stores.
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Henry Stenhouse was formerly a Ph.D. physicist before being born anew in the fires of game journalism. An unashamed Super Smash Bros. fanatic, he’s still waiting for the rest of the editorial team to accept his daily challenges for an Ultimate showdown. Other genres of interest include FPS, RTS and western RPGs. You can follow him on Twitter at @Fernoface