£70/€80 for Returnal is the canary in the coalmine of game pricing strategy

Review copy is now out for Returnal, a new PS5 exclusive from cult shooter developer Housemarque. Initial impressions, before the full embargo release, are very positive. But the discussion again and again returns to the price: €80/£70.

Returnal is a new IP, it doesn’t have the gravitas of the Demon’s Souls remake. It’s not a huge triple-A title in terms of budget and marketing (although it’s certainly close in terms of quality – in fact it looks bloody superb). It won’t provide endless entertainment, despite its rogue-like structure. And it comes after launch, so it can’t hide in the coattails of expensive hardware.

This, then, is a high-quality title from a beloved developer, a classic AA so to speak, that just happens to cost the ‘new normal’ of £70. And that’s all people can talk about.

Looking at Martin Robinson’s considered take on the game over on Eurogamer, it’s certainly going to appeal to fans of the developer, and fans of action-packed 3rd person shooters and rogue-like structures. It’s exactly the kind of game that should have that audience excited.

Robinson doesn’t mention the price once in his piece, but below the line, that’s all people are talking about. To sum it up: “Love Housemarque but still not paying €80 for this…”

There may be a perception problem here, as Housemarque are making a step up from €20 indie titles, such as Resogun, to something far bigger and more expensive to create.

But the underlying current, is that while that price point looks acceptable to this audience for the very biggest games, it’s going to be a hard sell for anything that doesn’t live up to that label: Horizon Zero Dawn, The Last of Us, God of War etc etc.

Of course a high price point means there’s lots of space to discount over the months and years to come. (After all, I have friends who bought HZD for £12 and some who even picked it up for free). That perception of value might stick with the game, which could have been labelled ‘indie’ at a lesser price.

Still, launch sales matter too when it comes to perception of quality and success, and at present Housemarque’s game is looking to be the canary in the coalmine of game pricing.

And then of course there’s the constant presence of Game Pass to consider, as it’s this kind of title that would fit incredibly well as a highlight release on a subscription format.

The industry should watch Returnal’s numbers with great interest come the start of next week. We hope for all concerned that the title is a success.

 

About Seth Barton

Seth Barton is the editor of MCV – which covers every aspect of the industry: development, publishing, marketing and much more. Before that Seth toiled in games retail at Electronics Boutique, studied film at university, published console and PC games for the BBC, and spent many years working in tech journalism. Living in South East London, he divides his little free time between board games, video games, beer and family. You can find him tweeting @sethbarton1.

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