The Price is Right

Is that a crime? In the eyes of some, yes.

Activision played the poker face and said it doesn’t publicly discuss pricing when asked about the issue. But EA, for one, has emphatically denied it will raise prices this year.

The last games company to do this – Nintendo, when it pushed up the price of the Wii hardware – blamed currency conversions for the squeeze on its costs. But will that excuse wash here?

Whatever the grumbles, the fact is, Modern Warfare 2 is set to be one of the biggest games of the year – and its price now reflects that.

It’s safe to assume that behind closed doors Activision staff know there are only two or three games out there for which a publisher could get away with raising the price – and it happens to own one of them.

Millions of people want Modern Warfare 2. Millions upon millions of pounds have been spent on its production. And the game is said to offer an experience as gripping as its predecessor. Ergo: It’s worth more to Activision, whether or not anyone else agrees.

The Price is Wrong

The problem for retail over the MW2 price isn’t just the wash of ill feeling that comes with each unit carrying a higher cost price but generating no extra revenue.

(Which is a bit rich – you’re already bound to sell hundreds of thousands of units for the biggest game of the year, and you want more profit?).

No, the real issue is how this could upset the perceived value of the games around MW2. If that game is 54.99, does that mean the games priced at 39.99 are worse? Of course not, but you’d forgive less discerning punters from thinking that.

Tensions around pricing aren’t new in the games industry, and now the prospect of telling cash-conscious punters that the year’s most wanted title will actually cost a few more quid in what’s supposed to be the tail-end of a recession isn’t going to be particularly welcome at retail.

Then again, consumers swallowed the slight price increases that came with each new Harry Potter books – even when the page counts fell, meaning consumers got less content per penny. So maybe the boundaries of what consumers will tolerate on price haven’t been toyed with enough in games?

Luckily, we won’t have to see such experiments play out that often. There are only a handful of games out there that a publisher could do this with, so it’s far from something that will become the norm.

So while pricing is still the ultimate sensitive issue for publishers and retail – as long as no one tries their luck and thinks of trying to hike the price of second-tier games – this could just be a blip. Fingers crossed.

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