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Pointillism

I often see and hear variations of the phrase “I’m not paying 1200 Microsoft points”, ever since that £10/$15 price point began to become commonplace on Xbox Live Arcade in 2008. (There were instances of this ‘premium’ 1200 price point being utilised as far back as the first year of the Xbox 360’s life, such as PixelStorm’s Bankshot Billiards 2.

The majority of games prior to the second half of 2008 were released at either 400 MSP (£3/$5), typically for barely enhanced ports of Namco, Konami and Midway arcade machines from the 1980’s, or 800 MSP (£7/$10) for original works like Assault Heroes, enhanced versions of earlier PC releases such as Mutant Storm Reloaded, or (sometimes more substantially enhanced) versions of somewhat more recent classics such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo.

Back in 2005 Microsoft placed a file limit on the download size for XBLA titles of a paltry, by today’s standards, 50MB, so as to facilitate them being downloaded onto the now all but obsolete 64MB memory unit. As mass storage has become cheaper and more prolific and faster broadband ever more widespread this has been relaxed in stages over time to the point where XBLA titles are now capped at a little over 2GB, with several titles comfortably filling this and the ‘average’ title now weighing in at perhaps around the 1GB mark (compared to typically 5GB for a full-priced disc-based release).

The downloadable game market has attracted more, and more noteworthy, developers over time. The commercial risks associated with digital are far less than with retail. As such the downloadable marketplace (and this goes for PSN, the PC indie scene and WiiWare/DSiWare as well) is now home to a wider range of aesthetically unusual and fresh gameplay experiences than the optical media based physical market. Many of these games warrant at least as many hours’ worth of play as any number of £40/$60 boxed titles and yet so many potential purchasers still seem to baulk at the 1200 bracket.

Video games are one of very few things that don’t really go up in price. Though the RRP sometimes rises, the fact is that we’ve been paying £40 or thereabouts for games since the 16-bit days of the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. Of course this means that in real terms video games have gotten significantly cheaper, even though development costs have climbed – both relatively and absolutely – ever higher. So XBLA games have gone up in price in the sense that the low end is now 800 and the regular is 1200 where, half a decade ago, 400/800 was the status quo. Let’s compare Avalanche’s recent Renegade Ops (published by SEGA) to the 2006 genre equivalent Assault Heroes by Wanako for Sierra. Assault Heroes was a fun, vehicle based, twin stick shooter as is Renegade Ops. However play one after the other and observe the time, effort and quality of assets which graces each title and one cannot rationally deny that the more recent game justifies the extra £3 entry (at Assault Heroes’ original price – it has since been reduced permanently to the status of a 400 MSP title).

It’s worth noting that – Microsoft published games aside – the producers of the game set the price. Speaking to John Dennis of Team 17 in 2009 about their release of Worms 2: Armageddon, I remarked that it felt like a very generous package, albeit yet another version of a 14 year old Amiga title, one that could potentially warrant a tenner or fifteen bucks asking price. Dennis replied that this discussion had taken place internally, but that the belief was that the game would sell more than 50% the number of copies again at the lower price point. With anecdotally the amount of complaining about 1200 point releases I read almost every week on forums and Twitter, there may very well be some merit to this strategy for certain titles. With 800 MSP existing seemingly within the impulse purchase bracket where for many people, quite understandably, £10/$15 is where they want to start being more certain that the game they’re purchasing is for them and as such will offer a lasting, high quality experience.

On this point it’s worth saying that you apparently never have to pay 1200 MSP for an XBLA title again, as almost every game from the high profile through to the obscurities gets discounted for at least one week any time between a month and a year after initial release. Regular sales (for Gold Xbox LIVE subscribers) reduce these premium pieces to 800 or even 600 MSP, slotting them firmly in the realms of the ‘punt-worthy’. As with retail titles, if you want a game enough that you feel you have to have it from the first day, then expect to pay a premium. Otherwise be patient, bide your time and keep an eye on the ‘Deals & Offers’ section of your dashboard.

Finally, a number of the “I’ll never pay 1200 MSP” brigade bemoan the death of the 400 MSP release. That this has happened more to do with XBLA’s partially organic, partially designed move away from the idea of the installed retro arcade and towards a resource for high quality, niche titles which simply couldn’t exist in the contemporary bricks and mortar environment. However XBLA does typically still see a tiny collection of original 400 MSP releases each year. In 2010 we had Zoe Mode’s excellent Lumines variant Chime. Released as part of the commendable OneBigGame initiative where for the first, and therefore most significant, period of the game’s life all proceeds were donated to charities Save the Children and the Starlight Children’s Foundation. Looking at the number of entries on the in-game leaderboards, this game was a success, and must have done well for the charity. Earlier this year however, the respected Japanese studio Cave released a 400 MSP curio entitled NIN2-Jump. All proceeds from this title were passed onto the relief fund for the Japanese tsunami, yet despite the amusing nature of the game, the availability of  Achievements worth 200 Gamer Score and the fine intentions of its creators, virtually nobody bought the thing.

My question is, why set arbitrary cost boundaries on how much a video game is worth based on the channel via which it is made available? How about you try out the specific title? Why not read some reviews, consult some Twitter friends and decide whether that particular title is likely to be worth £10/$15 to you? Rather that than miss out on a fantastic game due to it being priced at three quid more than some completely unrelated, separate title, surely? No doubt when new 800 MSP (naturally there were complaints about that bracket back in 2005) releases start to dry up we’ll go through this bizarre situation again where 1200 MSP releases become the acceptable norm and 1600 point games are ‘too much’, even when they match, surpass or even eclipse certain full price retail titles in every worthwhile respect.

 

Addendum: A brand spanking new 400 MSP title has just been released this very week: Mercury Hg by Eiconic Games and published by Ignition is the HD downloadable version of the critically acclaimed Archer Maclean’s Mercury/Mercury Meltdown released previously on Wii & PSP. If you want cheaper downloadable games perhaps you ought to think about supporting efforts like this. Or you could wait until it’s on sale at 200 MSP I guess, tight-ass.

 

7 Comments

  1. Steven Thomsen-Jones

    We’ve, that is Linda and I, always quite liked our Arcade titles. However in the past 6 months this has really taken hold, and we probably get 3-4 Arcade titles per retail purchase. There are several reasons for this, but probably the most compelling for us is that these games seems to have become the home for same screen/sofa sharing co-op games. We’ve spent hours on the likes of Lara Croft GoL finding all the relics, and had more fun getting those 200 achievements points than we have in many full retial products.
    I actually have a related question to put to you guys on this subject, but maybe I should record it and mail it in to the show 🙂

  2. Whilst the XBLA releases have now migrated from 400/800 MSP to 800/1200 MSP, it’s comforting to also see the points themselves becoming available for even less these days. With the support from websites that track discounts for their avoid followers, even more penny pinching can be done.

    Despite the increased prices, I find myself grabbing more of the games as time goes on, and this year saw me nab all of the summer of arcade titles on day of release, despite knowing that in a few months time they’ll all be available for a tasty cut price. It doesn’t quite feel right waiting on a game just for it to drop past some magical price threshold. Mind you, I do tend to buy my points in big chunks due to the amount I can get through 🙂

  3. Since I bought a PS3 I barely look at the Xbox store. I just find the points system really annoying. I love that on the PS3 you can just see the price that you’re going to pay in pounds and just pay that, if it’s over a fiver. Also the PSPlus discounts are amazing, more than worth the price of entry. Xbox really need to up their game on sales and extras for gold members.
    I am glad to see the standard price point go up a bit as it does (at the moment) seem to be in line with an increase in quality.

  4. Rich, in fairness to the XBL store, it has varied and sometimes substantial discounts and sales every single week, not every month like PS+, some of which have been very good, an example of which is Torchlight for 400 points this week. We often get publisher discounts where all games by one publisher will have DLC at a discounted rate, a couple of months ago it was 2K which made all the Mafia II, BioShock 2, GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption DLC considerably cheaper.

    I’m a big fan of the points system, I think it works well and due to sales and discount codes with retailers you can often make quite a large saving, an example of which was that I recently purchased £35 of points (4200 points) for a price of £26. I’ve never struggled with the cost of points or what it equates to, so I guess I’ve just never seen the problem there and with the options to purchase from stores or directly through the dashboard in many different amounts it’s always felt accessible.

  5. I’m with Karl in that I’ve never had a problem with the MSP system. It is also worth noting that On Demand games are listed and purchased by default with ‘cash’ though you have the option to use MSP. I use all the download services extensively and ignoring one for another due to its particular choices as regards to finance isn’t an option all the while that each service has worthwhile exclusives.

  6. it is an interesting subject with the 1200 bracket. But as rightly expressed above, wen you actually compare (For XBLA) the actual coat for points to cash when picking up heavily discounted point cards the relative ‘worth’ of te games goes up in my estimation.

    Having said that my only disappointment is the DL space can create storage issues and not having the physical disc has lead in my case to having to spend a vast amount of time wiping and reloading games to my harddrive when a problem occurs. This gves me the constant fear that I may ultimately loose a game if it is no longer downloadable on XBL. not that I can actually say this has yet happened to me or know if XBL do remove games from their directory.

    Good article.

  7. Items do get removed from the Marketplace for a number of different reasons, there are many XBLA titles no longer available to buy new – HOWEVER, as long as something appears in your download history you are able to freely re-download it to your HDD any number of times. So until MS change their stance on that no need to worry.*

    *Though I would recommend getting a bigger hard drive if possible.

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