It’s time to add an Australian perspective to the hotly-debated $60 USD price point for AAA Video Games.
When I was a child, it was notoriously difficult for me to buy video games. For those of you under 30, you may be surprised to find out that you’re the first entire generation to accept gaming as part of your hobbies. Up until the early 2000s, gaming was considered a niche hobby.
I’d like you to try and imagine that world.
A world where saying you ‘just need to finish that level’ is nowhere near a good enough excuse for most people. A world where you’d likely be mocked for playing video games at all, and not just the terrible ones. A world where you literally can’t buy any games where you live, because gaming simply isn’t popular enough in society.
Have I mentioned that I lived in Tasmania at the time?
I mean, nobody really lives in Tasmania, but you take my point, I’m sure.
And on top of all that, I didn’t have one of the more common gaming units, like an Atari 2600 or a Commodore 64.
I had a computer called a Spectravision 318 – or SV-318 if you wanted to make it sound much cooler, which I definitely do.
That slot at the top above the joystick is a cartridge slot. This machine had a keyboard, an inbuilt joystick and a cartridge slot – it was the perfect blend of computer and console.
I loved that machine.
But I only ever owned about 10 games on it, and I was literally never able to buy more, because none physically existed in my area, and buying any from overseas was ‘not realistic’, according to my father. I never asked why, but I think it’s safe to assume that it was too expensive.
Remember, this was about 10 years before the internet. You couldn’t buy games online, because (public) websites literally didn’t even exist yet.
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Now, we have a glut of games. There are now more video games in existence than any one person could realistically play in their lifetime. To be completely honest, that blows my tiny little mind.
Long ago, you’d have to play what you’d chosen to buy. That was your only option.
Then, gaming became popular enough to warrant AAA games. Simply put, AAA games are games that are expensive to make because they trade style for substance. This is why people accept modern games being released in such poor states: because they look pretty.
Now, we have to choose what we play. And many of us have chosen a franchise or two and that’s our core gaming experience.
The gaming community is currently questioning the validity of a $60 USD price point for AAA games. I personally think that AAA games, in general, are trashy garbage wrapped up in the type of overproduced graphical nonsense that I don’t even care about.
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But WHY do games cost $60 USD? An excellent question.
Evan Narcisse from Kotaku provides an excellent answer: “The long answer is complicated and a little bit shady. The short answer? Everybody needs a cut of the profits.”
Which is fine, but AAA games are constantly and consistently being released in an unfinished state, and most gamers that I personally know have at least one story where they were let down by a so-called ‘AAA company’. So what are we paying for, really? Certainly not ‘finished games’ or even ‘an appropriate level of support’.
So, again – what are we paying for?
Jim Sterling (or, to give him his proper nomenclature, ‘Jim F*cking Sterling Son’) is a moderately popular YouTuber who is well known amongst his fans (of which I am one) for calling out the games industry on their nonsense. Indeed, the associated playlist on his channel is aptly named, “Industry Bullshit”.
He makes an excellent point about microtransactions (i.e. in-game purchases for real money) in $60 USD AAA games. His argument is that microtransactions are how free-to-play games make their money and that putting them in a $60 game is a very clear indicator that the industry isn’t just trying to make some money, it’s trying to make all the money. Which isn’t a bad thing in itself, but it’s bad in this situation because the industry simply isn’t prepared to act like it deserves all the money.
A point that Jim F*cking Sterling Son hasn’t made, however (not anywhere I’ve seen, at least), is that gaming is simply still too much of a ‘Wild West’ to justify – in this writer’s opinion – spending that much money on any game.
For example, did you know that you don’t actually own anything in MMOs, or even in most games which feature multiplayer?
That cool weapon you spent weeks grinding for? That’s not yours.
That awesome character skin/model that you recently unlocked from a lootbox? That’s not yours.
All that high-end gear that you spent literal years earning in an MMO? That’s not yours.
If something disappears from your game account, the developers don’t have to replace it – because it’s theirs, not yours.
You own NOTHING, with one exception.
The ONLY thing you actually own is your account name, and that’s only because it’s tied to your email.
Seriously, check your End User License Agreement (EULA, commonly pronounced as ‘yuler’), which most people know as ‘That part where you click on I accept so you can get to the good stuff’.
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For instance, some chap bought a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive weapon skin for $61K.
Remember: He doesn’t even own it.
That’s a pretty bold statement (not to mention possibly literally unbelievable for some people) but certainly isn’t empty hyperbole. Here’s a list of directions to follow if you want some proof to go along with that particular example:
1. Read the Steam Subscriber Agreement, which is literally the closest thing to a CS:GO EULA in existence.
2. Read Section 1 Subsection B, where they define any traded items as ‘Contents and Services’.
3. Read Section 2 Subsection A, where they state, and I’ll copy-paste this for you because I love you: “The Content and Services are licensed, not sold. Your license confers no title or ownership in the Content and Services.”.
4. Realise that the dude didn’t even BUY the gun. He RENTED it. For S61K+. RENTED.
So, the next time you install a DLC (or whatever), try checking the EULA to see if you actually own what you bought. You’ll probably give up after you realise how much work translating Legalese into actual English is going to be if you’re a normal person.
That’s how they slip that info past you.
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Our more curious and/or trollish readers (either is fine with me) may have wondered why I keep saying $60 USD, instead of converting it.
At least, I hope so.
Because, I for one, am curious to know why Steam (the most popular online PC gaming store in human history) does the exact same thing to us.
Here’s a fun fact: Because Valve (the developers of Steam) don’t have a single physical store in Australia, they literally cannot be held accountable for their shady business practices in Australia.
For instance, let’s say, oh I don’t know, just a random example off the top of my head, that Valve had tried to charge me for a payment where I didn’t receive the digital goods I paid for and was able to prove as much to them.
If I hadn’t fought tooth and nail (by which I mean ‘called my bank, and also The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission‘) they would have gotten away with it, too.
According to my bank, the only reason I got the money back out of them was that Valve simply couldn’t be bothered dealing with it.
This, however, resulted in my Steam account being restricted, which meant that I could no longer buy games and that people couldn’t even gift me a game – all because I didn’t let Valve steal from me.
I’ve had people tell me I should be happy that I was still allowed to access the games I bought, at all. These people should really examine their worldview.
Although my account restrictions are now lifted, I no longer buy games on Steam since that fateful transaction.
How many people did this happen to, who DIDN’T do extra homework and write boring letters and make boring phone calls like I did? How many people have fallen for this?
I make it sound like it’s some kind of scam. I don’t think that’s literally the case but it might as well be, really. There are definitely loopholes being taken advantage of, there’s no question of that.
For instance, I tried to find out why they refuse to use Aussie prices in their store (given that the English get to see their prices converted to pounds, etc.), but Valve have so far refused to answer any of my questions about it. I assume it has something to do with the fact that they don’t want to acknowledge the fact that they actually sell to Australians, for legal purposes.
While that is conjecture on my part, they’re not sharing information about it so conjecture is literally all I have.
They can get away with all this behaviour I’ve mentioned because – credit where it’s due – they’re far ahead of the curve with regards to International Law. Video games still, to this day, don’t have their own section in most laws, and can only be legally processed as ‘electronic entertainment’. This is the actual reason why it’s held to the same standards as movies even though it’s a different medium.
Also, because it’s a visual medium, lawyers (and the like) are required to use film-related laws in order to do their job.
Well, that’s what the Australian Classification Board said when I asked them about it, anyway.
That’s what I mean about the ‘Wild West’ aspect of modern gaming – it’s basically lawless.
And considering that I don’t even really own what I’m buying in these literally lawless transactions?
Well – you know. Horses for courses, and all that.
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Over the course of my life, my feelings on the gaming industry have gone from ‘I wish I could buy a video game in this town’ to ‘oh look, another greedy AAA dev, yawn’.
Gaming is now – for me, at least – a waste of the precious mental energies that a hobby is supposed to replenish.
And frankly, I refuse to pay approx $75 AUD (you can have that info for free, Valve) for that ‘privilege’, and I certainly won’t be financially rewarding people that aren’t even prepared to act like they deserve my money.
But this has been my experience.
Yours may be very different!
I’m sure there’s a reason why $75 AUD games keep selling gangbusters – it can’t just be from the marketing, or if it is, then I simply refuse to accept that.
We have different-but-equal tastes, you and I, which is the great thing about art-as-commerce.
The fact that I don’t like modern gaming shouldn’t impact on the fact that you do.
So thank goodness for indie devs and smaller companies, who have saved my hobby from ‘the villains of the piece’ – so that old-fashioned people like me still have new games to buy, too.