How game development is changing the way we buy

The coming year is shaping up as a promising period for Microsoft's gaming efforts, following the launch of last year's flagship console, Xbox One X. Now the time to prove the hardware's true capabilities, a variety of ambitious titles are on the horizon, expected to leverage its additional horsepower.

While games continue to push boundaries, one aspect has remained unchanged. Scale, potential and development costs grow, yet the standard $60 price of entry has remained constant between recent console generations. Here's how recent development trends may change the way you buy.

Big games, better value

Games are now bigger than ever. Open worlds, cutting-edge graphics and hours of content are all familiar sights in today's influential titles. Marketing often drives the scale and depth of these digital worlds, with each iterating on its predecessors in some regard. Top publishers now dedicate teams of hundreds on individual projects, continuing to scale alongside consumer expectations. Games simply demand an extraordinary quantity of resources to develop.

An industry-wide shift towards the "Games as a Service" (GaaS) model plays a significant role in this, with heightened investment in titles after they've hit store shelves. Buyers now come to expect post-launch content, tweaks, and other types of active support, meaning that development cycles are longer than before. Many games are now sold as a platform, on the promise that time and monetary investments carry through in the months or years ahead.

Buyers now come to expect post-launch content, tweaks, and other types of active support.

While not the ideal way to experience many GaaS titles, it's now possible to make a single $60 purchase and still have a regular flow of content going forward. The time to dollar ratio has always been higher for games than most media and it's only more apparent with this model.

More than just a game

STAR WARS Battlefront II

STAR WARS Battlefront II (Image credit: Electronic Arts)

Following the adoption of GaaS models, it's more expensive to develop, ship and maintain a game than it was a decade ago. Development costs have grown with the industry, while games are still priced around $60 at launch. If the cost of making games is higher, why isn't the price of entry for consumers too?

Across many titles, the increasing costs of development are offset through other monetization methods. It's now widely known that downloadable content, microtransactions, and loot boxes have all proven successful as additional revenue streams. Publishers frequently source these monetization schemes as a tool for supporting development after launch, without modifying the initial asking price. While there's strong debate over intrusive microtransactions, there is some truth to the reasoning.

Browsing the Microsoft Store, there's no shortage of deluxe editions and additional content.

Browsing the Microsoft Store, there's no shortage of deluxe editions and additional content.

The cost of gaming has steadily increased, albeit not through the price tag on the shelf.

In many ways, the base entry price of games has already risen – just that many of us haven't noticed it. If you look at any modern big budget title, there's no shortage of "deluxe editions," "gold editions" and other variants with supplementary content at launch. To get a "complete" experience, you'll likely be paying more than $60 in some way.

Through these practices, publishers have found routes to indirectly raise the price of their titles, while obscuring the change from the average buyer. The cost of gaming has steadily increased, albeit not through the price tag on the shelf.

Changing the way we buy

Sea of Thieves will be the first Microsoft Studios game to hit Xbox Game Pass at launch.

Sea of Thieves will be the first Microsoft Studios game to hit Xbox Game Pass at launch.

While buying discs and digital licenses is likely here to stay, other means of obtaining games are making an appearance on the market. As seen in other entertainment industries with Netflix and Spotify, all-inclusive streaming services can offer an appealing library of content for a monthly fee. Upcoming services like "Xbox Game Pass" apply this distribution model to games, providing access to over 100 Xbox games for $9.99 per month (opens in new tab).

Microsoft continues to expand Xbox Game Pass, recently committing its upcoming first-party blockbusters to the service at launch. Going forward, all future Microsoft Studios titles will be tied to the service's library at release, under the same monthly fee. Among these offerings is Sea of Thieves, Crackdown 3 and State of Decay 2, as well as upcoming Gears of War and Halo series entries. This move singlehandedly shifted my thoughts on Xbox Game Pass, now as a must-buy for many Xbox One gamers.

This accompanies Microsoft's recent venture for richer gaming services, using Xbox Game Pass and its biggest titles to drive further investment. While cutting costs for some, the service also provides a gateway for players who may have otherwise skipped the title. This is only set to expand, with talk of an upcoming cloud game streaming service, built on similar values to Xbox Game Pass. Don't be surprised if Xbox Game Pass (and similar services) play a bigger role in Xbox going forward.

The cycle of how we buy and consume games is forever changing and with the recent growth of digital services, new routes for distribution are opening. Services like Xbox Game Pass provide a new value proposition for gamers to consider, as the industry only continues to grow. Today, maybe it's harder to put a price on a game than ever before.

What do you think about the price of games in 2018? As always, make sure to drop your thoughts in the comments.

See Xbox Game Pass at Microsoft Store (opens in new tab)

Matt Brown is Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.

47 Comments
  • Eh, I understand it's a business model but unfortunately I don't think this settles well for gamers who are in my opinion age 25-30. We grew up on co-op couch games, and all these DLC's are for online play. As you get older you have more responsiblties, and online gaming is not a priority.
  • So true.
  • Well said man.. I couldn't agree more.. It seems the age of single player games have come and gone.. In my opinion I wouldn't mind paying a bit more per game to have online multiplayer and loot boxes removed from my games. It's obvious loot boxes or whatever you want to call it is here to stay as its generated billions in profits and thats all companies care about.. If they make a great game then it will do the same. I have had enough of online multiplayer only games and I have never cared to play online competitively, ever!
  • Guess I really don't understand why folks seem to think they should get an ongoing stream of new material for free. You spend ~$60 for a new game, get the original game and initial multiplayer stuff. As developers produce new material and new multiplayer maps or experiences why shouldn't they get payed?
  • 1) Because it's mobile style free2play economics used in a full price $60-100 game.
    2) Because the priority is no longer make great game and hope that gamers love it but more make a game and try to tempt gamers to spend more and more money once they payed the $60-100 entry fee.
    3) Because that content is not just being sold as it is. But it is hidden behind boxes and you are made to pay n amount of cash even if you want only one item.
    4) Because gameplay or match making is most probably changed or adjusted to turn gamers into payers. You are constantly advertised and sold stuff. 
    5) Because that content could have been included in the original game like how it was years back. I could go on... But what's funny is that whenever you guys defend these you're not saying how it's a good thing for gamers and gaming. 
  • But you're wrong... In all your arguements except maybe 3&4. Since PC gaming went big all games had vanilla games then expansions. Look at diablo, red alert, elder scrolls, half life, the list goes on.. You got the vanilla game then had to pay for the expansion. Most if those old models are all peer to peer game play so there was no infrastructure to pay for. It makes total sense for game publishers to try to offset their costs by having loot boxes and such because multiplayer game servers cost a lot to maintain. You are no longer paying for the initial development of the game you are paying for the continued development of the game as well as the support cost for maintaining those servers which isn't cheap. They have to pay for licensing of their oses and software, their admins to maintain those oses and software, their network, isp, etc the list goes on... They also need to continue to turn a profit to maintain investors to continue to create games. There is alot that goes into games so its a miracle that the developers have been able to keep the game price as low as $60 for so long
  • And yet those big studio games are simple to complete and offer little challenge, are so rarely original in concept that without the flashy graphics and effects to cover up the reworked game beneath they are nothing but a rerun and somehow manage to cost more than we used to pay back in the day on the good old Speccy and Acorn computers. Which game do I play most? Chaos Reborn, a remake of a Speccy classic. Still a better game than the latest FPS duplicate, and even that's a rehash. I'll pay more when the game designs get better than the 8 bit computer era. I'll stick to sales and indies until then. Game rental was never very compelling to me, more of a console thing. Making rental online won't make it more appealing. I try to buy one of each game type unless something has a deep story that grabs me, Divinity Original Sin is a good exception but even that is a new story laid over a worn out game model at heart. Why pay every month for the same game with new graphics? May be after a couple of years a refreshed FPS or top down RPG or tower defence could be interesting, but every month? I can't see the point. Most of them use a handful of 'engines' or actual games just reskinned and usually made easier. Most games I played as a kid lasted my whole childhood and I still never reached the end. Now THAT was value. Today? A few weeks and you've hit the end. VR is even worse, with all that potential for new ideas, most of the games are so short and easy you wonder if they were designed to actually challenge anyone or just to provide enough to make a kid want to buy more... hmmm. The pictures are prettier, but the coding is so much easier. All done in high level languages and game design suites based on rehashed engine code. Time was when one or two guys designed a fresh game concept themselves and wrote the whole thing in raw mnemonics (for youngsters, that's machine code one step up from hex) with no 'libraries' of routines and with an OS so simple it did nothing but read the cassette tape into memory. Everything else was manually constructed with hardware restrictions that would make a modern coder wonder how to find enough resources to show all the studio branding animations let alone fit a game in too. That was real effort and they did not expect world wide sales and big revenue streams. They had far smaller markets, and yet with all that talent, effort and time invested they still made enough money to smile at the profit and make another. When the game industry improves on where they started, I'll pay more. Whilst they're stuck in reverse and keep churning out duplicates I'll stick to the sales. These days ET wouldn't be buried in the desert in shame. It'd be AAA and sold by EA with Elliot loot boxes.
  • Wait, are you trying to compare mobile phone like f2p microtransactions/loot box to expensions?? So here you are coming trying to make excuse for these major publishers and companies who are making record profits, all while spending less since on marketing, development and cost of goods sold (which include serversand maintainance cost) And by taking into account inflation.
    Here is the video about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qq6HcKj59Q  What's really incredible is that it's the major companies doing it on full price games while there are many multiplayer games who do multiplayer with many players and don't charge a $60 entry fee. Games remain free to play. Games like Warframe or Dota 2. Or games like Minecraft that cost very little compared to the $60-100 price tag for AAA games. Plus they don't have microtransactions (at least since MS took over). The bottom line is that you want to make a mostly multiplayer game than there are going to be things you don't have to pay for. But that's how budget works. You invest a certain amount of money and make targets. Also one more thing. Aren't we suppose to paying to play online on consoles? Now we have to ALSO buy microtransactions/loot box??? Anyway, the entire argument about companies needing false flat when EA makes almost a billion bucks a year just on FIFA's Microtransactions/loot box...
    Also EA told their investors that removing microtransactions from battlefront 2 won't affect earnings. Do you think EA needs $800m to maintain their servers? Why would EA say they didn't need microtransactions to affect profits if that wasn't just for MUCH more profit for their investors? But you're right to bring up investors. Because investors are their real priority. Not gamers. We are just the cows that are getting milked.  What's amazing is that there are fellow gamers (assuming you're also a gamer) that defend MAJOR AAA publisher and their anti-gaming policies...
    Once again how is this good for gaming and gamers?
  • I won't defend EA their games are crap i was talking about games in general. I was more referring to games like halo, rainbow six seige, eso, GW4 and such where there is a lot of free content where they subsidize costs with microtransactions that are mostly cosmetic and aren't pay to win. I hate pay to win games and having a game like that is horrible. EA hasn't made a good game for awhile. I hope anthem is good bc EA has been sucking lately. Plus EA is like the sweat shop of game development they treat their devs horrible to turn a quick buck.
  • He thinks all games feature lootbox, are pay 2 win.
  • @Hirox K And you are a LIAR. Because I never said or even implied that. Stop with the lies... lol
  • > I'm talking of full price games that uses free2play economics.
    > FREE to play games should be FREE. 
    That's your word.
    full price game + free2play === f2p / pay2win economic game. Can you tell me what are the principles devs use when designing a f2p game? What are the differences between common f2p and AC-O, Middle Earth, Forza7, FH3?
  • @Annullator Well, Halo 5 Warzone and gears 4 Horde are pay 2 win. If you want to talk about MS there is also Halo Wars 2 and their Blitz mode. Talking about subsidizing costs of DLCs but Gears 4 had/has a season pass for 50 bucks! It is still freetoplay economics applied in a full price game. Gameplay is still being modified. Frustrating elements and gamers are still being tempted and sold stuff after paying for the game. And I won't talk about Rainbow Six Siege (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4TbRaAQncw) EA has been horrible. But others are not far behind. It's a real problem for us gamers.
    The video also shows finances of Activision and Ubisoft. MS have been leading the charge in 2005 for microtransactions and have been going all out this gen with both microtransactions and loot box. And it's even worse considering it's a console maker. So let's not EA take all the blame and say that everything and everyone else are perfect...
     
  • 1. I'm with Annullator. 2. "for us gamers" correction, for you typpa gamers.
  • 1) Company fans stick together while worshipping their company/brand. 2) You aren't a gamer. You're a company "fan", doing damage control...
  • Company fan... like I care about those comapny's rise and fall.
    Better than someone who thinks devs should support dead OS/platform even if they don't already own legacy code or using 3rd party engine (someone else 's legacy code). Dead OS can still prosper. Software will never deprecate. Future OEM prebuilds will pre-install dead OS. Smaller screen Win10ARM device will never be made, etc, etc.
  • Well you seem to do care enough to defend MS and whatever business practice that is against consumers and against an industry. You are doing a great job with the damage controlling, promoting, marketing whatever MS does while criticisng the competition. Dead OS/platform?? What the **** are you talking about? 
  • I'm just being realistic and logical, and I certainly care about no one. > Dead OS/platform?? What the **** are you talking about? 
    Windows older than Win10.
    You did said MS, devs and OEMs SHOULD continue supporting older Windows. MS should give new API / lib to older Windwos. Devs (own legacy code already or not, using 3rd party engine or not) will forever support older Windows. You didn't said this but from your track record, OEM and HW maker should support older Windows forever no?
  • There's one catch in your argument. You say, go buy the original game and enjoy it. Problem is, many devs deliberately axes important content from the original for it to be in a DLC later on (The Sims, most notably). Then, there's also devs who axe content from the original game after the release of DLC (Destiny 2). DLCs aren't evil per se, no. There are many games in which not buying the DLCs does not affect the enjoyment of the base game (Civilization, Fallout, etc.), and these are good. But if a developer tries to force you to buy a half-baked DLC just to get a basic thing (like cats in Sims) that both you and they know is necessary to enjoy - that is downright ridiculous, and should be killed with fire.
  • I think the most damning instance was the on-disk DLC that CapCom pulled a few years back. Where you bought the game, and then had to pay even more to "unlock" content that was on the disk.
  • It depends on how it's implemented. I had no problem paying for the "premium" version of The Division with all the expansions and as far as I can tell I've gotten value for those $80 or $90 or so I payed.  They've been through some rough patches, but atm I don't think there are too many people that dissagree with me on the value part.  If you look at what Bungie did with Destiny, however that seems to be a completely different story where they release a skeleton-game at full price. 
  • I disagree with you on the value part. I bought the game when it came out. It was a shell of a game and I was disgusted that they released it in such a state. I was disgusted enough that I have only bought one Ubisoft game since.. South park 2.  The Division may be a good game now (from what I've read) but I completed what was on offer at release and I don't play games twice (I stopped doing that when it stopped being worth it) so I don't think it was good value at all, when I bought it.
  • Oh No not the stable "$60" argument. Ok. Here is a video that considers marketing, development, cost of goods sold and record profits of EA, activision and Ubisoft all adjusted for inflation.  We can clearly see that the overall trend is that the cost has actually dropped and there has been record profits.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qq6HcKj59Q  EA told their investors that removing microtransactions from battlefront 2 won't affect earnings. So all these alternative way of making money is really just looks like greed at this point.
    They have so many of them:
    1) Microtransactions
    2) 3-4 different versions + collector edition 
    3) Loot boxes 
    4) DLCs
    5) Sponsored DLC and in game adverts.
    6) Get the game late if you don't pay money
    7) Exclusive content retailer deals in various retailers around the world.
    8) Exclusive marketing deals with console makers
    9) Timed exclusives content with console makers
    10) Sponsored Achievements like KFC achievements game by WWE 2K18
    11) recycling content 
    12) milking franchises with yearly release
    13) Hiding the remainder of a story behind DLC (DR4)
    14) Pay2win
    ... The funny part is that it's not the tiny studios that are doing it. It's the massive companies doing it. If others can make criticially amazing games (Breath of the wild, Horizon ZD,