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Toy Soldiers, Explosionade, Enslaved, and why $60 price point does not fit all

Brad Gallaway's picture

Explosionade Screenshot

My Toy Soldiers review just went live over at GameCritics. While I'm on the subject, I actually interviewed Max Wagner from that studio a few months before the game actually came out. I'm currently in the process of trying to arrange a follow-up interview, so if you have any questions or things you'd like me to ask, drop me a line.


Although the release of Explosionade was delayed for a while thanks to some screwy activity on Microsoft's Indie service, the latest from Mommy's Best Games is now available for download at the incredibly reasonable price of one dollar. I purchased my copy on the spot and played through the entirety in one sitting. If you are a fan of old-school platform-shooty action, then you definitely need to check this out. I'll be doing a review of the game in the next couple days, but I'll save you the wait: it's great, and you need to buy it. Like, now.
 
I've mentioned it before, but I do want to throw out another plug for Alice in Wonderland on the DS. I will probably have finished the game by the time you read this, and although it was a bit slow at times and had a few frustrating parts (mostly due to my own self-inflicted collection-oriented OCD) I really think it's a superior title.

While it essentially follows the same storyline as the Tim Burton film (which was atrocious) the art style is quite dark and moody, and the gameplay can best be described as ICO-lite—the player controls one of the Wonderland residents and Alice tags along behind.

There's a bit of combat which never gets too interesting, but it's more than made up for by the puzzles. Each of the main characters (White Rabbit, Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter, Caterpillar) has their own set of powers which can be used to navigate obstacles. For example, the Rabbit can alter the flow of time with his giant pocket watch. The Cat can make things appear and disappear, and the Hatter can see different dimensions of each level.

The developers clearly put a great deal of effort into this project, and it's not at all the movie cash-in that you'd expect. If you're in the market for something tastefully left of center for the DS, I'd say that Alice in Wonderland is certainly worth a look.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Screenshot

On the console front, I'm about three quarters done with Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. I went with the 360 version after playing both 360/PS3 demos because the graphics seemed cleaner and sharper (on my particular setup, anyway) and I'm happy with the choice.

In general, it's a pretty good game. I've mentioned a few times that I was not a fan at all of Heavenly Sword, but developer Ninja Theory has stepped it up and turned out a fast-moving adventure that I think most people would enjoy. The characters are likable and the adventure is well-written for the most part.

In terms of action, it's a bit on the shallow side but the pace moves along at a good clip, and there are plenty of showy setpieces to keep a player's attention.

I'll have more to say when I turn in my full review, but at this point I'm giving it a pretty solid thumbs-up. I don't know that I would necessarily recommend it at full retail price of $60, but it would make a pretty fantastic weekend rental—which is a good segue to my next point.

Earlier in the week I sent out a tweet saying that retail games need more viable price points. I fully believe that the current industry business models in place are absolutely outdated, and a serious shakeup needs to happen in order for growth and sustenance to be able to happen in a healthy way.

The reason I bring this up while speaking about Enslaved is that (like I said above) it's certainly a good game and I'm enjoying it, but it doesn't feel as though it's worth $60. I mean no disrespect to the developers or the publishers because it's a fine product, but it is a product that I think most players will go through in two or three sittings, and likely never touch again. It's a thrill-ride with cinematic flair, but that type of experience doesn't seem to possess the kind of value that I mentally associate with that much money.

If different price points were available for different kinds of games, I’d feel much better about recommending good ones to my readership.

Staying with Enslaved as the example, it's certainly a fun game and if it was priced at $30, I’d have no problems telling everyone to run out and buy it. At $60, I'm just not comfortable suggesting that the quality-to-quantity ratio is justified. Although it's true that as a critic I do receive plenty of free software to review, I do actually buy plenty of games with my own cash and I work hard to earn the money that goes into my wallet. I haven't lost sight of what it feels like to be a retail consumer.

While I say again that I enjoy Enslaved, it's hard for me to accept that buying a brand-new copy costs the same as it did to buy something like Fallout 3. The one-size fits-all mentality of retail pricing doesn't make any sense, and I think everybody knows it.

I would personally love to see more publishers acknowledge this reality and start experimenting with different price points. To be quite honest, I think it would benefit everyone involved—consumers would feel as though they got fair value for the money, publishers would sell more since more consumers would be willing to pay lower prices for titles that aren't AAA infinite-replay blockbusters, and all parties would come out ahead.

Can't we give it a try?
Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   PS3   Nintendo DS  
Series: Enslaved  

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pricepoints

This is another area where it seems like gaming has taken a step back from the previous generation.

On the PS2 at least, games were released for all kinds of pricepoints. On the PS2 alone, Sony released many of their first party titles for 40 bucks, God Hand came out for 30, Persona 4 was 40 IIRC, and there were scads of games reaching shelves at 20 bucks right out the gate.

I agree that there should be more price points for games but...

I also remember when there were a wide variety of price points that one could choose when purchasing games . And while agree with the post, I don't think that we will be seeing any lower cost titles in the near future. I think Developers fear that consumers will pass over games, because of the mentality that if a game cost less it must be of lesser quality. The current industry model depends heavily on early advertising to build up demand for new titles. Lower prices would mean smaller advertising budgets and a heavier reliance on word of mouth to build interest in a game. I'm not sure that developers have a much confidence in word of mouth among gamers to sells games as they should. Just think smaller titles that rely heavily on the quality of their titles to sell, rather than getting the cover of next month's big gamer magazines.

I like your thinking on pricing...

I see this playing out in different way however. Assume that developers did space their releases along different price points. I don't think they would do it necessarily along the lines of which titles they think are the best, but which titles they think have the largest mass market appeal. Marketing for the higher price titles would most likely stay intact, while lower price titles would have smaller marketing budgets. My thinking is that you would actual end up with titles that are of excellent quality in the lower price brackets, simply because developers are apprehensive about how they would fair on the market, because of either content or themes. What could emerge is a group of developers with smaller budget creating games that are actually quite good, but rather than rely on standard market advertising to promote their games, they rely on gamer word of mouth.

Differing price points

Quote:

I would personally love to see more publishers acknowledge this reality and start experimenting with different price points. To be quite honest, I think it would benefit everyone involved—consumers would feel as though they got fair value for the money, publishers would sell more since more consumers would be willing to pay lower prices for titles that aren't AAA infinite-replay blockbusters, and all parties would come out ahead.

I agree with this in general but there's a danger it might go too far.

Different price points implicitly means the game needs to be packaged in different ways, so that the publisher is able to price discriminate by introducing tiered pricing strategies. Consumers are not homogeneous and have differing budget constraints. This would enable the publisher to capture a larger market share as marginal consumers who would otherwise not have bought game package A with functionality X, Y and Z, could instead go for less-costly package B with functionality X and Y only.

E.g. Sell multiplayer functionality as a $15 addition to a single player price point of $20. This would only work if the demand for games is highly price elastic. That is if pricing really matters, then dropping the price by a little bit means capturing a proportionally larger share of the market hence raising revenues. If demand is *in*elastic however, the opposite would be the case and you would be left with lower revenues. Are there lots of people out there only interested in single player, and unable to afford RRP $35 as opposed to $20? I'm not so sure....

Besides, 'additional' content is already such a price discrimination mechanism. However, the logical and frightening conclusion to this trend is for *every* chapter in a game to be downloadable as an add-on. Clearly consumers do not want this - publishers\developers will then be able to maximise their profits on each individual chapter of a game, which implicitly means increasing the overall consumer cost compared to what it would have been if the entire bundle of downloads had been sold as a single off-the-shelf package.

As nobody wants to play just a few chapters, this must mean the whole approach to game design will require changing - that of packaging up each individual chapter as a standalone unit. Perhaps a compromise will be reached in having longer individual chapters for standalone play (i.e. shorter games). I believe the two Half Life 2 add-ons are an experiment in this and I'm actually wondering where\when the third installment is...?

It would not surprise me in the slightest if Mass Effect 3 or Fallout Vegas ends up substantially shorter than it's predecessors in the main game, but with more downloadable chapters and missions. That's great if you're not on margin, but less exciting if your budget is already stretched by the 3000+ Microsoft points you spent on the previous installments.

So differing price points is good in that the market will get larger due to capture of marginal consumers, but monopolistic competition means the pricing will be more to the advantage of producers than consumers. The benefit to consumers of being able to better pay for exactly what they want must be balanced with the 'disbenefit' of increased costs to those consumers who are not prepared to compromise on the entire package.

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