Video Game Pricing: Mysterious No More

Posted by | July 17, 2015 | News | 4 Comments
Assassin's Creed Unity men

Many a time I’m sure you’ve rolled your eyes at a digital storefront (like I have) and exclaimed about the high prices of downloadable games. $60 for some data? You’re not even getting a box! Shouldn’t it cost less than it does in brick-and-mortar?

Turns out, the answer actually does have to do with physical copies of games, specifically the supply of them.

During the Q&A session of an investors’ call, the CEO and CFO of Ubisoft confirmed that if there are lots of physical copies on store shelves, digital prices will remain high so that those physical copies keep moving. But that’s not the only factor in play.

Between console and PC, digital prices can differ greatly. The digital download market for PC games is far more established than it is for consoles. The PC market is also smaller, and publishers like Ubisoft can be more flexible with pricing. You’re more likely to see the digital download of a PC game get discounted.

The shiny new console market, on the other hand, is a little trickier.

“We tend to be more conservative on the digital side for console and more flexible on the PC,” said CFO Alain Martinez. But as time goes on after a game’s release, there are less and less physical units in stores and the digital console prices start to change.

And that’s just in the native console storefronts, like the Xbox and PlayStation Stores. Retailers like Amazon and Gamestop have their own agendas.

In the case of Amazon, they’re often dealing with physical and digital copies, and they need to move physical products.

Building off the example Polygon used, and since this is Ubisoft after all, I checked out the prices for Assassin’s Creed Unity. A PlayStation 4 digital code for Assassin’s Creed Unity is $39.99, while the physical copy is $18.84. (It’s on sale. Thanks Amazon Prime!) The Xbox One version is $19.99, while the PC download is…$59.99? Holy cats! That’s the same price as AC Unity in the Steam store for PC.

Of course, Steam is the platform where we’re most likely to see Unity on sale for $9.99 during one of their famous sales. Steam prices are far more variable.

In any case, Martinez said that when a game launches, it’ll be the same price everywhere. After the novelty wears off, anything goes. Ubisoft has no reason to keep digital prices low, as quite a hefty chunk of their revenue comes from digital sales.

So what can we take from this as consumers?

I don’t think there’s a particular strategy that we can put in place for getting cheap games. It’s all about timing, timing, timing. Buying a game close to release will always net you a higher price, and probably some release bugs to go with it. This was certainly the case with Assassin’s Creed Unity.

Whether you buy a game for PC or console, you can expect variable pricing, and it’ll drop the further the game gets from launch.

If you like to have physical copies…man, I’d sign up for Amazon Prime. Those are some sweet deals.

Simone de Rochefort

About Simone de Rochefort

Simone de Rochefort is a game journalist, writer, podcast host, and video producer who does a prolific amount of Stuff. You can find her on Twitter @doomquasar, and hear her weekly on tech podcast Rocket, as well as Pixelkin's Gaming With the Moms podcast. With Pixelkin she produces video content and devotes herself to Skylanders with terrifying abandon.