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The £500 Game: What Games Could Learn From Shoes
by Tadhg Kelly on 09/01/09 11:32:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutraís community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


In the world of shoes, there are several strata of consumer and many price ranges from the £20 discount pair all the way up to the £1,000 pair to be found in exclusive stores of New York, Paris and London. These products, essentially two strands of the same idea, serve very different markets.

The reason that both markets exist is because of the story that each projects. Stories are very important in sales, none more so than in shoes. The £20 shoe is a story of convenience and value. It's the person who just needs something on their feet. Maybe something that fits their general sense of style (like a pair of All Stars) or something functional. They project a story of good value and common sense. People who buy £20 shoes would never consider buying £1,000 shoes even if they had easy access to that kind of money. 

The £1,000 shoes have a different story. They project the story of style, quality and individuality. They are bought precisely because they are exclusive, because the importance of the conveyance of image far outweighs the material of the shoe itself. The designer, the fabrics and the perfect cut are all a part of the story of the shoe. 

The same distinction exists in many areas. Cars are separated along several strata with story splits between value, pragmatism, professionalism or sexual appeal. Restaurants split between fast, comfortable, exclusivity, quality. In fact it is very hard to see any area of business that doesn't at some level segment its stories in this way.

Which leads me to thinking about games. Arguably there are two broad stories throughout the gaming sphere: The casual game and the hardcore game. The casual game is cheap, fun, family entertainment. Unthreatening training for your brain, fitness programs or a bit of light sports. The hardcore game's story is more of a male-oriented skill-test. Hardcore gaming is deep, involving, interesting.

What I'm wondering lately is whether there is room for super-premium games? By this I mean game machines that cost £1,000, perfectly scultpted joypads and games that cost £500 a piece. This sounds insane, but if it works for shoes then why not for games? It's all in the story. 

For many years the hardcore games industry has relied on the teenage boy syndrome. These guys think big but they tend to be poor. They're dedicated but they're often paying for games with their rent or food money. They're students, schoolkids, etc. Whatever is built has to meet their needs first and foremost. Hence the consoles tend to have a sort of weirdly fake youthful image that you don't see in other electronics. In televisions or Blu-Ray players, the premium story is much older, more class. In games it's, for the want of a better word, various shades of L33T. 

So what this leads me to is thinking did Sony screw it up in the wrong direction. With PS3 everyone believed that they pitched too high ($599! $599! $599! as Kaz Hirai was memory mocked on Youtube). And since backtracking they have had to try and salvage 3rd place. What if Sony just didn't go far enough though? What if, rather than a somewhat mangled message of old classics and new rejuvenations and Cell processors, they pitched for the ceiling and brought the thunder with them. Sell the PS3 at $2,000 and bring the most ridiculously awesome games to match. Sell it as a piece of cool, exclusive tech, with the story that this is a game machine for men rather than teenagers. 

Basically be classy. Be bold. Develop outrageously expensive and individual work of art games, games that cost £500 a pop and radiate quality. It doesn't have to be Sony. It's just an idea for a segment and a business that might soon exist.

What do you think?


(@tadhgk on Twitter)

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Tyler Glaiel
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I disagree completely. An expensive shoe can just be a rebranded cheap shoe. An expensive game would have to be different, and would have to take millions to develop. You aren't gonna recoup millions if your game costs $1000, since there are plenty of quality cheap alternatives. Nevermind that games are a much more private affair than shoes, and as a result you'll have less people to display your status to.

And we're in an economic recession. And most "expensive" consoles have failed in the past.

Stephen Northcott
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I also disagree. There are far more price ranges of shoe.

Far better to provide $80 - $100 shoes which last and look good.

Generally "shoe" people who buy expensive designer foot apparel are doing so for totally different reasons than those who buy expensive electronics gear.

Sure you could get an idiot like PDiddy to buy your bling, but he does so simply because he is as brainwashed as the people who believe that the $20 shoe will last longer than the first time they get wet..

With regards to Sony. They don't think it's over yet. And regardless of whether they are right or wrong about the end of this "console conflict" they are actually producing a better quality product which should be sold for more. It's simply that Microsoft had far more resources to throw into a battle which not only crippled much of the diversity of our industry by enslaving key publishers among other things, but also foisted a technically incomplete, badly manufactured console with a 50% failure rate on the market. Amazing what brand presence and aggressive marketing can do isn't it....

It's very reminiscent of Beta vs VHS. And guess what.. In the end the consumer loses. That's all.

Tadhg Kelly
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Do you both disagree on the grounds of your personal ethical preferences, or are you saying you think there's no actual business there?

Tyler Glaiel
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I think there's no actual business there, considering cost of development required to make a game people would view as being worthy of the large price tag. People like to show off their status symbols. That's easy to do with laptops, clothes, and cars, but most people keep their games in their home.

Tadhg Kelly
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I'm not sure if that's relevant. Buying into stories isn't just about visual status. People don't just buy expensive food in restaurants just to be seen, but also because of the perception of really quality entertainment. Art collectors aren't just looking to have a personal gallery. Super hi-end HD-TV buyers aren't always having their friends around the house to show off.

Tyler Glaiel
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Eating at expensive restaurants is very much a status thing and people do it to show off. Food is also minimally expensive to produce, so a single expensive meal at a normal restaurant will generate profit.

"Tierney says the item attracts Wall Street types who down a few beers and then fork over $175 to 'show off in front of their friends.' "

Art collectors buy art as an investment.

High end HDTVs can still use same technology as lower end ones, and can still watch the same content.

Launching the PS3 at $2000 would undeniably reduce the console's market share hugely and undebatably. For a game developer then, where's the incentive to produce a high end title for a system with minimal market share? And who's gonna buy a $2000 console without a library of games to go with it? It's a chicken and an egg kind of thing.

Now, a separate $2000 model of PS3 could work, because like a high end blue-ray player or TV it would still be able to play the same content as the lower end model. And a $250 game HAS worked (rock band, guitar hero, because they're bundled with hardware). But I doubt jacking up GTAIV's price to $200 would net more profit than it's standard $60 price point. It's like the iphone app store. $0.99 games get WAY more sales than $1.99 games, often times an order of magnitude so. It doesn't even make sense on that platform to try and go more expensive than $0.99.

Tadhg Kelly
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"Eating at expensive restaurants is very much a status thing and people do it to show off. Food is also minimally expensive to produce, so a single expensive meal at a normal restaurant will generate profit."

Not at all. This is where we disagree about people. Some restaurants in London (where I live) are well-known celeb-haunts. The Ivy, for example, is a place where you go be seen to eat. On the other hand, there are many other restaurants like Petrus which are not celeb haunts as such but do such a fantastic meal that it is worth the treat. Those kinds of quality-eating places are far more in the majority.

Which brings me back to is this a personal preference argument rather than a business argument. Your counterpoints seem to stem from a perception of people with means as nothing more than overt-consumptionists (i.e. they do everything with money just to be seen). I think there is definitely an element of that in high society, but it's not the full picture by any means.

Not all art is bought as investment. The stuff for many millions is, but many of the $10-$50,000 pieces are not. You can get cheaper tech in HDTVs, you can get cheaper shoes, but some people choose to buy into the better-quality story and want something better than the norm.

A $2,000 console would not be a mass market item. It's not required for a high-ticket item to be mass market though. Manolo Blahniks are not mass market shoes, but what they are is really good shoes with a great story. $80,000 BMWs are not mass market cars. What they are are really good cars with a great story.

My point with this super-premium idea is to get away from the idea of the mass-market console. It's to deliberately not engage with that kind of thinking and deliberately look to create something premium as opposed to mainstream. At those prices you'd be working to a different kind of market mentality, one whose values are worlds apart from what we consider to be gaming.

David Ellis
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The only example of a successful "prestige console" that I can think of is the Neo-Geo (1990). The console had a higher price point than anything on the market at the time ($399 for the basic system, $599 for the deluxe system with two controllers and a game cartridge), and the games retailed for $199 apiece. The hardcore gamers all wanted one. Bit the thing that made this system work was that the hardware was the same as the arcade Neo-Geo hardware and the cartridges used were the same as those used in the coin-op cabinets. For consumers, it was a cheaper alternative to buying an arcade cabinet, and there was a reasonably good catalog of games available. For SNK, it was a minimal investment because the hardware and the games already existed. So, despite the fact that it had a tiny, tiny market share compared to other consoles of that era, it managed to remain on the market for 6 years.

Other high-end systems of the past never caught on. The RDI Halcyon for example. This was a system released in 1984 that played Laserdisc games at home. Despite the fact that Laserdisc games were all the rage at the time, nobody was willing to pay $2500 for the console. Only two games were every made for it--one that came with the console and one additional title that sold for $100. It died a quick, obscure death.

It could be the "story" that made the differenceóbut I think that, with gamers, itís a matter of what story youíre telling to other gamers. The Neo-Geo played games that EVERY gamer could see in the arcades, so there was some prestige in having a Neo-Geo console in your home. The Halcyon played Thayer's Quest (an obscure arcade title) and NFL Football (not in the arcades at all), so nobody knew or cared what it was.

I guess what Iím getting at is that Iím not sure that there are enough game console consumers out there who are willing to buy high-end for the satisfaction of it. Which means that itís unlikely that any company would risk making such a high-end item.

Tyler Millican
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Access to items in an MMO that, while functionally the same, are visually different or more impressive: Literally nothing but a status symbol, and a desirable one at that (not just an icon saying "I paid more money!"). As long as there's no difference in gameplay, I think that matches the idea pretty directly.

As gaming becomes more "mainstream", this will become more common, but really, it already exists today -- transparent PC cases with neon lights, non-standard accessories that are slightly higher-quality or offer a non-standard feature (controllers when wired controllers were the norm are a good example here), higher-quality hardware in general, etc. The price differences aren't be as significant, but I imagine more affluent people wear shoes than play video games and I have yet to see anyone walking around with a picture of their WoW avatar for the world to see, so fair enough.

Christian Perez Villalobos
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Ahh but we forget, what snakes lie in the shadows. There already exists a premium console and it sits right under our noses.

The secret to premium gaming is less about the game and more about the devices it uses.

Imagine a game on the PS3 that required, a steering wheel and pedals, joystick, and the eye of judgement. A baffling and curious game i know, but we can easy see how piling on these devices could raise these systems to a premium market.

Now i must admit , it is impossible to fathom such a game on the PS3, however i would not be surprised if the Wii ,with its numerous attachments and modifications, to take advantage of an un aware premium market. Although the technology to reach to $2000 dollar mark does not seem so readily available at this time, the Wii can easily reach $599 with only a handful of attachments and a few players. Balance board, wii motion plus, wii speak ....

You may be right about the different set of vaules though Mr. Kelly, however those same vaules of owning something especially fine or being seen with high-end products are rampant in MMOS. For many players and many people collecting rare and powerful items is point of the game; and no matter how much lore or detail we cram into this world, the gear will always be the most important aspect.

I do believe these values interscect with gaming, but it needs to be in a competitive immersive situation where the individual is able to distinguish herself/himself from other players. Life is just a game after all, so says the book of Sims.

Adam Bishop
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I think Tyler has hit on the most relevant point, which isn't cost to the consumer, but to the manufacturer. How much R&D money would Sony have to pour in to make a console that retailed at $2000? Could there possibly be a big enough market for a system at that price point to bring in a positive return on investment? I'm extremely skeptical. A $1000 pair of shoes requires relatively little investment on the part of the manufacturer in comparison to a $100 pair of shoes, but a $2000 console would cost far, far more to produce than a $200 console. Sony has *already* had problems selling enough consoles when the PS3 has sold for slightly more than its competitors, I can't imagine that increasing the price would grow their revenue enough to compensate for the even smaller customer base.

Mark Sorrell
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You could spend $2000 on a PC to play games in the blink of an eye. And a subscription to WoW would hit $500 in about, umm, four years? And it's been out for longer than that.

The nearest thing I can see to the point you're really trying to make is the audiophile market, where $2000 is often a drop in the ocean. But there's no real analogue to the $500 game. A $40,000 CD player still plays regular CDs. So maybe if you could make a PS3 that played regular games - but better! - you'd have something people would buy.

Actually, there's no maybe about it - see $2000 PCs for evidence.

And that audiophile comparison holds pretty well for shoes. At least so far as the status symbol part goes. $500 shoes don't 'use a new format' they still just go on your feet. Their functionality is identical - and in trainer terms, they are no better than the cheaper versions. Nike Air Force Ones or Dunks both come in varieties that cost from £50 up to far more than £1000. They don't do anything different.

So yeah, I can't find a good analogy for $500 games outside of the already mentioned Neo Geo.

Kim Pallister
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It's an interesting premise and thought exercise, but I'm skeptical.

Two concepts being mixed together are (a) the utility & quality provided (one could make a case that the $150 dollar shoe is more comfortable, longer lasting, etc, than the $20 shoe), and (b) the less tangible elements of luxury, prestige, etc, when you head up toward your $1000 mark.

On the first of those, we clearly have this today, with the span from free Flash-based web games to $60 console titles or MMOs. Lots of questionable exceptions up and down that chain, but on average it fits.

On the second one, it's trickier. We have a hint at it with things like "collectors edition" releases with an additional $10 price adder, but beyond that, the examples are lacking.

The reasons for my skepticism is in what these luxury items offer to the consumer (or what they believe they offer anyway). Social status, prestige, sex appeal.

I think we're a very long way of people increasing their chances of getting someone into bed with their exclusive premium copy of Bioshock.

Though I suppose stranger things have happened.

Glenn Storm
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I have no problem with the idea of "super premium" content and style, or even exclusivity. But, as a business model, there's a problem. Where I think the shoe analogy falls short is the fact that clothing is put on the individual and becomes part of them as they interact with the rest of the world. Its value comes from the fact that it's an immediate visual status symbol to others. Rare items that don't provide the immediate visual status symbolism can't be redeemed by the consumer in that way, normally. Instead, rare items that can't provide that are more valuable only because they are rare. As a sub-genre business model, I don't think you can produce rare items and survive, unless video game *collecting* becomes a popular hobby on par with stamp or coin collecting. I think where the game market is now is more about the immediate gratification and novelty of the game experience.

Eric Carr
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I can see that working. But you couldn't market it since the high price would kill the install base and eat any profit that a developer could make.

What I could see is making a system with built in custom controls that only plays a single game, but really well. Oh, wait, too late - it's called an arcade cabinet and those already sell as prestige items for game nerds like myself.

Tomer Chasid
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apples and oranges guys. The buying behavior of shoe shoppers and the buying behavior of game shoppers may have some similarities but more differences that make a bigger impact. Generally speaking the primary purpose of "luxury" shoe is to stand out and the primary purpose of a low-end shoe is to cover your feet. Tyler, while game purchases are private on the surface they are very much a public affair. Gamers, hardcore or otherwise are motivated by way more than just having fun or getting immersed. Emotional attachments to games have an incredible bearing on social status. Getting a game as soon as its out at a premium price vs. waiting until it drops or buying used games definitely dictate two different "stories". I don't believe we've nailed down appropriate market subsegments to make the case for broader pricings than currently exist. That's not to say that they shouldn't, but I don't think how currently define the market as being "hard core" vs "casual" is sufficient. It's a very difficult proposition because gamers are extremely dynamic in terms of purchasing behavior and lifestyle. That's the price of appealing to the mass market.

The other major point is that on the system end, as others have mentioned PCs should always be included in with console because they are often used as a primary source of entertainment. It is unwise not to include PCs in any conversation about gaming because of their ubiquity and impact on gaming. So if we are talking with PCs in the mix than there's your broader strata.

Luis Guimaraes
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Things like this is what you see in technology fairs and arcade places. You can buy it for yourself if you want. But there's still a market for this business. I don't think any entertaiment media, as literature or movies does have such business model. It's simply not the same easy to brainwash people that some game is better, unless it's really better.

The simple difference is that a shoe that is sold by $2,000 is more often cost under $50 to be made. It's clear to see who is the smart part, the people who sell it.

Luis Guimaraes
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Ow, sh!!

@ Tadhg

You're RIGHT! But instead of the $500 game, I'd say the $500 montly subcription. =)

The public for that would almost be that same public for the $1000 shoes.

You CAN make an MMO alternative life such a high-society club. I think I'm being naive for talking about $500 only. A nice place with many microtransactions and casinos. Maybe that's the direction.

Luis Guimaraes
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Personal custom modeled avatars and correct marketing on the correct media, Gossip Magazines and Such... hmmm

Luis Guimaraes
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Proper media cover, and a custom fancy Pocket Console that only runs this game and can be carried (and showed) everywhere... People with money goes only for the fashion wave, plus if you say some part of the money goes for a good cause :)

Gossip mag: "Oh, something recused to join somegame that all others joined to help some cause!!" :C

Kevin Reese
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I don't see any feasibility at all on super-high-end, expensive games having any chance of success. It is a lot harder to 'show off' a game you bought. And most people would not be impressed. It also just makes sense in so many other ways that the better you made the game, the greater the audience you'd want to share it with.

Exceptions: if you guys haven't heard of the "I am rich!" iPhone app, I recommend taking a minute to Google that. Interesting and funny case -- though I think it would not be repeatable.

Another exception: 'bling' items in MMORPGs, and other social MMOs. Certainly there is potential for either game devs or players making ultra-exclusive, over-priced items, and having people pay money for them.

Jason Rice
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The comparison between high end consumer products like boutique shoes & clothes and a game fails not due to a problem with perceived value in software, as some of the previous posters commented, but because it doesn't make business sense on a per-unit basis.

A high end shoe or clothing item function as a business model because each *individual* item generally makes a nice profit. Hand-crafted leather shoes cost X number of dollars to create, so charging X+Y for them automatically generates a profit. These are single-unit risks with a potentially high profit margin.

Moving up to boutique clothing items. These are not single-unit risks but are generally produced on a much smaller scale than clothes you will find at Walmart, so a lot of 500 shirts is much more likely to find an audience and turn a profit. They may be very expensive to create, but textiles only cost so much and only need to sell a limited amount of units to turn a nice profit.

A game is a much higher risk proposition. It costs much more to develop a game than hand-crafted leather shoes, so the cost must be distributed out over thousands of copies to create a return on an investment. How many copies of a game that costs $10 million to produce must be sold to make a profit? Per unit, the profits are generally very small because the initial cost is high and the market is flooded with similar product. To achieve "super-premium" quality in a game, you would have to spend an astronomical amount of money. Since your initial risk is so high, its a bad value proposition to gamers and risk proposition to a studio/publisher to sell a game that costs that much to produce at such a high price. You cannot achieve a good enough profit margin on a per unit basis without making the game impossibly expensive to purchase.

Again, It's not a matter of status. Look at the people who paid for the "I Am Rich" application for the iPhone. That was a low risk/high return proposition because one person probably programmed that in a day and it was purchased by a handful of people. So people will definitely pay for status. With a real game, its really a matter of scale. It just isn't economically viable to run a business this way unless those super premium games can be created by a couple of people... but if you could create something that great for such a low cost, why not sell it for way less and make way more money? Anyway you slice it, this is an idea fail.

Christopher Braithwaite
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Racing games are already approaching premium with special wheels, chairs and three screen configurations. Currently one can put together such a system with moderate difficulty and success. What if Microsoft were to offer an Ultimate Forza Edition with the racing chair, wheel, and three Xbox 360's running in parallel to drive high resolution screens? On top of which a licensed technician would come out to your home to set up all the equipment? I can see something like that being compelling enough to be profitable in three to five years.

Or what if there were only 100 copies of Gears of War 6 or Final Fantasy XLVIII that ran on super customized uber-hardware? Designers could have baked in financing for their very specific visions that people have already bought before the games have even been made. Since the games are tied to the hardware piracy isn't an issue. There are $1,000 CDs that supposedly offer better sound quality because of the material they're made of. Like Tadhg says it's all about the story. I'm not saying any of this is viable right now, but I can see premium games happening as the current generation ages.

Imagine 20 or 30 years into the future when names like Miyamoto (or maybe Blow) are as revered as Ferragamo, the language for making great games has finally been cracked so that games are differentiated by the personality who created them rather than the commoditized quality of the experience, and a generation that grew up with games finally has ridiculous spending power with paid off mortgages and no more children to send to college. At such a time I can see a market for super premium games, and I can imagine games being premium long before that.

I think there's more to this idea than people are giving it credit for, just like people once laughed at bottled water and Japanese luxury cars.

Christopher Braithwaite
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BTW, I think the generalization that people only buy luxury goods to 'show off' betrays a grave misunderstanding of both human nature and luxury. Sure some people do, but not everything in life is about bling.

Tadhg Kelly
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That's what I'm saying Christopher well said. It's not about bling, it's about the story. I feel some people are viewing purchases purely in the terms of utility, which is to say they're buying their valuable shoes on the basis of who they can show those shoes to. People are forgetting the emotional draw of the shoe itself to that person regardless of the visible opportunity. Why do some people buy high-count Egyptian cotton sheets? Not to show off mostly (unless you're in the habit of showing off your bed). Or fancy bathrooms. Or getaway log cabins. And if they are just buying for utility, why are they spending so much?

On the question of per-unit viability and exclusive content, I think these are the wrong ways to look at this. What you're doing is making a content=value judgement (which gamers typically make) and therefore assuming that to charge more you have to have more content. Again, that's looking at it from the point of view of utility.

I see super-premium games as more akin to Chess sets carved out of ivory and obsidian. At root they must be great games, but on the surface they must be presented well. So not just a silver disc in a box. A golden disc in a velvet lined Tiffany's-esque box. A game of quality implementation where art direction has (or supposedly has, whatever fits the story) a message over and above the usual hub-bub. A game worth having for the ages as a mark of cultural achievement.

It works in every other medium and business. Why not ours?

Tyler Glaiel
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"It works in every other medium and business. Why not ours?"

I don't ever see "premium" movies out there. When was the last time you had the option of seeing a movie for $100?

John Sear
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Great discussion :) A different angle of how we could get people to pay £500 for the same game.

I think the key word is scarcity. Supply Vs Demand - the more people that want something the higher the price is - providing there is a limited number of said good. However, different people can afford to pay different amounts (depending on what else they spend their money on).

Take a big title that sells crazy amounts in the opening weekend such as a GTA or Halo. Everyone is happy to pay £30 for a copy, but because the game is so cheap to mass produce there is little chance of a shortage of the games.

The real trick (and where economics comes in) is finding out how much each person is actually willing to pay and allowing those with more money to pay a higher price. If you're interested in this - take a look at 'The Undercover Economist'

So really the industry needs to introduce artifical scarcity. How could they do this? What we'd like to do is sell the game for £500 in the opening weekend and then reduce the price as the weeks go by until we get down to the standard £30.

They would probably be an outcry - although they manage it to some extent in the publishing industry, by releasing the higher priced hardback book several months before the cheaper paperback.

BTW I'm not condoning this idea! It does remind me of the days of paying huge amounts to import console games though.

Tadhg Kelly
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With film I was thinking more of the price of things like prized movie memorabilia. Same with the rare book market. Granted not quite the same thing, but applicable nonetheless I think.

Luis Guimaraes
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I can't imagine a single game out there that could worth $500 if it was a premium. I got Tadhg's point, but it's really hard to have nowadays. I think the $55 Modern Warfare 2 is this actual peak, there are cheaper games out there, and it would must be a super game with a super history, or a very nice mechanics pack with a dozen mods with different stories made by many developers, like it is when you get a hi-culture graphic novel HQ. It must be a masterpiece collection and not less.

At the best, a revamped collector's edition GotY in designer's cut version with many, many additions, something worthing it's forever.

Tadhg Kelly
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I had a further thought on this: What about a self-contained game?

I mean as in a machine and game all at once. Forget the console paradigm and think instead of like a really expensive Game and Watch or Tamagotchi or that kind of thing.

Tyler Glaiel
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I think the only brand that could pull that off would be Rock Band or Guitar Hero

Keith Nemitz
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There was that $5000 iPhone game, er, animated picture of a gem. Apple booted the app, but some copies were sold. (although, they may have been refunded)

I think the MMO route has definite possibilities. Especially if you brought in celebrity writers and artists to make content. MMOs aren't easily pirated, but it's content can be easily spoiled.

James Hofmann
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Nike is able to release a "new" shoe with a high price, but the distinguishing factor is that they are selling a brand which has incredible power; the best shoes of the world's most famous shoemaker.

So I think the key ingredient here is that the brand has to already be trusted. Movie memorabilia gains value after the movie's release, but only if the movie is considered a classic. Similarly, old games can be more valuable than new ones - if the game is a known collector's item. An upsell of 10x or more doesn't happen on the initial release, and introducing an all-new game alongside an all-new platform just brings up more unknowns in the customer's mind.

Most of the biggest sells in the game collector's market have come from things that are not intrinsically better: For example, the Nintendo World Championships gold cartridges. The "gameplay" of the NWC cart is three previously existing games with time limits, one new level(for Rad Racer), and cross-game scoring bolted on. The gold carts have no difference from the gray ones other than they're gold, and there are only 26 of them in the world, vs 90 of the gray. And yet they are valued at well over $10,000 each.

Similarly, rare games from more recent times have often seen their used prices soar. Rez and Gitaroo Man were trading well above retail in the early 2000s, until reissues came out.

The thing is, with the collectables, with the used games, with Nike's high-end items, you can be 100% sure what you're getting. Age and consensus has given them prestige that can't be won during the product introduction phase. A new game at those prices promises a *tangible* improvement over the mainstream and puts all the focus on "well, how good is it? Does it rate the price?" The economics of production don't allow you to give games the kinds of tangible improvements that make high-end cars or computers expensive, so it'll fail this test every time.

So you could easily make a "Pokemon Collector's Edition" that is slightly distinguished from the other versions of Pokemon and goes for twice as much(indeed, this sort of thing is pretty much the basis of all Pokemon merchandise), but an original game would only suffer from trying that.

Colin Anderson
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What a thread you've started Tadhg - well done!

My gut feeling says there might be a business model in the "Super Group" approach. You know, get Will Wright, Sid Meier, Dave Jones and Pete Molyneux together to work on a new game and then sell it at a premium price point using the prestige game story. Worth a try - just don't ask me to invest in the idea, because I still believe it will ultimately come down to how much fun it is! ;-)

The only other £500 game I can think of is World of Warcraft. If you've been subscribing since it launched you're well on your way to that by now.

Great food for thought though - thanks for sparking the debate.



Elliot Green
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The luxury brand game console exists. It is called Alienware. They have trendy cases, and are outrageously expensive. If you want to run Crysis at full graphics you could always build a computer yourself for a quarter of the price, but everybody wants to show their friends $4000 worth of X files themed silicone and plastic.

Also, people pay thousands of dollars for property on World of Warcraft.

The reason why these luxury schemes get by is because they are compatable with less expensive alternatives. Although some people pay lots of money to play WOW, if everybody had to pay lots of money, then few people would be playing. Alienware computers run windows and have amd or intel processors just like average computers.

Actually, rich people buy "art" such as pickled sharks to feel inteligent. The million dollar sharks eventually get moldy, and are no longer a symbol of refinement.

Lorenzo Gatti
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The expensive console segment is already well covered by products that don't cost billions to develop: branded or differently painted "special editions", bizarre variations, modding and jewel enclosures.

The expensive game segment, as others have noted, is similarly covered by low-risk variants of normal games: special editions with insignificant extra content, fancy boxes, custom (often merely branded) peripherals, assorted gadgets (from art books to T-Shirts).

The secondary market is actually the main way to spend insane amounts of money on games and consoles: there are prototypes, exotic and unique arcade machines, extremely limited production runs, leaked hardware variants, and so on. But we're talking about serious collecting, not showing off luxury toys to friends.

Another problem of luxury games as described in the article is that games are media, and media are not priced by quality: good novels cost as much as bad novels of similar page count, binding and age, films cost more only when they come with 3D glasses, and so on. Quality is rewarded by the volume of sales.

There is no way to convince someone to pay more for a game only because it is especially good, and no way to add perceived monetary value except the mentioned unimportant extras.

Luis Guimaraes
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I can only think of developers buying such games, even tho it's still a hard deal. It's about the fact that with $500 you can buy ten $50 titles with all worth they have. And there's still people that goes for piracy by thinking it's not worth by a $50 game, but it's not the subject here.

But it's still a problem, a $50.000 painting may cost $20 and a couple hours for the artist. Games cost so much. Modding is the only way to get a low-cost game, with a general gameplay gender and something else.

Artbooks and some extras are a bit too, but not all that worth yet. Nothing to make a game cost only and always $500. But I can wonder about very good sims (almost serious games), like hunting sims, flight simulator, fishing and so on, but it'd need to be and ultimate open-ended experience, with all-worth replay and such. Nothing like producing and entire gameplay and such, no score systems or linear story, no ending and so on... Just a base-gameplay used on many games of different themes, like hunting, stealth... In somehow the cost of making a new game would be reduced (but you still could sell it at $50 ship or $15 download and make so much more money).

It must be something made in together with a mainstream product, so you're not making all the money go into making that title.

David Ellis
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"I had a further thought on this: What about a self-contained game?"

Actually, self-contained, high-end, self-contained video games do exist--Multicade and Arcade Classics cabinets that have anywhere from 60 to as many as 1000 classic arcade games built into them. Those cabinets sell for around $3000 at places like Costco around the holidays. (You can get them for less at an arcade auciton, but you're still looking at over $1000 usually.)

Not all of those are sold to consumers, of course. But obviously they do sell or else they wouldn't be made. Of course, these games resonate with nostalgic gamers, so they have an extra hook.

I think when you look at it from that perspective it's a whole different ballgame. If it's a one-time investment and you're not forced to pay for new games over time, it's probably more palatable. Although I'd never pay over about $300 for a console, I have paid as much as $600 for an arcade video game (I have 12) and as much as $3500 for a pinball machine (I have 3). So, yeah...that definitely changes the equation.

Luke Pearce
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Definitely an interesting idea a lot of the comments on here seem to presume that just because 'most' people wouldn't spend that amount of money that it wouldn't work.

I think there would be a market for it (top-end Alienware style PC rigs still sell well enough I beleive) but would it be big enough? Assuming it'd cost £10 million to create a game/unit you'd need to sell 20,000 copies/units to break break-even.

If you decide not to make the game content absolutely fantastic and decide to go another route - what value are you going to add which will appeal to the higher-end market?

Probably more importantly, if you are doing a multi-game system, would you be able to get buy in from other developers?

Things like the neo geo probably had a slight advantage because (it seemed to me) they were basically selling a home version of their coin-op arcade machines so 1) they had a good selection of games that could be sold on the system 2) they had a pretty good alternative source of revenue.

Speaking of which I wonder if this would work as a single unit sold mainly to businesses (pubs, arcades, shopping centres etc). A lot of coin-op games seem to have gone the way of the dodo compared to when I was younger but I wonder if these could be revived and re-introduced in a new way. Remember when those big bulky Virtual Reality machines were all the rage - maybe something new, innovative and online could get the business market back on to buying into something like this...

Kim Pallister
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>So not just a silver disc in a box. A golden disc in a velvet lined Tiffany's-esque box

We already have that. An embossed metal tin instead of cardboard box, a detailed instruction book or comic instead of a paper leaflet, etc. And a portion of the market already pays a 15% premium for that.

Beatles Rock band is going to have a $250 deluxe version with 'authentic' instruments over the generic ones, and that'd constitute another example.

The question then is whether you are proposing something different be done *with the game itself* to justify these or bigger premiums, or whether this is just hope that this kind of accoutrement will garner 900% markup instead of one of 15%.

Rikki Prince
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I'm a little disappointed that the naysayers here cannot seem to see past what already exists and what the current market can support. Surely the point of this post is to look past what is currently done and how people currently spend to see if a new market or product is feasible?

The way I see the analogy, people buy £1000 shoes because they are created by a designer they (a) like, or (b) want people to think they like. There is also an element of limited supply, as the designer may be making them by hand or on a limited run.

I think the key thing being paid for is this creativity. This is what is what makes it unique and worthy. There are other psychological and societal aspects which determine *who* will pay that much for these things, but it being created by a certain person is what makes it special in the first place.

I can imagine this happening in games if some of the superstar designers (eg. someone like Miyamoto) decided to set up "boutique" development studios, producing excellent games, selling for £1000 in a limited run.

The hurdles are clear though. Cost of development is high for "blockbuster" games is huge. But these games wouldn't necessarily need to be bigger and more expensive than those; they would just need to be more special. They could be a small arcade game, but have such flair and creativity in the mechanics, and be so well polished that someone would pay £1000 for a "Miyamoto Original".

The other hurdle is piracy. Given that this is software, it can be cracked and redistributed. Even if the developer plans to only sell 100 copies, there is always the chance that someone will redistribute it, somewhat reducing it's rarity. But maybe this is just like a Prada knock off. You and your mates know you can't afford the real thing, so even if you have it, it's because you have a pirated copy.

Finally, the awareness issue. Gaming can be private, but the social aspect is taking off more and more. What if the "Miyamoto Original" was multiplayer only, and in your social circle you are the only one who can afford to buy it? You get the prestige of owning it, when all your friends come around to play it at your house. The console social networks also have an effect. The "Miyamoto Original" would also come with unique Achievements and Trophies, so you'll be the only person on your friends list that will have those.

I think this is an interesting proposition, but would take a lot of guts to pull off. It would almost certainly have to be a game designer with enormous existing acclaim, and relies on video games becoming art as opposed to toys. Toys are mass produced; art is appreciated.