Why Do We Care Less About Game Pricing?

There was a strong sense of injustice, but it never really affected us. Not really. We played the games we wanted to play. Somehow. And if we couldn’t? Well, outside of a few exceptions those games were hardly worth our time — they existed as morbid curiosities at best and we moved on as a collective. In reality gamers could have lived without an R18+ rating for video games, but that didn’t matter. The situation was wrong and we all knew it. As a group we mobilised, with verve, and we made a real difference, on an issue that, if we’re being perfectly honest, had little-to-no impact on our day to day lives as gamers.

Yet on the contentious issue of video game pricing, an issue that makes a genuine difference to our financial bottom line, we remain largely silent. I wonder why that is?

Here’s some perspective: during the public consultation period, 48,437 submissions were received on the issue of an adult rating for video games. That’s an Australian record. The issue of tech pricing in Australia? Well, despite the fact that that Minister Conroy explicitly asked for video game pricing to be given priority in the terms of reference, the inquiry into IT Pricing received a paltry 88 submissions. That’s 88 submissions.

That’s 0.18%. Not even close to being a dent. Not even a scratch. But why? Do people have no interest in the pricing of video games? Does the broader gaming audience care more about a classification issue, one that doesn’t necessarily affect their gaming, than they do about the cost of the video games that are purchased every single day? This is something that has a real tangible impact. Why ignore it?

Maybe ‘ignore’ is the wrong word, really we’ve just become sedated on the issue of game pricing in Australia. We care less. Part of the problem is that most gamers — particularly the strong voices that typically dominate in this type of discourse — have found their solution, and that solution is to either import games at a much lower price, or illegally download them.

It’s the convenient solution that the R18+ issue never had, because the injustice in that case was a ‘slight’, it was a series of statements we could rally against: video games are not for adults, they’re for children. Or: video games are more harmful than other types of media. It felt like discrimination and that mobilised us. Our only solution was to shout back. With video game pricing the solution is far more obvious — take your business elsewhere and be done with it.

And taking your business elsewhere works as both solution and silent protest; maybe that’s part of the problem. Charge me more, and I’ll damage your bottom line. Dispute over. No need to shout about it, no need to make a political noise on an issue that isn’t necessarily political. Let the market correct itself. It’ll work eventually.

But in the short term, less savvy consumers are left to bear the brunt of it and since they shop and spend in much larger numbers than you or I, you might be waiting a fair amount of time for that correction.

Australian pricing isn’t an issue we own as gamers — and perhaps that’s another facet of the same problem. As a group we’re not being attacked, not verbally at least. Our intelligence isn’t being insulted, we’re simply being asked to pay more than gamers in Europe and the US and maybe that doesn’t feel like something we should be getting all that angry about.

The R18+ issue was essentially a niche issue, and that’s arguably why we made so much noise about it. Perhaps that’s why we cared: because it was an issue that belonged to us specifically as gamers. As bad as game prices can be, and as big an injustice as it is, it’s not exclusive to us as a sub-culture — people pay exponentially more for Adobe products, for example. There’s a diffused responsibility regarding this whole issue, a whiff of the ‘can’t someone else do it?’ With R18+ if we didn’t take responsibility, nothing would have changed. With this issue? Maybe there’s a feeling that others will do the heavy lifting for us.

But really, we’re the ones who should be driving the change. We’re the ones with experience with these kind of issues. We’re the ones who have made a difference in the past, and we can again.

I don’t know — maybe we just need an antagonist. Maybe the video game pricing issue just needs its Michael Atkinson — an outspoken publisher stroking his cat like Doctor Claw from Inspector Gadget, routinely informing us why we should be paying more in an inexplicably bassy timbre. But most publishers locally have been silent, because it pays to be silent. Because it’s safe to be silent. Because we don’t shout back when they remain silent.

We should make a noise anyway. Because this issue needs our noise. There are people like Ed Husic out there asking for gamers to help with this important issue, and I don’t think we’ve really done enough. We found our own solutions, sat on this issue, and mumbled a little on when prodded. That’s it.

I’d like to think we can do more. Yes, game pricing is a complicated issue, and yes there are reasons why we pay more, but that doesn’t mean our voice doesn’t carry weight. Because it does, and we should use it.

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