Despite launching to, er, an amount of fanfare, VR is still by and large uncharted territory. I see a bunch of ideas slowly sliding down a wall. Will any of them stick? Beats me. Even game prices have no real standard, which brings us to Job Simulator's recent price cut. Job Simulator is one of the HTC Vive's marquee launch games. This is, in part, due to the fact that it's an actual game — or at least, the seams holding its minigames together aren't as egregiously visible as some. It's been out for two weeks, but its developers have already lowered its price by $US10 ($13), from $US40 ($51) to $US30 ($38). This isn't a blink-and-you'll-miss-it Steam deal, either. Job Simulator's new asking price is here to stay.
Developer Owlchemy Labs explained their rationale in a recent Steam post, beginning with the game's original price:
The decision to price the game at $39.99 was the culmination of our thoughts on the VR market at launch. With the launch of a brand new platform, no one quite knew what to expect, so we had to use whatever metrics we had available to us. With 15 people on the team and over a year and a half of time in development, a ton of human-hours have been dedicated to the Job Simulator project. That makes it quite an expensive title to produce.
Additionally, we're attempting to pioneer mechanics that have never been explored by building a VR game from the ground up. Designing in VR is also a much more intensive process than what we've seen in traditional game development, with VR design taking a lot of iteration. Lastly, we knew that the initial market for VR would be something that would grow over time, but as it takes a long time to get this brand spanking new hardware into consumers hands, we knew it would be a slow start. In order to recoup our costs for the smaller audience, we placed what we believed to be a competitive, but fair, price on the game.
By typical major game standards, $US40 ($51) isn't the end of the world, virtual or otherwise. However, a handful of Steam reviews and forum posts have harped on the game's price, accusing the game of being too insubstantial to warrant it.
It's a bit odd, given that Job Simulator, a Vive exclusive, has been part of a bundle deal since launch. Essentially, it's free if you buy a Vive. That deal won't last forever, though, so Owlchemy decided to take preemptive action.
"The point of Job Simulator was always to share the joy of VR with as many people as we could convince to put their hands (both gloved or un-gloved) on it," Owlchemy explained. "So we're lowering the price. This will allow even more people to experience the mind blowing moment when you realise your hands can truly work in VR — and then be used to throw a stapler at your boss. The community has been sincere and honest with their feedback, and so we're responding."
They added that you can refund the game and re-buy it at the new, cheaper price, even if you've played for more than two hours. A nice way of handling a tectonic pricing shift, that's for sure.
What's surprising here is that Job Simulator is currently a game that comes with the Vive for free. Despite this, SteamSpy estimates that it's only moved somewhere in the neighbourhood of 7k-9.5k units. Lowering the price might help in the long run, but right now it's technically a free game to any and all people who can actually play it. The issue at the moment, then, is VR itself. It's still far too early to start counting chickens, though, especially with all the shipping issues these things have faced, not to mention how expensive high-end VR is in the first place.
It will be interesting to see what happens as fans and developers alike decide what constitutes a $US30 ($38) VR experience versus a $US40 ($51) VR experience (as opposed to a regular game at those or any other prices). I'm also curious to see how many developers will continue to create games for VR hardware as it becomes increasingly apparent that they will probably be taking a sizable loss for a while.
VR's not the gold rush some hoped it to be; it's a grease-stained Vegas gamble (with a healthy chunk of venture capital change in the pot). I'm sure that's why some studios opted to launch on Rift and Vive with smaller games; they didn't want to pour the full brunt of their time and resources into an uncertain niche. Higher game prices are one way to compensate, but as we've seen with Job Simulator, fans might not be so supportive of that decision.