On those crazy XBLA price tags…

So, here we are: Braid‘s on XBLA for 1200 points, and now Castle Crashers has hit XBLA for another 1200 points.  They’re two excellent games (I unsurprisingly gravitated toward the latter, going as far as to dub yesterday “Castle Crashers Day”) and they both embody much of what the indie games industry can do right.  Also, they’re both taking some of the most ridiculous flak I’ve ever heard over their price.

Such gems include:

“$15 for 5 hours of single player?”

“I could get [insert old game name here] for $5 less at Gamestop!”

“If it were $10, I’d pay, but at $15 it’s just too much.”

Probably my first reaction should be to not listen to anything morons say online.

However, assuming I failed to do the first part, here’s my second reaction:

Maybe I’m old.  Maybe I’m old fashioned.  However, I distinctly remember growing up with NES, where games like Contra debuted with price tags of about $100 when adjusted for inflation.  Yes, Contra is classic.  However, if you bought it, brought it home, sat down and gave it a shot, you would probably make it to level 2 and die.  You could retry a bit, maybe make it to 3, possibly 4, probably not 5, and certainly not 6.  What’s the play-through time there?  You could probably beat the game in an hour with the 60 life code.  That’s an hour for $100–no character building, no online play, no DLC, and no minigames.

I’m not saying we should be satisfied with Contra.  But look how far we’ve come!  We’ve gone from paying $100 for a game that is repeatedly outshined by free Flash games to paying $15 for games with art design that would make our 1980’s-era selves drool, rich gameplay, online multiplayer, and tons and tons of bells and whistles upon that–yet for some that’s $5 too expensive?

We shouldn’t need to be satisfied with Contra, but boy, have we got spoiled.

I would like to address the “I could buy [game name] used at Gamestop for $5 cheaper” argument specifically: sure, you could buy Perfect Dark Zero at Gamestop for $10 (probably $5 even), but here’s the thing: Perfect Dark Zero is not Castle Crashers. If you want to play Castle Crashers, you have to buy Castle Crashers, and the price happens to be $15.  If you wanted to play PDZ (and I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to do that these days), you can find yourself a nice used copy at Gamestop.  You’ll get your 10 hours of gameplay, rather than that paltry 5 you would have got in the horrendously overpriced Castle Crashers, but those will be 10 hours of your life spent playing Perfect Dark Zero, which, as far as I can tell, is not something to brag about.

I don’t really think it’s about cost anymore.  When you contrast the value of the dollar between today’s gaming industry and that of 20 years ago, there’s just no comparison–videogames are pretty much free.  The question becomes not “how do you want to spend your money,” but “how do you want to spend your time?”