Why Are Video Games So Expensive?

Video games are expensive. No getting around it. Major lead titles cost upwards of $50. Brand new video games are items that lose their value almost faster than anything else. Most games lose 30% of their value the moment they are opened and that resale value keeps plummeting with each day its owned.

Read: 6 Things That Lose Value Faster Than a Car

With direct downloads becoming the preferred way to buy a game, fans who count on waiting for the used price at a game store may be very disappointed in the future. The latest Xbox even tried to do away with physical sales, pointing the way toward the system that games makers would prefer (one with no used games stores), but had to change its mind to the backlash.

shutterstock_134414039But why are video games so expensive? It’s a combination of new technologies, a larger place in the market and improved production values. These things all add up to making games more expensive to produce than ever before. Top games cost in the tens of millions of dollars to make, and some games are even costing more than blockbuster movies.

Read: 10 Most Expensive Video Games Ever Made

Voice Talent

As videogames have become more and more advanced they’ve been able to hold a lot more data. This includes full audio. Every time a character in a videogame says something, a voice actor recorded that. At the one hour and six minute mark in I Know That Voice, a documentary about voice actors, the movie discusses voice actors who work in video games as well as cartoons. In this video the voice actors talk about having to voice every variation of a grunt, shout or piece of dialogue that the character may possibly have to utter. This means that, unlike a movie with a straight plot, the voice talent has to record many more times as much voice for a game due to branching possibilities of narrative. Game scripts can now be millions of words long.

Many of the voice actors aren’t just unknown either. Increasingly video games are using higher-paid, recognizable actors and actresses to provide audio. Actors like Elijah Wood, Gary Oldman, Ellen Page, Samuel L. Jackson, Liam Neeson and many more have voiced roles in popular games. That adds to the expense, putting game studios in much the same place as a movie studio.

Motion Capture

Modern video games use motion capture to get realistic body movements for the characters shown on the screen. This costs them, as they don’t just use anyone off the street to do this. Games can use anyone from stunt workers to real life actors (like Andy Serkis, famous for his physical abilities, and the actor behind Gollum), and in big studio sports games, real life famous athletes. Who don’t come into the studio for free.

Computers and servers

shutterstock_64226965The computers that run the code to build a game are not cheap. As games become more and more complex, the resources to create and test them grows. Development units for team members, synchronizing code, tools that let designers do more and more complex special effects, all of that requires raw processor power. And raw processing power requires code. Development studios have IT departments with large budgets.

Additionally, most games today have an online component. That means people expect to play each other, or play the game with each other. The infrastructure required to help people get online, find matches, and be matched up to each other all requires machinery that stays up and running, or fans will get annoyed. That means more computers, more code and more maintenance. None of that is cheap.

In 2008, an article about World of Warcraft mentioned the yearly costs for its servers to allow players to fight online together on shared servers as being $200 million a year.


With big video games now making as much money as blockbuster video games, big money is being poured into marketing them. Here’s a tank driving through Oxford Circus to promote the launch of Battlefield 3:

Bungie famously used an ARG marketing campaign called “I Love Bees” to create a whole game around the marketing of a game, a transmedia event that is still studied. Video game companies use ads, viral marketing and a number of other campaigns to raise awareness of their games. All of this adds to the bottom line.

Agreements with game publishers to keep game prices the same

shutterstock_14585452According to an article in the Consumerist, stores throughout the US charge roughly the same exact price at launch for a new video game. The prices are set by the publishers of the games. The sellers agree to this because they don’t want to be cut out of the launch of the next big game.

This isn’t actually price fixing, though to a consumer it certainly feels like it. US law allows the game manufacturers to set a lowest and highest price for the goods retailers take on from them, but the stores themselves can’t collaborate on setting a price point. Though when someone is lined up to spend money on a new game, the fact that it is legal is small consolation.


I Know That Voice – Youtube

15 Famous Actors Who Voiced Video Game Characters – Mental Floss

List of video games by longest script – Gaming.Wikia.Com

What You Need To Know About Motion Capture – Engadget

How Much Does It Cost To Make a Big Video Game – Kotaku

World of Warcraft upkeep costs only $200m – The Register

Ways Modern Video Game Companies Market Their Product – Creative Guerrilla Marketing

The Competition Is As Fake As The Blood: Why New Video Games Are Always The Same Price – Consumerist