Never Spend More Than 20 Dollars on a Video Game

Ron Gilbert was right

The Secret of Monkey Island. A hilarious, brilliantly-designed game that also contains good life advice.

It took me thirty years, but I’ve finally learned the lesson of this Secret of Monkey Island screenshot.

It’s up to me to protect myself as a game customer.

“person writing dollar sign on sketch book” by rawpixel on Unsplash

These are crazy times in the increasingly-profitable video game industry. Loot boxes might be on the way out, but the money machine rolls along, with games raking in the dough as high- profile studios close down out of the blue or suffer other scandals.

The “standard” price of video games is creeping higher and higher, pushing the limits of the 60 dollar price once considered too much. Most major-budget games still release a $60 SKU to put on shelves at Walmart and Best Buy, but it’s always right alongside an $80-$100 option that comes with a season pass and maybe a Steelbook case(TM).

At the same time, gaming has never been more accessible on more devices. Mobile phones, quality streaming options, and a viable home console market all mean that consumers actually have a huge amount of potential buying and gaming power…and yet I keep falling into the same trap. I see a new expensive game I want, I buy it, I play it for ten hours, I throw it on the pile.

Or I buy games on sale like a smarter person, but then I never get around to playing them because I’m too busy staying focused on the next thing that the industry is hyping up.

Usually there’s an open world and sometimes there are cowboys.

Legendary game designer Ron Gilbert tried to warn me. The creator of Maniac Mansion also helped craft Monkey Island in 1990. I’ve always loved its joke about computer game prices. But I’ve never tried to make it my ethos.

Until now.

“panoramic photography of lighted city” by Michael Glass on Unsplash

There are so many ways to get quality games for less money, I feel like an idiot for ever spending more than 20 dollars on a game, especially as games have become filled with microtransactions and additional DLC. It’s kind of insulting to spend 60 dollars on something and then immediately be asked for more money.

Remember when 2K Games put out NFL 2K5 for 20 dollars? It was mindblowing! EA was so disturbed by the market ramifications this could have on their Madden franchise that they spent gobs of money locking up an exclusive NFL license.

Ironically, EA was among the first to try out a more consumer-friendly and sustainable game purchasing business model in the modern era, with EA Access and Origin Access. They’re both no-brainers for an EA fan at 30 bucks a year, and come with decent libraries of older games.

But 30 dollars is still more than 20 dollars. So how much cheaper can I go?

Playstation Now is 20 bucks a month, and has more game content than a human could ever realistically finish in a single lifetime. Again, it’s mostly older games, but I don’t mind that, and I actually think its streaming service is a path that more games will use in the future.

But I can do even better!

Microsoft’s Game Pass, at 10 dollars a month, is probably the most compelling deal in modern gaming. It reframes the entire discussion, especially since all of Microsoft’s first party titles now launch on the service. I downloaded Forza Horizon 4 on launch, and didn’t pay an extra penny above my subscription. When I’ve gotten something essentially “for free,” it’s a lot easier to swallow that it has a store full of extra paid content inside of it.

“close up photo of Mercedez-Benz vehicle” by Kevin Bhagat on Unsplash

When I feel better as a consumer, I’m more likely to be a long-term loyal customer. I’ve become so burnt out on buying new games and then not finishing them, or feeling like I’m going to miss out on some hot exclusive pre-order DLC.

It’s nothing but brazen manipulation and careful marketing by game companies.

But what about all those games that aren’t on Game Pass, I hear you screaming into your monitor? Fortunately, 90 percent of third party games quickly get aggressive discounts. If that’s not a sign of how awkward this business model is, then I don’t know what is.

And since the game industry hasn’t managed to kill secondhand sales or Gamestop yet despite extreme attempts to do so, selling old discs and buying used ones to lower the costs of new games is also a tremendous option.

Thanks to digital sales, mobile games, and the burgeoning console market…it’s never been easier to get into gaming for a cheap price. I haven’t done a good job of watching my spending habits in games, or of actually getting use out of all the piles of content that I own. I’ve never even really tried to track this stuff, because I never realized how much of a problem it was.

It’s time for all of that to change.

The big budget games industry thrives on pumping out expensive projects, marketing them as if they’re going to evaporate 4 days after they’re released, and moving on to the next one.

That might be great for their bottom lines, but it’s been very slowly killing my love of gaming.

It’s long been time for me to finally go back and see all the content I’ve owned and ignored, explore the indie scene further…and to never spend more than 20 dollars on a new video game.

If the industry were more focused on building true long-term communities, and not just creating a fake “sense of engagement around live services” AKA getting players hooked into spending more money, then maybe it would all be more sustainable for people making games too. For as many full-time staff as work in the industry, there are contractors who are unceremoniously dumped after the end of a project. Imagine if they could actually keep their jobs. What a concept!

I’ve got to break out of the hype machine. I’ll have more money in my pocket. I’ll have more time to play and appreciate games. And I’ll be a happier person, overall. I don’t need that exclusive mission or that special sword or whatever. I need to finish the Witcher 3. And Batman Arkham Knight. And Titan Quest. And Forza Horizon 4.

And then this Christmas or next summer I’ll load myself back up in the next big Steam/Xbox/PS4 sale, and refocus my habits around playing rather than buying.

I’ve thought for a while that I might be losing interest in games, but I realized that I was only losing interest in their business models.

Thanks Ron Gilbert. I should have listened to your lesson sooner. Also I loved Thimbleweed Park it was the only “throwback” adventure game of late that really did it for me.