The price of a PC game used to be carved in biro by enthusiastic teenagers employed at brick-and-mortar games retailers. But early access has thrown pricing conventions into greater disarray than ever before.
Developers can’t seem to decide whether to pitch low, to compensate players for the bugs they’ll have to put up with, or high, to sell players on the idea of being VIPs.
Frontier fell into the latter camp with Elite: Dangerous, asking premium beta players to ‘join the elite’ for £100. David Braben acknowledges the approach might seem “cruel and merciless” - but says he doesn’t know of a better way to keep beta numbers manageable.
Elite: Dangerous’ Kickstarter campaign laid out a gradually decreasing price plan for the game as it progressed through beta. Players could pay £100 for premium access from the end of May, £50 for the following standard beta, or a £35 pre-order to enter the game at its gamma phase just before release.
Frontier have stuck to that initial plan - but we wondered whether Braben still thought it was a good idea. He does.
“We knew how many people we wanted on the alpha, and it may seem like a cruel and merciless way of doing it,” Braben told PCGamesN. “But that’s the way of getting people who are most likely to be dedicated and genuinely want it.”
Asked whether the premium beta was made up simply of the richest Elite players rather than the most dedicated, Braben replied: “Well, a bit of both actually”.
“Looking at it another way - what else is a good way of doing it?,” he asked. “Looking at ways of doing that, that works the best. It may seem mercenary but it seemed like the very best way to do it.”
A high price of entry is certainly the easiest and most effective way of creating an artificial bottleneck - but its flaws are self-evident. What would you suggest in its stead? A competition of joystick skill to determine the most enamoured Elite fans?