Have you ever noticed that games on the Nintendo eShop and on the PlayStation Network are regularly overpriced?
So have we, and we're sick of it. So much so, in fact, that we've decided to delve into the world of digital pricing to discover who's to blame for these inflated price tags. Then, we'll know who to shout at.
So, are Nintendo and Sony setting the ridiculous prices that we see on the eShop and PSN, or is it a case of developers being overambitious with their pricing expectations?
Read on to find out.
I'm not paying that
Before we discuss the how, who, and why, we need to establish whether there really is a pricing problem on Sony's and Nintendo's online marketplaces that needs addressing.
Let's look at some recent examples of potential price discrimination on the eShop and PSN.
Assassin's Creed III: Liberation came out on PS Vita last month, and we would have been more than happy to pick it up from Sony's digital store for the sake of convenience.
Not for the amount Sony was asking us Europeans to fork out for it, though. American Vita gamers didn't have it too bad at all, mind, for they 'only' had to shell out $36 for a digital copy. Here in the UK, we have to pay £40 for Liberation. In Europe, you have to pony up €45.
It doesn't take a genius to realize that $36 translates to just over £22. Even accounting for VAT, that means that British PSN punters are being asked to pay a lot more than their US counterparts.
These currency antics don't stop there.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted is priced at $40 / £40 / €50, while the downloadable version of Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified retails for $50 / £45. These are just a handful of recent comparisons - the issue goes back many, many months.
But, it's not just the currency conversion with which we take issue. Regardless of how much a title costs in the US, are we really expected to pay £40+ for a Vita game, especially when these games don't cost that much in bricks-and-mortar retailers, and lose value at retail, anyway?
Nintendo's eShop is no better.
Just weeks ago, Pilotwings Resort (an 18-month-old 3DS launch title) was available for download from the eShop... for £39.99.
A quick Google search shows that we could pick Pilotwings Resort up at retail for around £25, which is nearly half the asking price on the eShop. And let's be perfectly honest, Pilotwings Resort was never worth £40 in the first place.
Same with Super Pokemon Rumble. It's £39.99 on the eShop, around £25 at retail, and not worth picking up for either price.
Furthermore, Nintendo must be using the same broken currency convertor as Sony.
Pokedex 3D Pro, for example, is available for $14.99 or £13.49. Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion is out in the US eShop priced $39.99. We'll bet you right now that when it launches in the UK, it'll set us back £39.99.
Whose fault is it?
Are Nintendo and Sony setting these ridiculous prices, or are the developers and publishers responsible for these sky-high price tags?
Let's turn our attention to Nintendo first...
We contacted the House of Mario to ask for details on how its digital pricing works, and it looked like the company was going to provide us with some answers. However, a couple of weeks and a couple of emails in the Sent Items folder later, and no word from The Big N.
Since the direct approach didn't work out, we turned to various eShop game developers. We were met with the same response from every single one:
"I'm afraid the information you ask for is under the NDA we have with Nintendo."
"Unfortunately, due to the non-disclosure agreement that every developer / publisher signs with Nintendo I am unable to discuss the details of pricing and such on the eShop."
Well... NEARLY every single one.
A couple of studios were happy to talk to us about the eShop pricing as long as we kept their identities secret. What they had to say paints an interesting picture of what's going on.
One studio, who has released a couple of digital titles on the 3DS eShop, told us that it talks to Nintendo over the phone or by email about its product, what the game is, and what Ninty thinks it's worth.
Nintendo then takes all this into account and ultimately has the final say on how the game is priced.
However, it's a different story for retail games that are subsequently released on a digital format. In this case, Nintendo recommends a price, but the company behind the title ultimately sets the price.
But, here's where it gets really interesting.
The above insights give you some indication of how the 3DS eShop works. From what we've been told, the new Wii U eShop, however, operates in the opposite way.
A number of studios told us that it is the developers who dictate the prices on the Wii U eShop, and that this marketplace is a lot more like the iOS App Store in that you can adjust the price of your game whenever you like.
In fact, one studio told us that it believes this might be the direction Nintendo goes down with its 3DS eShop, with studios picking their own pricing in the future. As yet, though, there's been no official confirmation of this.
And what of PSN prices?
Well, as you'd expect, Sony was also unwilling to discuss its pricing methods with me. Fortunately, it has no NDAs in place with studios, so we were able to talk freely with numerous devs.
The key here, it seems, is whether a developer has been commissioned by Sony or not. For example, Frobisher Says was built for Sony, and hence Sony chooses the pricing of the DLC (the main game is free, something Sony also decided on).
As for titles that are self-published on PSN, Sony gives studios full freedom to set their own price, and does not dictate how much titles cost (although the company does give recommendations if it thinks a price is too low or too high).
There are specific requirements when it comes to pricing on PSN. Prices must be rounded up or down to end in 49p or 99p (£6.49, for example). And if a developer wants to adjust a game's price, it must ask several days in advance so that it can be approved across all PSN stores.
The price isn't allowed to fluctuate too regularly, either, and most studios are allowed to have a sale on their game every three to four months if they so choose.
This may all sound pretty simple, but, unfortunately, there's a catch.
Sony has separate companies running each of its separate stores worldwide, and from what we've been told these companies don't exactly communicate particularly well with one another (partly due to time zone differences).
When a studio wants to launch a game on multiple PSN stores, it can't just talk to one person at Sony. The dev has to talk to a separate person at each store (e.g. Sony Corporation of America, Sony Europe), and go through the entire process of getting its game submitted and tested with each of them.
And back to the currency conversion issues. The powers that be at the various PSN stores don't really care what price a game is on the other stores, so if Assassin's Creed III: Liberation is more than double the price in the UK store than it is in the US store, it's no skin off the nose of those in charge of the latter.
On the subject of Assassin's Creed III: Liberation not being priced uniformly across the PSN stores, Ubisoft wouldn't respond directly, instead palming the question off to Sony (who, as we've discovered, would not choose the final price in this instance - hence, it's not Sony's decision, but Ubisoft's).
Why does this matter?
But, why should Nintendo and Sony even care? It's their online stores, and they can surely do whatever the heck they want with their own pricing.
Let me ask you this: have you ever bought a retail game at the full digital prices they are asking for? Now, consider this: how many iOS or Android games have you bought without even considering the cost?
This grossly unfair digital pricing scheme is no doubt catching out certain people who don't really know any better - parents buying games for their kids, or people who haven't been gaming for long.
But, the majority of us do know better, and there's no way we're willing to pay these insane prices, especially when we can now pick up a few dozen quality mobile titles for the price of a 3DS or Vita game.
Digital isn't just the future... it's already here. A decline in retail sales, coupled with Steam's dominance of the PC games market and Apple's success in the mobile market, show that if the price is right, consumers will throw their money at you.
For some insane reason, Sony, Nintendo, and the studios putting games on the service for these silly prices are yet to get with the program, especially when it comes to new releases (although, to be fair to Sony, its recent series of promotions and the launch of PS Plus for PS Vita are steps in the right direction).
But, what can we do?
It's simple, really. Both Sony and Nintendo will follow where they see the money is going, so you can simply show them what you think by not paying.
Nintendo was recently forced to change its mind over DLC, as it became clear that its "we're not interested in DLC" stance was at odds with what players were willing to fork out for.
And Sony is slowly but surely being forced to re-examine its digital prices, as it becomes obvious that consumers aren't willing to pay the ludicrously high prices it and its third-party publishers are setting.
But, alongside refusing to pay their silly prices, it certainly doesn't hurt to make a bit of a fuss about it.
When we reported on the Level Skipper DLC for StarDrone Extreme earlier this year, the game's publisher was forced to make the controversial DLC free as a direct result of our reporting.
It's not just Pocket Gamer and the rest of the gaming press that can make a difference, mind. You can get in contact with Sony and Ninty and voice your concerns, too.
Email developers and publishers, and tell them that you really want to pick up their game, but that you're not willing to do so for the high asking prices. Fill out the Club Nintendo surveys and let Nintendo know that its prices stink.
Kick up a fuss. These companies live and die by their consumers, and if we're not happy, they won't be, either.