The Long Journey of Pricing and Payment in Gaming

Back in the old days of brick and mortar, what you paid for in gaming was what you got. It was a simpler time, one where nostalgia and rose-tinted glasses can lead traditionalists to espouse the superiority of a world that never really was. Back in reality, the arrival and domination of digital systems have continued to redefine how we play, and just as importantly, how we pay. Taking a look back at the classic options and the systems that have evolved over the years, we can gain an entirely new perspective on how far we’ve come, and what the new world offers.

Eating Coins

The first major video games weren’t for home consoles and PCs, and with good reason. In the days of video gaming yore, the cost of the technology used for digital gaming was too high for the public to afford, so arcade machines became the norm. The earliest games on arcade machines like Pac-Man and Asteroids become enormous hits, and as the tech evolved the graphics and gameplay did too. What stayed the same was the cost.

Unlike the arcade cabinet builds you can make for yourself today, the first cabinets were expensive, and they needed to pay for themselves. This was accomplished by making games difficult, where getting practiced meant putting in the money. If a player sucked, they still had fun, and they didn’t take up the machine for long. The idea was simple, and it’s maintained in the few arcades that still exist today.

A Simple Sale

Home consoles were the beginning of the end for arcades, and with their at-home power came changes to cost. Instead of paying each time, new games would be offered at a simple one-time cost, in addition to the console. This would become the standard with which gamers would become the most familiar and accepted, where the idea was that one purchase should give players everything they needed.

A Timed Experience

The success of home consoles also created an extension of the rental culture that was formerly confined to the world of films. Businesses like Blockbuster found enormous success on this front, while also maintaining some influence over how games were developed. At the time, players would often use renting a game as a demo period, and if they liked it, they would buy it. Making a game too easy meant players could beat it in one game session and not buy the game. Indirectly, again, the realities of payment seriously affected video game development, with some creators making titles like Ecco the Dolphin on Genesis more difficult thanks to rental systems.

Small Payments for Small Items

As the online world of gaming began to skyrocket, better implementation of online payment systems became possible. With credit cards, people could purchase everything they needed without going to the store, often at a lower cost thanks to no printing or shipping costs of physical media. On the basic end, this started to kill older services like Blockbuster, and this new idea would continue to evolve.

Instead of buying entire games, the new environment of smaller payments would eventually manifest as microtransactions. These smaller payment options would often be found in online and mobile games, where a great deal of the experience could be had for free. Microtransactions gave players a way to customize how far they would then take their fandom, demonstrating their love with their wallets.

Appeals to the Classic

Video games continue down one road, but other forms of digital interactive entertainment were similarly undergoing a metamorphosis. Online casinos were a popular example, where their existing forms of payment were already similar to the microtransaction systems that have seen so much success. Taking payment systems a step further has been ones that turn back the clock to fuse classic payment systems with modern digital titles.

For example, the ability for mobile casinos to charge by phone bill has been one of the most popular in the recent era. Websites like Party Casino and Hey Spin have used this approach to streamline payment systems for users who prefer to use more traditional methods of payment. On top of a wide assortment of modern casino payment systems like Skrill and credit cards, this level of diversification has helped open the digital doors to many new players.

The Monthly Fee

The most recent big changes to game payments back in the video game space are in the rising success of monthly subscription services. Though these cut their teeth on MMORPGs, the new platforms like those of Sony and Microsoft give players access to dozens of titles as long as the subscription remains active. Because having access to the offered titles means maintaining a subscription, players are given a reason to keep coming back.

The cost of these subscriptions for a year is around that of two AAA game purchases, and as the player gets access to dozens of AAA titles, subscription models can offer big savings. In 2021, Microsoft’s Game Pass generated $2.9 billion on Xbox alone, and since then this approach to offering games as a service has only grown.

Interactive entertainment payment systems coming so far rarely indicate a zero-sum game. While some developments led to the elimination of older practices (farewell Blockbuster), most systems exist in a varied and open state. Rather than being locked into just one form of access, modern players have more ways to engage than ever before. From classic game collectors to explorers on a game pass, choices are king, and that’s hard not to love. For the sake of a healthier overall environment, and better competition, let’s just hope it stays this way.

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