Is Gaming Becoming Too Expensive?

Is Gaming Becoming Too Expensive?

Gaming isn’t a cheap pastime. Well, to clarify, video games aren’t cheap. “Gaming” is a pretty broad activity that can be conducted with a tree branch and some imagination. But as for the type of gaming that can only be done when we pay the price of admission to Club Mario, that takes some dosh.

Sometimes we can’t help but look at the industry and wonder, “Has it always been this way?” Nintendo’s asking price of $250 USD for the Nintendo 3DS has once again given us pause, and not for the first time. Sony’s initial pricetag for the first generation Playstation 3 still rings across the Internet whenever someone needs to bust out a Kaz Hirai joke (“$599 US dollars, $599 US dollars, $599–“)

These weren’t the gaming community’s first collective freak-outs over console prices, and they won’t be the last. In fact, G4 recently posted an interesting piece of media that looks back at the price of home game consoles and compares them to the prices of today’s offerings while taking inflation into account. The Atari 2600, for instance, was initially released in 1976 for $199 USD–which equals an eye-popping $766 USD in today-money (naturally, the Video Game Crash of ’83 trimmed that price a bit). Another popular home console, the Sega Genesis, launched in 1989 for $190 USD, which would set you back by $329 USD in 2011. Those are some impressive numbers, moreso when you consider that the video doesn’t delve into steep PC prices at the time.

So, how about it? Should we stop being babies about the high prices of game consoles?

We should be realistic, but in all fairness, G4’s video is lacking some perspective. People aren’t upset about dishing out $250 for a Nintendo system: They’re upset about dishing out $250 for a handheld. This is likely less of an issue in Japan where handheld and mobile gaming are far more ingrained into Japanese culture than Western culture, but in North America, we still have a tendency to think of gaming in terms of “consoles” (or PC) and “portables.” The Wii, which launched in 2006 and hooks up to a television like any traditional console, launched at $249 USD. The Nintendo DS launched in 2004 at $149.99. Going back through the generations, Nintendo has long paired its home consoles with a cheaper, albeit less powerful alternative. Now, the company is asking more for its handheld than its main console. That’s not to say the 3DS’s asking price is unfair, but there is definitely some culture shock behind our grousing. We’ll get over it.

Matters are complicated further by the current tug-of-war between digitally distributed games and their more expensive (and again, often more powerful) retail alternatives. If you wanted an Atari 2600, you automatically expected to dish out around $40 for a game cartridge. But the struggle between smartphone gaming and handheld systems are making us stop and think. Do we want to pay $250 for a Nintendo 3DS and then dole out $40 for deep, complex games that can be seen, felt, and touched (plus we can enjoy that new game smell)? Or do we want to spend a bit more on an iPhone or iPod Touch and gain access to fun 99 cent distractions that go directly onto the phone without a bag, a box, or an instruction booklet? We didn’t deal with this hefty breed of comparison shopping when the Intellivision fought the Atari 2600 in gaming’s stone age.

Technically, gaming hasn’t gotten more expensive: Shopping for systems and games has just become more complicated. When you fan away the dust, you suddenly realize that gaming is more affordable than it has ever been thanks to digital downloads. In fact, we’re living in an era of great steals. We don’t just go to the store and buy a game system: We also inherit a DVD player, or a Blu-ray player, or a 3D camera, or a phone, or a machine that can access the Internet and let you play with your friends without having to deal with them slumming around in your living room. Heck, we’re making out like bandits!

Don’t remind Nintendo, Microsoft or Sony, though. Let’s keep this between us, OK?

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About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.


  1. Gaming does seem to be getting more expensive, and I have heard a lot of banter about the prices of newer gen systems. That said, do I think there would be as much if the economy was better? Perhaps. People will cringe, and most will probably have to wait until “next pay day” to get that new system, but they will continue to buy, and I’m no different.

    There is also a lot of concern for the future of video games. People concerned with the industry dying a slow death, but I think the very idea that people continue to buy these systems and even games with their prices growing and growing is testament enough to the tenacity of the video game industry. I’m not holding my breath that the next big and bad system from Sony for Microsoft will come with less of a price tag, but I’m sure I will eventually succumb and buy one nonetheless.

  2. Gaming has always been fairly expensive, but I would agree that with the amount of choice out that it is getting cheaper:
    This site is a good example,
    you can purchase more than 50 games and applications, for the Nintendo DS, including one that allows you to play a 2d version of portal!
    For only €40!

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