Whenever somebody complains about video games being prohibitively expensive, they are inevitably met with derision. “BuT iF yOu AcCoUnT fOr InFlAtIoN…” someone else will chime in, seemingly oblivious to the fact that even if a game that cost 30 quid in the ‘00s ‘should’ cost 80 quid now or whatever the numbers are, charging £70 still means millions of people are missing out when you look at the realities of life.
In the UK, we’re living through what has been dubbed the “cost of living crisis”. This means that the price of household utilities like energy and water have skyrocketed, and food costs more, all while wages have stagnated. For some reason, we all accept that this is just how life is now, instead of marching on the Houses of Parliament to burn it down like the French would. Revolutionary proclivities aside, this obviously means that we, as a rule, have less disposable income.
I don’t mean to depress you, but the number of people using food banks in 2010-11 was 61,000. Just ten years later,, that number shot up to 2.5 million. The Trussell Trust, which organises most of the UK’s food banks, found in its latest report that recipients of its food parcels had on average only £248 per month to cover energy bills, groceries, council tax, before they could even think of spending money on things like trips to the cinema or buying a new video game.
Understand that when I say video games are not for the working class, I’m not talking about people who sometimes dip into their overdraft when booking flights for their Spanish holiday. I don’t mean people who work very hard but earn a sizeable income for their efforts. I mean people who are struggling to pay their bills, the people who can’t buy food for their kids. Some of them enjoy video games too, the kids and young adults especially, but a £70 price tag on every new release immediately tells them, “this is not for you.” Video games are foundational art for millions of people, and those who can’t afford them have these experiences and opportunities stripped away.
Who’s making games for working class kids? Who makes games that are actually affordable, not just adjusted-for-inflation-and-this-is-okay-actually? These aren’t rhetorical questions, I’m going to try to answer them. I’m not here to list games that are good value for money, if you spend an initial outlay of fifty quid then you’ll get hundreds of hours of sweet, sweet content, I’m here to find ways to play games that are actually cheap.
My first thought was the second hand market. It’s where I got all my games growing up, after all. But sadly prices have gone through the roof. I was looking into a niche Pokemon spin-off the other day and it was £95 second-hand. That is Nintendo and Pokemon, but it’s a common trend. Older games have been gentrified into collectible items for shelves, robbing them of their artistic value and pricing out players of experiencing them. You can get some games on the cheap – Titanfall 2, for example, is the best first-person shooter ever made and you can find it for under a tenner in most second hand stores. The problem is, you need a console to play it.
Console prices have risen with game prices, and the same goes for second hand and double for older generations as they become ‘retro’. PCs are similar. Warzone, Fortnite, and Apex Legends are all free, games for everyone, if they can afford a top of the range console or even more expensive PC to run them. And that’s before you get to the predatory microtransactions. A child playing a loot box simulator unsupervised on one of these games can rack up huge bills in an instant, which would hit twice as hard for low income parents.
So if consoles and PCs are out of the question, what’s left? The answer is mobile. Mobile gaming could be the future, especially for working class gamers. There are loads of free or dirt cheap games you can play on your phone, from Call of Duty and Clash of Clans, to Pokemon Go and Marvel Snap. While a lot of these are still plagued with the same microtransaction issues as the live-service games mentioned above, they’re convenient gaming options for players with no disposable income.
The only thing is, they’re shutting down. Just this week, EA announced it is closing Apex Legends Mobile and has cancelled an in-development Battlefield mobile game. These days, games have to perpetually earn more and more millions each year for shareholders to consider them a success. Just turning a regular profit isn’t enough any more, everything has to be unsustainably milked until it can’t make a single penny more, and this is where we end up, with the pail full of bloody, pus-filled cow lactate that is accessible games shutting down for good.
There’s Netflix Games too, although its anti-consumer account sharing crackdown doesn’t help its case. Most families have phones or TVs, games here are often free or included in your subscriptions. If you’ve got Netflix, you can play Shredder’s Revenge, Poinpy, Oxenfree, Kentucky Route Zero, Spiritfarer, Immortality, Into The Breach, and my 2021 Game of the Year Before Your Eyes, for no extra charge. That’s not everything it has to offer, it’s just some of the games that caught my attention as I scrolled through the impressive list.
You might notice I haven’t mentioned Game Pass. While Xbox Cloud Gaming would work on phones, I don’t see how the people queuing at food banks every week could rustle up £10.99 a month. We often forget that games on Game Pass aren’t actually free, we pay over £100 a year for the pleasure of having unrestricted access to them. For millions of people living on the poverty line, that’s not a viable option. The gentrification of second-hand consoles again comes into play here, as an old Xbox One will easily set you back £150.
Games are expensive. Brand new games and brand new consoles are inaccessible to millions. The second hand market is fucked, for want of a better phrase. Free games are shutting down due to relentless pressure from investors. Something needs to change. Shorter games that cost less to make would be a start, but somehow I don’t think cutting the next Call of Duty’s campaign in half would be reflected in the price. I don’t have all the answers, I just know that right now, in 2023, millions of working class people are being gatekept from this hobby in every possible avenue they turn to.
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