Returnal is the first game to truly put the new $70 MSRP base price to the test

Price and value tend to come up a lot while discussing video games. It makes sense given the average price of books, music, and movies can’t compete with the average price of a game. And now that average price has gone up to $70 (and much more around the world), which is quite a beefy entry cost. Not many games have charged that full MSRP aside from Returnal, Sony’s newest PS5 exclusive and biggest test of this new price point.

There have been other $70 games within the past few months. The current-gen versions of Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War, NBA 2K21, and MLB: The Show 21 are all $70, $10 more than their last-gen counterparts. Demon’s Souls is $70 and Godfall is somehow the same. Other than that, every other current-gen standard edition game is $60 or less.

That is an odd selection of titles since three of them are in annualized franchises that people already have an opinion of. They’re also all on last-gen systems. Demon’s Souls is a remake — a very good remake — but a remake of game people know and if they don’t know Demon’s Souls specifically, then they probably have some reverence for Soulslikes. And Godfall… well, it seems no one actually bought Godfall so it could have been $20 or $200 and seemingly nothing would have changed. It defies any argument on either side.

A special case

What are the permanent upgrades in Returnal?

Returnal is uniquely positioned out of this prestigious bunch. It’s not just a game people can only play on the PS5, but it’s also a new IP with unique gameplay that isn’t quite like any one thing. This is what people tend to ask for as sequels and remasters usually dominate the discussion. People say they crave incredible, new experiences and exclusive games on the PS5 that can’t be done anywhere else and Returnal is that. The reviews have generally praised the game for its stunning quality and technical advances. Players also seem to like it for the most part, aside from a few problems people have with the save system.

But all of that comes up right against the $70 price point. That’s a lot of money and grows as tax gets included in addition to territorial price hikes, both of which are factors that can drive up the cost anywhere from $5 to $50. It changes the conversation and puts the price even more at the forefront than it already was. It’s been quite the discussion on Reddit.

The question begs to be asked: Will this be viable going forward? Most other games will likely all make the jump to $70, especially as PS4 and Xbox One ports begin to fade away. It’s going to happen eventually, but it likely won’t affect every developer equally. Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed probably won’t take too big of a hit. The same probably goes for other gigantic, must-play experiences from known developers and franchises. Naughty Dog and the new God of War will likely be mostly shielded.

It’s also likely that more risky games will bear the brunt of this hike. Games that aren’t in established IP or ones that don’t crack a 94 on OpenCritic might be in more danger. Returnal is just the first of these types of games and a possible litmus test on the viability of $70 for the grand majority of games that aren’t in the “prestige gaming” category.

Housemarque and Sony have not released sales numbers for Returnal. The game has not even been a week yet so that data might not even come out until the April or May NPD charts hit. It also might not even be the best, most pure experiment since first-party Sony games tend to do well. But regardless of this qualifier, this feels like the first true test case of this higher price point and its viability. It’s a new experience that’s only on a new system, which is probably what people want. It’s just up to whether they also want to pay full price for that.