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£57 for a PS3 game: Why PSN's pricing structure is broken

Opinion: Sony has to fix the bizarre prices - before it's too late, argues PSM3...

Say I were to develop an urge to play Red Faction Armageddon. The cheapest option would be to borrow it from a friend. But friends don't let friends play the poor-selling, 5.5-in-PSM3-scoring Red Faction Armageddon, so I could pick it up used for seven or eight quid.

At the time of writing, Amazon are selling it new for £9.99. If the urge were really desperate - I'd fallen on my head from a height, say - I could run to a high street shop such as HMV and buy it for under £30. And finally, if I'd simply gone entirely mad, I could download it from the PlayStation Store for a ludicrous £57.99.

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For an outlet that bypasses costly processes such as packaging, printing and transportation, prices remain bafflingly high - higher, sometimes, than any other method. Sure, there are some costs - we'll outline them later - but downloads can't be resold, further decreasing value.

Such prices are disastrously out of line with what consumers consider a game's real worth. And it's not just so-so games like Red Faction Armageddon that are caught in this madness.

Dead Space 2, for instance, is an inexplicable £47.99 (£17.99 in HMV and Amazon), Mass Effect 2 and its inter-species rutting retails for £47.99 (£17.99 on Amazon or Play), while Sony's own inFamous 2 is an electrifying £49.99, despite being just £27.99 from Amazon or Play.

So you can download these three titles for £146, or buy boxed copies for £64 and recoup around half that by selling them when you're done. £35 or £145? Hmm. Tricky. What the hell's going on?

To be fair, not everything is so unhinged. Many games are priced the same as their physical counterparts - PlayStation Move Heroes is £39.99, for instance - but even then, the price registers as unrealistic. There's no physical product. Where are the savings from the lack of materials or physical distribution costs?

Why aren't any of these savings being passed on to me, the customer?

Even harder to understand is the pricing for PSP titles. With PlayStation Vita arriving early next year bearing a touch screen, tilt functions and powers of telepathic suggestion, the PSP is being refashioned as a 'value proposition' - a budgetfriendly, DS-baiting kids' handheld.

Yet the new E1000 model can't even play downloaded games - a sure sign that Sony doesn't intend to support PSP's digital sales in anything but the short term.

This should be the cue for Sony to heavily discount PSP games before they become obsolete, but store prices are madder than ever. Ace Combat Joint Assault remains a defiant £31.99 (a mere £23.99 more than on Amazon) while FIFA 10 - 10! - also clings on at £31.99. That's the same price as FIFA 11 - which is itself £14 more expensive than a boxed copy from Play. This only highlights the Store's frustrating failure to update its pricing.

NAKED VIDEO

The problem is at its most nakedly obvious when it comes to video. Let's take as an example Zack Snyder's overblown actionlobotomy Sucker Punch, as it's available in every permutation: standard and high definition, rental and full purchase. Again the prices reflect no advantage to sucking the movie through the digi-pipe. Owning the film costs you £14.99 in HD and £11.99 in SD - both more than their Blu-ray / DVD equivalents via Amazon.

FIFA 10 is £31.99. That's the same price as FIFA 11 - itself £14 more than a boxed copy on Play

But the real stab in the eye is the rental price. The single-view, we're-trying-to-draw-you-in-for-animpulse-buy price is £4.99 for SD and £5.99 for HD. That's likely to trigger no response other than to not watch the film.

It's important to be honest about what the video Store is competing with. We live in a sea of cheap, accessible entertainment. First of all there's LoveFilm, the movie rental and streaming service available on the PS3 itself - its cheapest subscription, giving you access to three Blu-rays a month, is £5.99. A little context for the Store's rental prices, there.

And then there's the internet, which stocks 1080p transfers of every major film the moment they're released for nothing at all. We do not advocate piracy - it's illegal and destructive - but it's blatantly obvious that to curb illegal filesharing, legitimate alternatives have to at least be attractive - as convenient and as easy as stealing, and sensibly priced, rather than expensive and clogged with prove-you're not-a-criminal-hoops to jump through.

THE REASONS WHY

There are some justifications for the wonky pricing. Even though buying digital seems like it should be near-costless, bandwidth needs to be paid for and servers need maintaining. Almost certainly not helping is the UK's broadband network which, if it were a schoolchild, would be the last one picked for any team.

A global 2010 survey put us 27th for net speeds with an average of 3.8Mbps, compared to Japan's 7.8Mbps and South Korea's 12Mbps. The truth is our infrastructure is weak, and doing business over it is more costly.

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There's also the issue of how much the creators and copyright holders take (I like cheap things, but concede it needs to be more than 'nothing'). As an example of how the latter effects prices, consider that Lego Pirates Of The Caribbean from Disney costs £13.99 on PSP, while Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars from LucasArts costs £31.99, despite releases just two months apart.

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