If you like old video games you’re probably aware that this post is coming out around the corner of Atari’s 50th anniversary. Maybe instead of video games you’re just into old things, in which case you’re probably still aware of Atari. The neat thing about old things is that they’re generally pretty expensive on the resale market. Well it’s neat if you like selling stuff to collectors, and maybe not so much if you’re a collector. But now that we’re thinking of video games and expensive things, what is the most expensive video game?
Plumbing Is Lucrative
When you looked this up, the first thing you were considering was probably some old game you could buy at an auction or like… on eBay or something. Like the most expensive painting, you might have imagined a room of well-dressed shady rich people in an expensive, brightly lit white room. They’re all bidding increasingly high numbers as they whisper into earpieces and you realize they’re all stand-ins for the real rich people who put down hundreds of millions of dollars for trinkets instead of like… making the world a better place. Or something.
Anyway, the most expensive ticket price for a game. If you took a wild guess you probably guessed something Nintendo related. Partly because most people reading this post grew up on Nintendo properties. Also because Nintendo basically never drops the prices of their games. That, and they also repackage old games on new consoles and sell them at full price again. If you buy Nintendo games, you know.
So people like Nintendo games, because they’re good. For those who don’t play video games, the name “Mario” is probably the one that comes to your mind first when you hear “video game.” When people talk about the history of video games and the all-time greats, Super Mario 64 (1996) almost always makes the list. It’s the first time Mario went 3-D after all. That’s a long way of saying a near-pristine cartridge for Super Mario 64 sold for $1.56 million in 2021. That sale also marked the first time a video game sold for over $1 million–in second place is The Legend of Zelda (1987) at $870,000 sold just weeks before the $1.56 million Super Mario.
Oh, also the buyer was anonymous. Duh.
What’s The Most Expensive Game to Play?
Alright, if you’re reading this post you’re probably not going to be dropping $1.56 million for a game you can play for free. Fair. This is also a pretty complicated question, since you can play most games for a lower price than “unacceptably expensive.” But many will tell you that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Most PC or console games in 2022 cost $60 USD as an entry price. More recently, game publishers have been pushing for the $70 game. Games also love to ask for preorders, in which you pay for things publishers might not deliver on. Many of these preorders come with trinkets or statues that can shoot asking prices sky high. Nowadays they come with big spreadsheets. No seriously.
Here’s one of the most expensive ones: Star Citizen has been in development since 2011, and has raised over $480 million in Kickstarter funding. It even puts its hand out for a $27,000 pack. No, the game isn’t out yet.
If you play contemporary video games you’re familiar with absolutely heinous microtransactions. Let’s start with something you might know in the console realm, and believe us when we say it only gets worse.
The average player of console/PC games spends about $230 on in-game transactions, and 68% of players feel like they have to spend additional money to remain competitive.
You might have thought of Electronic Arts’ FIFA Ultimate Team (as well as its derivatives). It’s a mode where players can spend money to get the most valuable football players. Here’s the thing, you do this by buying loot boxes. It’s like buying card packs for baseball or Pokémon cards with a big caveat. You can’t resell things you don’t want. It’s really just gambling, except you can’t ever profit. Countries like Belgium have passed laws restricting games from using these loot boxes, as they target the vulnerable; and in the case of FIFA, children.
With that foundation, here’s a bombshell. In 2020 EA’s Ultimate Team modes (spread across their FIFA, Madden, and NHL games) made $1.62 billion. In 2020, these modes single-handedly generated 29% of all EA’s revenue that year. Now that’s an aggregate of all players, and we really only have anecdotal stories of people spending lots of money, like this guy who spent over $300,000 on microtransactions in FIFA over his total playtime.
Everything we’ve talked about is just chump change compared to the power of free-to-play and mobile games. Games like Pokemon Go and Candy Crush generate billions yearly. Mobile games generated brought Activision $2.2 billion in 2020. Across the industry, mobile games generate more than the console and PC markets combined.
Now you might be asking “how can a free game be so expensive?” Well they target big spenders (read: vulnerable people). They go for people who suffer from compulsions that lead them to spending lots of money–and it gets controversial when you remember lots of kids play video games. Here’s a panel from a mobile game developer who transparently lays out how to target the most vulnerable people and turn them into big spenders. These spenders are called “whales,” and it gets more icky-feeling the longer you think about it.
Kids who don’t know better can clean out their parents’ bank accounts, like this six year old in Connecticut who spent over $16,000 on mobile games before their parents caught on. Their parents were able to recover about $10,000 of that money, but it’s still a pretty gross story. These stories are very regular, from people spending tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars on microtransactions in mobile games.
The most we could find of any specific individual spending on a single game over their total playtime was $2 million. So theoretically the most expensive game is infinite, as are the bounds of scumminess when it comes to squeezing money out of you.
Back to Mario, see if you know who in his entourage knows how to drive a go-kart here.