s has often been said before, the games software world has much in common with the music industry. Leaving aside the connoisseur’s direct metal mastered LP discs, and the new technology-priced compact discs, the popular music LP has found its pricing niche in the £4–£6 range. Above the six pounds mark the product begins to meet consumer resistance: within the mind of every potential pop purchaser is a set of scales which comes out with a value-for-money readout working on the figures of pocket money/disposable income and the real worth of bass guitars, leads, snares and high-hats syncopated into some sort of harmony.
In case, as a young pop consumer, you think the above pretty obvious, it might be worth putting a historical perspective on this by pointing out the LPs dogged persistence for keeping its token value pegged at the £5 mark since 1976, a date from which inflation spring-boarded. This pegging of the price was not done without some modifications and cost-cutting, most noticably a thinning of the plastic and a reduction in quality which meant people like myself buying three records at a time in the sure knowledge that at least one of them would be a bad pressing.
Now let’s have a look at what’s been happening in software in 1985. Figures show that Spectrum software sales are way ahead of those for Commodore. The BBC and C16 markets are much smaller than the two big boys but are significant, while the third biggest, Amstrad, is continuing to improve and catch up. The most successful company in terms of units sold was Mastertronic followed by US Gold and Ocean. Since US Gold and Ocean are in reality the same stable you might take them combined to be the greatest force in software. Mastertronic are famed for their cheap software selling in newsagents and petrol stations, though their £2.99 range has recently appeared in the high street multiple stores and is fast gaining a respectability previously thought beyond the budget game. The US Gold and Ocean group are famed for their top quality games selling at the seven and eight pounds mark. To confuse matters, rumours abound of both groups each planning to release games in the other’s domain.
A software house makes far less profit, after paying product costs and royalties, on a cheap game when compared to the margin on a full-priced product. A cheap game has to sell eight to nine times more to make the same profit as a full-priced game. But the more expensive game needs advertising and involves a greater risk — kids aren’t going to part with eight pounds on a whim. Clearly there are many pros and cons to full- and budget- priced software but what I’d like to suggest is a price for software which will encourage both high consumer sales (with reduced copying), and quality programs. This figure I believe is somewhere around the five pounds mark, much the same as record prices.