Over the past five years digital content has become more prominent in the game industry, moving from a tool generally at home among the PC crowd over major consoles to a legitimate channel through which to acquire content. With Xbox Live Arcade being one of the groups that has benefited the most from the increased relevance of the digital marketplace, those who have watched the brand grow from within have a unique take on the phenomenon. The service’s director is now stating that not only has digital content grown to the level of retail quality, but the fans themselves have taken notice.

The current generations of consoles have brought many avenues for studios to sell content, especially independent developers who don’t have access to a seemingly limitless pools of funds. As the quality of the content increased over the years, it was inevitable that the price would follow suit.

While many games used to debut at $9.99/800 Microsoft points, more and more titles have started to release for the price of $14.99/1200 Microsoft points. Xbox Live Arcade Portfolio director Chris Charla has revealed that despite this sales have not slowed down, and given the major rise in usage, the future of the digital market is impossible to predict:

“If you look at Live Arcade, and do the math, and look at the publicly available sales numbers, you can see that average prices on XBLA have crept up over the last few years, which has been an interesting trend because on some app markets there’s been a race to zero as fast as possible, we’ve seen a little bit of the opposite happening. I don’t really know where prices are going to go — ultimately, that’s set by the market — but it has been really gratifying to see that people are willing to pay a premium price for digital content.”

Charla also believes that it speaks to the quality of XBLA titles that gamers are still willing to purchase them despite the price hike. With games like Bastion being named higher in quality by critics than the recently released Duke Nukem Forever, the lines drawn between downloadable and ‘real’ games are becoming increasingly arbitrary. For Charla, a good game is a good game, regardless of the size or distribution channel:

“Sometimes, when [developers] talk about Live Arcade they’re like, ‘We want to do a boxed quality game on Live Arcade’, and I’m like, ‘What does that mean?’ I can point at a bunch of 38 and 42 and 56 metacritic scoring boxed games, so it actually kind of pisses me off. I think the games that we’re shipping — a Limbo or a Castle Crashers — are as good as anything on the market.”

Many high profile titles have started to release at the new price point, such as Limbo, Section 8: Prejudice and Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1. One could even argue that the options in pricing that digital sales makes possible can help a project get off the ground, with games like Super Meat Boy. Team Meat’s hit XBLA title released on sale for for $9.99/800 Microsoft Points and while many would have been happy to pay five dollars more, the lower price likely helped them to acquire sales from more apprehensive gamers.

It appears that the new price point is becoming more common place as not only XBLA but PSN titles as well have started to charge more for their titles.  If that’s a result of better and better content being offered through the services, then we’re all for it.

Do you support the new pricing structure of XBLA/PSN titles? Think there will ever come a day when digital and retail outlets will be seen as equals? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.

Source: GamesIndustry.biz (via VG247)