Why Nintendo games have always cost about $50

Looking out for its fans.
Looking out for its fans.
Image: Reuters/Yuriko Nakao
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Even though the price of videogame consoles has fluctuated wildly over the years, it seems that it has always cost about the same amount of money to purchase all of the games for these systems. And an old German copy of a French documentary on the Japanese company Nintendo—recently uncovered by Fast Company—might shed some light on why that is.

A part of the documentary, called Otaku, which focuses on the Japanese manga culture, was recently uploaded to a YouTube channel that focuses on videogame history, called Game Escape. The 10-minute clip documents life at Nintendo in 1994, according to Fast Company, when the company was arguably at the peak of its dominance of the videogame market.

In the clip, we see what it was like to work at Nintendo at the time, and how employees were encouraged to actually play the games they were designing and selling. The whole video is worth a watch, but partway through the clip (it starts at 2:43), press secretary Masayuki Uemara explains something interesting about the company’s pricing structure for its consoles and games. Uemara said that the Super Nintendo console (which was called the Super Famicom in Japan and was Nintendo’s newest console at the time) cost a bit more than its less-powerful predecessor, the NES—roughly €125 compared to €200 (about $149 and $220 respectively)—but that the company has always tried to keep the cost of the games the same.

“We determine our pricing based on the average allowance of a Japanese child,” Uemara said in the video. “We see this sum of money as our point of orientation and continually develop new games at this price point.”

When the Super Nintendo launched, games cost around $50. The video isn’t specific on this point, but $50 was presumably Japanese kids’ total allowance for a month or more. And while some games have cost a bit more in the interceding years—Nintendo 64 games tended to cost around $75 when the console was first launched, but soon fell back down to around the $50 mark—it does seem that Nintendo set a trend that the industry has roughly followed. Even today, new games for other consoles cost about $50-$70, perhaps suggesting that there’s been an increase in the average allowance of Japanese children in the last few years. According to the US bureau of labor and statistics, however, $50 in 1994 is now worth about $81, meaning children today might even have some money left over from their allowance.