If you think the new PlayStation 5 (PS5) and Xbox Series X/S consoles are expensive, here’s a reminder: video games have cost a lot more in the past. If it were sold today, the classic Atari 2600 would cost $889, more expensive than the consoles of the current generation. Not to mention the SNK Neo Geo, which would hit the stores for a whopping $650, or the infamous Apple Pippin, with a price tag of $600. Check out, below the list, the most expensive video games ever sold in the world, according to their launch price in dollars.
Before proceeding, it is worth clarifying: our ranking was made based on the value and year of the arrival of the consoles in the U.S., adjusted for U.S. inflation for the period until January 2021. Therefore, older devices have a lower nominal price and a higher updated price. The value in brackets is how much the product would cost today. The query was done using the US government’s Department of Labor calculator.
1995: Sega Saturn (1995) – $400 ($696)
After the success of Mega Drive, Sega found itself in the difficult situation of making its successor. While the North American side of the company invested in the Sega 32x accessory, taking advantage of the foundation of the previous console, the Japanese side decided to develop hardware from scratch. Thus, in the middle of this dispute, the Sega Saturn was born.
The Saturn sold relatively well in Japan, driven mainly by arcade ports, but in the rest of the world, the PlayStation won by a landslide. The reasons are simple: Saturn was much more expensive ($400) and Sony’s console had a more robust game library. The most ironic thing is that, after the abrupt end of the partnership with Nintendo, Sony even proposed to Sega the creation of a new console. But the Japanese Sega vetoed the partnership in favor of Saturn, and Sony decided to develop its videogame.
1982: Atari 5200 – $269 (US$746)
After years of dominating the gaming market, Atari entered the 80s threatened by new competitors, especially by personal computers. With this, the American company decided to launch a “turbocharged” version of the classic 2600, called the Atari 5200, in 1982. The hardware improvement came with a high launch price: $269.
It wasn’t only this that drove consumers away from the console. The controller, although it pioneered the introduction of the analog directional pad, was difficult to handle. The games didn’t have the promised graphic leap and there was no backward compatibility with the Atari 2600. To make matters worse, the 1983 gaming market crash was already looming. As a result, the Atari 5200 was discontinued two years after its release, selling about one million units worldwide.
2006: Sony PS3 [60GB] – $600 ($791.50)
At the time of its launch, the PlayStation 3 (PS3) caused astonishment when it was announced for a price beyond stratospheric. But it wasn’t only here that the price of the PlayStation 2 (PS2) successor caused a stir. In the USA, the version of the PS3 with 60 GB HD was sold in stores for $600 (around $791.50 in the current quotation).
The high-end components were the main justification for the high price of Sony’s video game: the Blu-ray player, the Cell processor, and the exclusive graphics chip, in addition to the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth cards – all this made the PS3 too expensive. For comparison, the Xbox 360 had a launch price of $400 in 2005, while Wii was only $249 at launch in 2006. As a result, Nintendo’s revolutionary console took the upper hand in the generation.
1989: NEC TurboGrafx-CD – $400 ($821)
Before Sega bet on the CD to boost sales of the Mega Drive, thus creating the Sega CD, another console of the 16-bit generation had already tried this strategy. The TurboGrafx-16 became a best seller in Japan (under the name PC-Engine), but never took off in the West. One of the reasons is that the console was released in the USA at the same time as the Mega Drive, which had a much better marketing job, and ended up being eclipsed.
The uniqueness of the TurboGrafx-CD, the first video game with a disc player in the world, could give the console an advantage amid the war between Sega and Nintendo, but the high price and the lack of games for the new accessory buried the pretensions of conquering new territories. Only 500,000 units of the TurboGrafx CD were sold worldwide. NEC even tried a new venture in 1992 with the TurboDuo, a cheaper version with a built-in CD player, but the market was already completely dominated by the Mega Drive and SNES.
1977: Atari 2600 – $199 ($889)
The classic Atari Video Computer System (later called 2600) was responsible for the first great video game fever in history. It consolidated the idea of consoles capable of running different games using cartridges, something new at the time. Its great advantage was to take advantage of successful arcade games, such as Space Invaders and Pac Man, to conquer this nascent market. It was like having an arcade at home, the company said.
This novelty had a price: $199, which was offset by the low value of the cartridges, sold for about $20. Even so, the success of the Atari 2600 was gigantic and encouraged other companies to enter the world of video games. In 1983, Atari 2600 eventually succumbed because of poor decisions and was swallowed by the 1983 crash in the gaming market, leaving a legacy that lasts until today.
1980: Mattel Intellivision – $275 ($924)
In the early days of consoles, many tried to rival the Atari 2600, and the Intellivision was the closest. Its hardware was one of the most advanced of the time and its modular structure allowed the addition of accessories that gave new features to the games. One of the most curious was the adapter to run games from the Atari 2600 itself and a subscription service to download titles on cable TV (yes, this in the 80s).
The only problem with Intellivision was the price. At launch, in 1980 the console was priced at $275, while the Atari 2600 was already sold at the time for $125. In 1983, Mattel released a smaller and cheaper version, called Intellivision II, for $150. The problem was that the crash in the North American gaming market was already causing damage and Mattel ended up selling the Intellivision brand after more than 3 million consoles were sold.
1996: Apple Bandai Pippin – $600 ($1,014)
Apple’s history has a few failures along the way, and the Pippin was perhaps the biggest of them. In 1996, losing relevance in the personal computer market, the apple company looked to the world of video games for a lifeline. In partnership with Japan’s Bandai, Apple developed a hybrid between computer and console, with internet access and everything else, and the result was disastrous.
To begin with, the Pippin looked like a console, was sold as a console, but had a computer price ($600). To have an idea, the Playstation was sold for half that amount. Also, only 25 games were released, most of them being lower quality ports – although the Pippin had better hardware than its rivals. For these reasons, after selling 42,000 units worldwide, the product was canceled the following year, when Steve Jobs returned to Apple and started the company’s restructuring process.
1991: SNK Neo Geo AES – $650 ($1,263)
In the 80s and 90s, SNK dominated the arcade market and the idea of migrating to the console market seemed natural. However, the components of their machines were too advanced for the time, with two processors and a 24-bit graphics chip. As a result: the price of the Neo Geo was astronomical. At launch in the U.S. in 1991, the game sold for $650, more than twice as much as a SNES.
Not only was the console expensive, but so were the gigantic cartridges. Each one cost about $200. No wonder SNK initially intended to sell the Neo Geo only to businesses, such as game stores and rental stores. However, the high demand caused the company to expand the scope to home users, creating a niche for overpriced video games.
The Neo Geo did not compete with the SNES and the Mega Drive, but it had its loyal audience. So much so that it got new versions, such as the Neo Geo CD and the Neo Geo Pocket. Even so, only 1 million units of the Neo Geo AES were sold worldwide.
1993: 3DO – $700 ($1,284)
The idea behind the 3DO was ambitious: to create not only the most advanced video game of its time but also a new kind of electronic product that would become as common in homes as video cassettes. To do this, EA founder Trip Hawkins’ company licensed the new product to other companies such as Panasonic, Sanyo, and Goldstar (which would become LG). But this marketing strategy did not work out.
Sold at launch for $700, the 3DO was seen as too expensive by consumers. For the price of one console, it was possible to buy a Mega Drive and a SNES. Another complaint was the lack of exclusive games since most were ports from other systems. But the linchpin was the arrival of the new generation of video games, such as Playstation and Sega Saturn. Thus, 3DO left the scene in 1996 selling 2 million units worldwide.
1991: Philips CD-i – $800 ($1,554)
While consumers around the world were trading in their vinyl collection for CDs, Philips and Sony were taking the next steps in the newly consolidated format. With the partnership of the two companies the CD-i, the interactive CD, was born. To run this ancestral device of the DVD and Blu-ray, Philips launched a device with the same name at a reasonable price for pioneer electronics: $800.
The problem was that interactivity and games went hand in hand, and the marketing around the novelty was that the CD-i was a futuristic console. It even came with control similar to the Mega Drive, plus exclusive games from Nintendo franchises such as Zelda and Mario.
However, it soon became clear that the CD-i was not designed to run games, since the quality of the games was much worse than the cartridge games. The device survived for a while longer on account of educational content and FMV games (Full Motion Video, also called interactive movies). Only in 1998 was the CD-i discontinued sales of approximately 1 million units.
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