Software was expensive as heck in the 1980s

Inflation and market growth hide from us the true prices of old things, and software is no exception. Rob Griffiths charts the high cost of software in the 1980s.

Want to play Ultima, an open-world fantasy role-playing game? Its graphics are just as stunning as those of Missile Defense. A reviewer notes the cost, and states that it was well worth it… Applying the calculated 2.753 inflation factor to $39.95, Ultima would cost you $109.98 in today's money. Ouch!

I always wondered at the slightly cultish loyalty of older computer guys to specific software from the 80s and early 90s. We all have our reasons for such things, but sunk cost brain lurks among all of them.

These were for relatively small audiences, though, benefiting from survivorship bias in today's tech-soaked world. Back then you might have had to break even on hundreds of sales, and then spend years tech-supporting a generation of people new to computers.

Consider, also, that the median house price when Ultima came out was about $45k. That's about $160k in today's money—less than half the median house price today. A lot of young, middle-class folks had more disposable income than they knew what to do with and few of today's expensive distractions and paranoias.