Ramblings: Video game value, putting a price tag on fun

Value is an extremely tricky word when it comes to video games and it varies greatly depending on who you ask. In the land of console and non-subscription (or free-to-play) PC games there exists a market and production cost driven price for perceived higher end video game titles. Unless you are a download only title pricing yourself at anywhere below that perceived price-point immediately places a stigma on your game by the public that it is not of the highest caliber or “Triple A” as they call them.

If you listen to any video game podcasts you’ll hear this discussion come up time and time again from all sorts of angles. These journalists and game reviews are not completely apathetic to the plight of the working man on a limited budget, but they are more liberal with what they expect out of a game. The question really is how much content do you prefer to get out of your game when you spend X number of dollars on it? More importantly, at what level of content are you willing to accept less hours played? It’s not really something you can throw a mathematical expression over and call a day that much is certain.

First I’d like to talk a little bit about what I consider value in a game and then talk about how that clashes a little bit with some of these reviewer’s mindsets for both boxed/steam/gog big budget titles as well as DLC and downloadable games. I won’t beat around the bush though – time spent playing a game is major factor for me but it comes with a pretty hefty “but”. Time spent in a game must be meaningful and rewarding. Spending three hours on a Saturday morning mining random planets in Mass Effect 2 does not count as meaningful time played to me. What I am looking for is solid, entertaining content that keeps me engrossed and enthralled for the duration of the game. That content may be spread out between a compelling main story and a host of interesting side quests and dialogue options. If a game has good replay value then that multiplicatively boosts the game’s value because it stays fresh that much longer. I will admit I tend to gravitate towards single player games for most of my non-wow related video-gaming and they are usually fairly long. When I look for a game these are things I tend to consider:

1.)     Main quest and side quest hours played: between 12 and 60

  1. Games like Arkham Asylum are satisfying even with a shorter game length due to dense and quality content
  2. RPG’s trend towards the higher end of the spectrum and their quality varies depending on how much busy work is involved

2.)     Compelling plot and dialogue

  1. Not having endless busy work between important plot elements, make sure set piece encounters stand out
  2. Give me dialogue choices that make me feel like I am having an impact on the game and may even replay the game to try other options

3.)     Quality music – as an audiophile I greatly value the quality of a game’s music and sound effects (shows effort)

4.)     Blocked Content

  1. Having more than one path to take in a game is fine if there is enough of a difference that replaying it is an option
  2. Experiencing the same content in two very different ways is also enjoyable (all content accessed, no replay needed and nothing missed)
  3. Choosing among factions in a game late, effectively locking off sections of content doesn’t appeal to me
    1. Shouldn’t need to replay a majority of the game to experience new material
    2. Critical decisions should be developed over the game’s length, if a save game close to the end could be accessed in order to fully access another fork in the ending then it defeats the purpose.

5.)     Innovation

  1. Makes up for multiple other aspects of a game being deficient to some degree
    1. Portal 2 clocked in a meager 6 hours but the innovation and amazing dialogue made up for it as well as promise of free DLC
    2.  Trine was a gorgeous side scrolling adventure that had a surprising level of depth than you would not think it had at first
  2. Ground breaking and industry changing mechanics and ideas are often worth the money simply to experience if the quality is high enough (while L.A. Noire has some shortcomings, not its length, the innovation of the engine is not to be missed)

Time is still a major factor when I choose a game even though I’d like to think that I value quality over quantity for the most part. With WoW eating up a sizeable chunk of my time during lulls between games I find myself clamoring for some new deep game with a compelling plot to occupy my time (want to be home playing Witcher 2 currently). Once invested in a game though it often takes precedence over everything gaming-time wise except for raiding. This is a major reason why I tend to prefer long semi-traditional non-JRPG’s as of late. Sixty to eighty hours of real solid game play for $60 dollars is a fairly impressive ratio. Generally I’d like to have roughly anywhere between 1.00 and 1.30 hours spent per $1 spent in a RPG. For more action oriented games 12 to 20 hours is perfectly reasonable and clock in at 12 to 30 minutes for $1 spent. Comparing either of these to a movie that runs you about 9 minutes for $1 spent. Please don’t take my numbers as an attempt to create an absolute scale because I know I deviate from it often enough (Portal 2 being a great example).

DLC and Downloadable Games can often get a bad wrap because people don’t understand the price structure or just assume that they are bad because they are cheap. Often times a piece of DLC will cost you about ten dollars and give you roughly three to four hours of gameplay – the equivalent of an 18 to 24 hour full length game at $60. This is usually made better by the fact that you get to continue your character’s story or gain access to new information, weapons, and story that you otherwise did not have. DLC like Minerva’s Den and Lair of the Shadow Broker felt good to me and certainly worth the money spent. Downloadable titles are similar and often offer comparable levels of enjoyment. I know that I’ve had phenomenal experiences with all of Popcap’s games as well as World of Goo, Outlands, Bionic Commando: Rearmed, Braid, P.B. Winterbottom, Limbo etc.

Game writers though sometimes have a completely different way of looking at game value. They clearly play so many games day in and day out that their threshold for being impressed is completely different. We all clearly want a game that is entertaining and innovative but I sometimes get the vibe that they weight the latter significantly highly. On Weekend Confirmed I’ve heard Garnett Lee say that he’d pay $200 dollars for Flower because of how amazing and creative he thought it was. Similarly Jeff Cannata has said before that game length really shouldn’t matter and there is no reason that a game couldn’t be amazing at only 4 hours. While Portal 2 does seem to satisfy his argument I have a hard time agreeing with it in general. I do not want a four hour game for my $60. Video gaming is an expensive hobby and I don’t see that changing as game budgets get higher and higher. Our money is limited and we will clearly need to strike a balance between innovation and “bang for your buck”.

Ultimately we all have our own guidelines and benchmarks a game much reach before we’d buy it. For me I tend to break my purchases down into three categories.

The first is handheld games: I am an avid gamer on my Iphone on the go and I am always on the lookout for new independent games both free and paid. I like puzzle games and adventure games that offer me bite size gaming chunks to be done on the go. My recent obsessions have been Cut the Rope and Swords and Sworcery. Getting quality content for only $0.99 or $2.99 is refreshing and may ultimately be where the handheld market is going.

I will always encourage people to try new and exciting indie downloadable titles. I highly recommend that you listen to some of the more well known gaming podcasts because they will often highlight those hidden gems you should check out. One thing I do give writers credit for is bringing attention to the smaller digital titles. These range from the more mainstream Plants Versus Zombies, World of Goo, and Outlands, to the small puzzle games on Steam that will keep you entertained for hours. Some purchases I am looking forward to are Trenches and Orcs Must Die.

With big budget games I am much much stingier. I’m not a metacritic junkie however if you look at the ratings in my Steam Library you might think otherwise. I have stuck to Dragon Age’s, Mass Effects, Borderlands, Red Faction: Geurilla, Witcher 2, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Fallout 3 and NV, and many others all clocking in at a lot of hours each. I am also eagerly awaiting the release of Skyrim later this year as well Arkham City. This list is hardly comprehensive and I’m sure I’m missing some games I’d love  to discuss but the point is there.

I’d love to know what games people out there are playing and what goes into your decision to purchase a game. Do you purchase DLC or do you have reservations about doing so? What downloadable only titles have you tried out in the last year?

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One response to “Ramblings: Video game value, putting a price tag on fun

  1. To me it’s almost exclusively the price tag. I am ready to give 5 bucks for just about any game, but I’ve got a problem with paying more than 15 bucks for just about any game too. Unless I know in advance that it must be awesome, like another Final Fantasy or Pokémon game. Maybe that is what makes me think twice before buying a new game really. How will I know it will be worth the money? I don’t really, and I want that guarantee with everything else I pay for – clothes, food, movies. We need more game demos!

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