Games are expensive. In general, they run around sixty dollars a piece. Handheld games are cheaper at around forty dollars, and mobile games are even cheaper ranging from fifteen dollars to ninety nine cents. Along this price spectrum there seems to be a content expectation among buyers. The more money they spend, the more content they expect. Specifically, they want to spend, or have the option to spend, more time with the game if it costs more. Is this a particularly fair expectation to place on games? I think no. Games are not a service to be rendered; they’re creative works. As such, their value cannot be reduced to amount of play time. It’s a bit more complicated than that.
There are two fairly recent games that stick out in my memory that came under a lot of fire for being short when compared to their price tag. The Order: 1886 and Monument Valley were blasted for apparently not delivering enough content to justify their prices. Both games could be finished in a relatively short amount of time, and, in most cases, many buyers were left feeling like they had wasted their money. Based on the prices of these games, there was an assumption that they would take as long to finish as other games in the same price range. When the games suddenly rolled credits, people felt like they had been cheated.
These unmet expectations are not a result of the games themselves. They do not give a guarantee of a minimum amount of gameplay time. As I mentioned earlier, games are not a service. They are not required to meet an assumption based upon their price. If I buy a donut, I shouldn’t get half a donut. If I buy a sixty dollar game, it doesn’t have to have a minimum amount of game content. The creators behind the games spend a lot of time and effort crafting their vision. At the end of that time, they assign a price based on their financial and personal investments. At that point, it is up to the consumer to personally determine if that product is something they wish to spend that amount of money on. This might come as shock, but game creators don’t owe game consumers anything. They can make whatever they want.
So pretty. So short. Is it worth it?
This is why research before purchasing is so important. If you bought The Order: 1886 and were upset at how short it was, you either didn’t read any reviews beforehand, or you pre-ordered it. I highly recommend never pre-ordering a game and always reading reviews before buying. Waiting for a while after release will give you a good picture of what the game is going to be like and what others see as its biggest strengths or weaknesses. Another added benefit is that games usually drop in price a couple months after they’re released. If you’re tight on funds and don’t mind waiting, that’s definitely the way to go.
So the question still stands, what does justify the price of games? Well, the quick answer is the amount of work developers put into their games. They work hard and deserve to be compensated for that work, but there’s more to it than this. It really comes down to personal experience. The reason that there is so much controversy around game prices vs their content is, because they aren’t being viewed for what they are. Games are works of art. Just take a look at how many artists and writers are in the credits for a lot of the big AAA games nowadays. They’re not just time killing products. They contain fascinating worlds, introduce us to interesting characters, and take us on wild journeys. They’re an interactive medium, and that means that the experience is a result of the work and the user. I love Bloodborne and some people hate it. To me, it was worth every penny, but to them it was a waste of money. You see, the content is the same in both cases; it’s only the personal experience that changes. Because of this, the price is justified by your experience with the content and not the content itself.
Monument Valley was $3.99 when I purchased it, and I think it only took me an hour and a half to two hours to finish it. That’s a pretty short play through time, but the experience has stuck with me to this day. The art in that game was gorgeous, and I was intrigued by its fairly simple story. Every level of the game looked like it could have been placed on a canvas. I just couldn’t wait to get to the next level and see what color scheme and design they were going to use next. There wasn’t a lot of content there, but what was there was fantastic. Compared to most other iPhone games, it was pricey, but I’ve never had another iPhone game make that kind of impact on me. I mean, I spend almost that much on a coffee from Starbucks, and I forget about that five minutes after I finish it. This game’s presentation and design clicked with me in a way that created a truly memorable experience. That’s what it comes down to. If the game speaks to you and has a lasting impact on you, then it’s worth it.
So many hours spent with this game. Zero regrets.
Now there are cases where games have both a ton of content and get great reviews. Two games that come to mind are Skyrim and The Witcher 3. Even in these cases, I would argue that it is not the amount of content, but rather the quality of the content that has led to the success of these games. Just take a look at Assassin’s Creed: Unity. That game was filled to the brim with content, but it reviewed poorly. Large amounts of content and the ability to spend a lot of time with a game do not justify the price of a game. Large games can be great and completely worth the money, but so can small games. This is where the idea of games as art comes back. If I covered a wall in stick figure doodles and said it was worth more than the Mona Lisa because there was more of it, you’d probably call me an idiot. That’s an extreme example, but the point stands that art is subjective. Skyrim was worth the money to me, because I adored the world that it had created. It spoke to the part of me that loves dragons and mythology. If you took the same game and gave it a steam punk overlay, I wouldn’t be nearly as interested.
Games are a two way street. When the content clicks with the right person, it’s fantastic. Sometimes that same content doesn’t land quite so well with someone else, but that doesn’t mean the content is bad. Most products can be easily defined as good or bad. This light bulb lasts for a long time so it’s good and worth the money. Games don’t fit into this, and that’s a good thing. We really don’t want games to start following a formula in order to be deemed worthy of a price point. Personally, I want games that take risks and push the boundaries of what games can be. Sometimes those games won’t hit home for me, but they probably will with someone else. As long as games keep trying new things and adding in more and more diversity, I will gladly keep paying for them. We’re here to play what a lot of great people are creating, not here to order a specific product.
Remember to check out reviews and videos of games before you buy them. It’s on you to determine if you want the game, not on the creators to deliver what you want. Don’t worry yourself with how long the game takes to finish or how many side quests there are. Focus on what the game is presenting to you and whether or not you’re connecting with that. If you are, then great. If you aren’t, then at least you’ve learned something else about your gaming likes and dislikes. So, what are games worth? They’re worth the impact that they have on you.
You can follow me on Twitter @jakecrump.
If you’d like, you can support my writing here.