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The question of cost.

March 18, 2019

I got into a bit of a Twitter debate over the weekend. I know, I can almost hear you rolling your eyes and thinking "bloody hell, what a shock," but this one was a bit weird. Firstly, it remained largely respectful, but secondly (and more importantly) it veered off in some unexpected directions that led me to a question that I don't really have an answer for - hence a desire to explore it here. As usual.

 

It all began innocently enough. A guy I follow (who works for Naughty Dog) posted some gifs of the facial animation rig for The Order 1886. Remember that one? It was a Playstation 4 exclusive made by Ready At Dawn, that released in February 2015 and was expected to set the world on fire on account of how stunningly pretty it was. It failed in the former, and succeeded wonderfully at the latter. A tweet about how under-rated I thought it was led to a surprising number of people weighing in to agree - which was the first thing that shocked me, as generally a tweet like that is a recipe for a good old-fashioned pile-on of negativity. The other responses were generally from people who disagreed for a variety of reasons. An assertion that the game ran at a bizarre 24fps was rebuked, leading into the inevitable 30fps vs 60fps debate (personally, as long as the framerate is smooth, I don't care), with parallel conversations running about the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen and the extent to which they detracted from the game's visuals (I don't recall even really noticing them).

 

The direction that surprised me though was none of these things. It was the question of cost. 

 

 

One guy mentioned he'd bought it for $10 and had been impressed with how pretty it was... leading someone else to immediately pipe up that the game was good, the graphics amazing, the story reasonable - but not good enough for a $60 price tag. I'm paraphrasing here, but that was the gist. 

 

I think I might be in a minority here, but when I buy a game or a console, the cost of it isn't usually at the top of my list of decision-making factors. If I really want a game and it's £50, I'll generally buy it. Specifically waiting for a game to drop in price isn't something I really do. If I pick up a game a long time after launch, that's generally a decision dictated by how many other games I have on my pile of shame (still growing, despite my best efforts - thanks for asking!) when it launches, or how similar it is to other things I'm playing or have played recently rather than any kind of cost/benefit analysis on my part. I'm acutely aware of how lucky I am to not need to measure a game against a simple metric of "how long is it" to decide whether or not it's "worth it."

 

All the same though, I can't help but think that if that is how people are making their decisions, then something's wrong with the calculation - as if $60 is "too much" for 20 hours of entertainment, you have to question what these people can possibly do with their time that is "worth it" by their own standards. $60 for 20 hours of entertainment breaks down to $3/hour.

 

*record scratch*

 

Right, hang on a second. Hit pause for a moment. I'm going to do the rest of this in £ - because that's what I understand best, and based on the metrics of my readership, that's what most of my readers know best too. So, let's re-do a bit of that maths. A new game here is generally about £50. If it entertains for 20 hours then it's breaking down to £2.50/hour.

 

 

Compare that to a sporting event, a concert, or a movie and you can immediately see how comparatively inexpensive it actually is, really. Put it this way... I can't think of many other things I can do for £2.50 an hour. Certainly not anything that's worth doing, anyway. And yet this is a mindset that persists, and seems strangely specific to games. It seems as though some games provide so much content for their cost of entry that any game that fails to live up to these expectations is deemed as "not offering enough" in exchange for it.

 

Take Destiny for instance. It's my go-to example for just about everything but I haven't used it for a month or two... so let's drag the ol' girl out. I played the original for 942 hours and 46 minutes - an amount of time that only puts me in the top 30% of the player base, and yet I find in retrospect to be bordering on the insane. I think I spent about £100 on Destiny in total - which means it cost me about 10p/hour to play a game which my life came to revolve around to a degree that bordered on unhealthy. That's 1/25th of the price of The Order: 1886. In that context, I guess I can see how a single player campaign based game that you'll play through once, possibly twice, and then walk away from can seem comparatively expensive.

 

 (In case you're wondering, this was grabbed from www.wastedondestiny.com.)

 

So, where is this all going? I guess I just find myself frustrated when people write down videogames to such a simple formula. I can totally understand why they do, and acknowledge that that's just the reality of the situation for a lot of people... but it frustrates me nonetheless.

 

If you base all of your gaming decisions on this simple equation, you'll game for cheap... but I also think you'll miss out on a lot of the cool, experimental stuff that falls between the cracks of the massive-online-persistent-shared-world-loot-based-shooters that seem to swallow so many of us whole. For me, I tend to judge a game as worthwhile or not based on what it tried to do and how successful (or not) it was. Some of my favourite games are ones that I'd never have picked up in a million years if my main criteria was the time taken to play through it. I think a good videogame should be considered in the same way as a commission of a piece of art. You're not just paying for the thing that's being produced. You're paying for the expertise and patience taken to make it. You're paying for the vision, and the false starts, and the failures. You're helping to pay for every single screw up that the developer or team learned from along the way, every single compromise they made. Don't judge games purely on how long they last, I guess. Try to judge them on how they make you feel while they last. 

 

Just... try to take time to try stuff. Try not to see a game that's "short" as having no other redeeming features. They often do. Some of them will stay with you for a lot longer than games that you'll spend more time with, believe me.

 

 

 

 

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