The recent release of Blizzard's highly anticipated Overwatch has thrown an issue regarding modern video games back into the limelight. That issue is one of value for money; are we getting our money's worth? And how do we define "getting value" for this entertainment medium?
Determining value for money in today's gaming world isn't as straightforward as it was over a decade ago. Due to advances in technology and the increasing importance of online features, games now are released in a variety of methods and can be changed/improved at any time after their release.
To evaluate the subject of value for money, I have decided to break the issue down to a look at five ways we determine financial justification. Let's go!
1. Gameplay hours
Arguably the one criterion many people judge a game's value on and understandably so; if a game provides hours upon hours of entertainment, then its cost is understandable and acceptable.
Before the emergence and popularity of online gaming and the abundance of online multiplayer focused/specific games, a video game's cost and value were largely based on the hours spent playing. Now, in the era of constant updates and DLC, there seems to be a growing trend of games being released that are not quite as complete as they could be on launch. Recent examples of this are Splatoon and Battlefront. This trend often conjures up the same question among gamers: Is the game worth the asking price, especially when it's full price?
Often in previews/reviews, you will hear that such and such a game offers over 30 hours+ gameplay. This is supposed to entice players into thinking they will be getting their money's worth. But if those 30+ hours are bland, offering little variety in gameplay and excitement, would a game justify a full-price release? No, sir, it would not. And that leads nicely into my next point...
I'm one of those guys who prefers quality over quantity (along as there is some substance to the game). I would rather play a game that last 5 hours but is well constructed and refined than a large sprawling 30+ hours experience that has a few flaws and isn't as well made. I got much more out of Journey's two-hour playthrough than I have putting numerous hours into Fallout 4 trying to enjoy it.
For me, quality is arguably the most important factor when determining a game's value. If a game is well made, you don't mind paying for it. However, even if a game is short but well made, you likely won't be paying top-shelf prices for it.
To refer back to Journey, I had no issue paying the asking price (which, at the time, was approx. £10); however, if the developers decided to charge somewhere in the region of £25, I may have struggled arguing the game was worth that value. Sure it is a quality, enthralling, provocative game — one of its kind — but there is no denying there isn't much substance to it in terms of actual gameplay, and arguably the game offers little replay-ability.
Quality is an important element when evaluating the price of a game, but it cannot solely be used in deciding a game's worth. A well-made game will often need some of the next criterion for it to be able to justify its cost...
You could arguably tie this into the first criterion, but, hey, what're you going to do? When weighing up a game's value, players often look to what's included within the game to decide if they are getting their money's worth. Due to the popularity of multiplayer-focused games, this criterion has come more to the spotlight — especially as many release at full price but then seem light on content (i.e. lacking maps, modes, etc).
Some could argue Overwatch is light on content and therefore is overpriced. In this instance, I would disagree as the game's vast, varied character roster provides a large bulk of Overwatch's substance. However, if the gameplay in Overwatch were not as well constructed and enjoyable as it is, then the question of value would definitely come into context.
Having a lot of content doesn't necessarily mean value. Take, for example, Battlefront. It did launch with a number of multiplayer modes, but I would say only a third of those were worth playing. Content is only worthwhile if it is necessary and beneficial to the overall experience. To evaluate a game's value based on content alone would be a limited perspective.
Some gamers struggle paying full price for games that offer little in terms of replayability, specifically single-player focused games. Their thought process usually being, "Once I have completed it, will I play it again?" This sentiment preys on gamers' thoughts and worries of not returning to a game and having it just sit in their collection gathering dust.
Obviously, not everyone suffers from such concerns but, on behalf of myself (being a gamer who does not necessarily like to trade in games), even those I have finished playing and will no doubt never return to, that realization of never returning to a game can be a scary and ultimately sad one.
Why do you think some folks have large video games collections? It's all the memories and nostalgia associated with those games, and this can play a part in someone's decision to buy a game as well as determine its worth. The need or importance of replayability has somewhat diminished over the years due to the industry's increasing focus on multiplayer experiences and the production of DLC. Still, there are many games out there that can't fall back on multiplayer modes to convince players to keep playing and return to the game.
I am currently playing through Insomniac's latest PS4 offering, Ratchet and Clank. I'm really enjoying it; however, I know after it's completed it's unlikely I will return, as there is seemingly little reason to. The developers sensibly released the game at an attractive and very reasonable price of £29.99 (over £10 less than the usual RRP), which I didn't mind paying. And since playing the game, I feel the price tag is fully justified.
It's important for players to feel like they have gotten their money's worth for a game, so giving players that sense of replay as well as giving them a reason to do so can be pivotal in a player's satisfaction and enjoyment.
For some players, a game can prove its worth and justify their financial investment if it offers something different and breaks from the mold. Using Journey as a prime example again, although it has a small playtime, it is a unique, refreshing experience unlike anything out there. Therefore, it can justify a slightly higher price than a more generic, traditional game of the same playtime and "quality."
That's not to say an innovative, fresh experience can not be criticized for short playtime or accosted for being overpriced, but, generally, games that break the mold are given a bit more leeway in terms of evaluating their value.
When determining value, I think it involves the majority (if not all) of the criteria above. Naturally, it depends on the game being played. In the end, evaluating the price of a game in relation to the actual experience is subjective to each individual player, and Overwatch is a prime example of how different players decide a games worth.
Some believe the game is overpriced due to the few modes and maps it offers, while others (like myself) argue the amount of hours/fun playing reflects the value of the game. Every gamer is entitled to their own opinion, and it is important we continually have the discussion about cost and value in video games, as it is our hard-earned money that makes such an entertainment medium exist.
(Thanks for reading, I appreciate anyone who takes time to read my articles as well as any comments or feedback they might have. You can see more of my rambles here.)