The Cost Of Gaming

Should a video game’s length factor into its price tag?

By: Ryan Winslett

Filed Under: Editorial Mechanics Reflections

After spending an untold number of hours traipsing through the jungles of Far Cry 3 and another 30 hours guiding Issac Clarke through his latest nightmarish adventure in Dead Space 3, I was determined to make sure my next gaming experience was of the more bite-sized variety.

After a little interneting, I discovered that Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was getting some solid reviews, but being knocked for its roughly six-hour run time.

“Perfect,” I thought. “A game I already wanted to play that won’t take me a full month to get through.”

Keep in mind that I’m all for lengthy games, most of the time. It’s just that, after running two marathons in a row, I was in the market for a quick jog around the park that would leave me feeling like I had accomplished something and had a good time without dedicating weeks upon weeks of my free time to completing it.

“But wait,” the voice in my head argued, in an obnoxiously overacted French accent. “Are you really willing to fork over $60 for something you’ll likely be done with after two sittings?”

Before I had the opportunity to really think the problem through, I remembered that I still had a hefty gift card leftover from Christmas just burning a hole in my pocket. That pretty much settled the argument. Now I have Revengeance sitting in the other room. It’s waiting.

But now I can’t help but sit here and wonder how that scenario would have played out had I not remembered that shiny piece of plastic that lowered my personal investment from $60 to just $10. Would I have been so quick to pick up a reportedly super-short game if my cost of admission was higher? More specifically, and as much as I hate to admit it’s even a part of the equation, what chunk of the pie does cost take up when I’m deciding if a game is worth my dollars?

The popular consensus on message boards and comments threads seems to be that whether or not a modern game is worth 60 bucks is largely based on how much time it takes you to complete said game. Nowadays, everyone seems to be after the biggest bang for their buck when it comes to how they’ll be spending their gaming dollars. I came across countless comments in those Revengeance reviews alone from people saying that they would never pay full price for something so short.

One of my favorite arguments comes from those folks who claim to remember the good ole’ days of video gaming, back when you could get dozens of hours of entertainment out of a single title. “Games used to be longer,” these people claim when, in fact, the average length of a game has remained pretty steady over the years.

Earlier games actually had to be shorter because, until someone invented the marvelous codes that would let a player skip a level or save files to let you pick up and play from where you last left off, games needed to be a length that could be played in just a single sitting. The reason people remember Super Mario Bros. taking so long to beat is because 1) They had to restart the game every time they tried to make a dash for the finish line and 2) With far fewer games coming out in the 80’s and 90’s, players had no other option than to sink all of their play time into just a few games a year; playing them over and over rather than moving from one to the next in rapid succession.

If we’re not talking about RPGs and the like, I’m willing to bet that the average play time of most games is right around that 5-6 hour mark. If we were fine with it in the early days of gaming, why is that figure unacceptable today?

Well, if you’re anything like Grandpappy Winslett, then you’ll likely put a nice chunk of the blame on the mobile and free-to-play markets. Keep in mind that I absolutely adore what these platforms have done for gaming as a whole, but I can’t help but feel that the shrinking (to nonexistent) price of mobile and free-to-play offerings has greatly skewed the average gamer’s idea of what a game is worth from a monetary standpoint.

At this point, mobile and free titles have been a big part of our gaming culture for nearly a decade, meaning that a lot of teens and 20-somethings grew up in a world where it was possible to download an ungodly number of games onto their iDevices for zero to very little investment. The quality or depth of the experience doesn’t seem to come into play when many people consider how much mileage they got out of a given title. In other words, it’s hard to convince someone who spent years of their young life absorbed in one $1 game after the other that 5-10 bucks, much less $60, isn’t asking too much for a video game.

I can’t help but be saddened by this fact, even though I know I’m a part of the problem. I can’t deny that cost is frequently a pretty big factor when deciding whether or not I want to buy a new game. I usually don’t mind parting with a decent chunk of my hard-earned cash to pick up a title that a team of talented individuals dedicated months (or more likely years) of their lives to put together. But even I have to admit that $60 for just six hours of entertainment feels like asking a bit too much.

But I think the even bigger problem here is when I see folks demanding more time out of a game, no matter what the price is. One of the best things about video games as a form of entertainment is that they allow the creators to tell the story they want to tell, how they want to tell it. When I see people bemoaning a game’s shorter length, I can’t help but wonder why, exactly, they are playing in the first place.

If you use video games as a way to completely shut off your brain and disappear from the world then, yeah, I guess you would want to invest in something that will keep you playing for hours on end, no matter what it is the game is having you do or the quality of those activities. Otherwise, what these people are basically asking for is as much filler as humanly possible to make them feel like they got the most out of their purchase.

I just can’t understand this logic. I’ve always been a fan of taking the amount of time and space that is necessary to tell the story properly. If that means I’m going to be playing a shorter game in the name of a precise, calculated experience, I’m all for it. On the flip side, the cost of admission for said shorter game should (and usually does, nowadays) be adjusted accordingly.

After all, with a two-hour (and $15) game like Journey winning so many game of the year awards in 2012, maybe we all just need to retool our definition of what a video game actually is. These things aren’t the button mashing interactive toys they used to be. Okay, well, some of them are (and that’s perfectly fine), but our definition of the medium should have plenty of room for these shorter experiences to exist, too.

Yes, more appropriate pricing in some instances might help ease the transition along, but we have to do our part as the consumers of these products as well. Sixty dollars for five hours of entertainment is likely asking too much, but that doesn’t mean that the game itself is not worth our time.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have six hours worth of slicing cyborgs in half to get to.

Filed Under: Editorial Mechanics Reflections

About the Author:
Ryan Winslett is an Arizona-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a contributing writer for Gaming Blend and his work has also appeared on Joystiq, Gamasutra and Joystick Division. His only crime is loving too much.

174 Responses to “The Cost Of Gaming”

  1. baumer

    Basically, I’ve learnt that lengthy games are usually either some of the worst, or some of the best. There’s very few games that sustain development and progression over tens of hours, and most end up highly repetitive. If they side-step that issue then they can be fantastic but so very few do it. The cost factor is an issue for most but it’s a silly issue. I’d rather play a good game than one that ends up boring you 15 hours down the line. Anybody who thinks otherwise is welcome to their opinion but I think it’s a stupid one.

  2. Realbiasedgaming

    When people are complaining about the length of a game, and they request more of a time commitment for their purchase, we can assume they are asking for more quality content, not filler. It is a mistake to think people just belligerently scream for more content “no matter what it is the game is having you do or the quality of those activities.” People demand quality content if they demand content at all. The developers, however, are the ones to blame when games use a bunch of “filler” content just to arbitrarily increase game length.

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