How much is a game worth for the consumer?
The “fun factor” should be important, but there’s no clear way to measure it
How much a game is worth is a question that plagues developers and consumers alike. For the developers, it’s obvious: the worth of a game should be enough to cover the development costs and make a profit, so the company can still keep making games. This estimation would probably involve a minimum number of units sold in a given time — like one year, for example — and the marketing effort.
There are also some “unwritten standards”, so to speak, that impose some price limitations. A 2D indie game would never sell that well if its priced at 60 US dollars, since this is the price tag for the so-called 3D AAA games — which means games with budgets in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes even in the millions. The same way, an AAA game being sold for less than 30 dollars might not make enough profit for the company, especially considering that game prices were not adjusted to inflation through the last 30 years or so (it’s possible to check examples here and here).
Of course, I’m oversimplifying this logic for the sake of an example, but that’s enough to get the basics of how developers have to think when putting a price tag on their product.
However, the answer is more complicated at the consumer standpoint, and that’s what I want to talk about.
It’s pretty common for a game to be released with a discount, usually around 10%, maybe even more if the consumer pre-orders a “special edition”. Soon after release, the game goes at full price for a while, and a few months later, sometimes even in the first year, it gets a bigger discount in a sale.
So, should the player get the game for 54 dollars at release, without knowing if the game is that good; pay 60 dollars after release, when there are more reviews; or wait for the first sale and grab it at 40 dollars?
The most sensible answer here is: it depends. If it’s an online game, missing the launch date means that could be fewer people playing it a few months down the line (like Battleborn, that went from 12,000 players to 2,000 in a month, and below 1,000 by the end of the year). However, waiting for a while could help avoid server issues at launch.
…the most used tactic seems to be to wait for a while and see how many hours it takes to finish the game, then divide it by the price tag and see how much it’s paid “by the hour of gameplay”.
If it’s a single-player game, or even a co-op one, it might depend on how much the player wants to play it. If they are hyped for the launch and have the money, they should totally go for it. If not, it might be a good idea to wait for reviews and maybe a sale. However, the most used tactic seems to be to wait for a while and see how many hours it takes to finish the game, then divide it by the price tag and see how much it’s paid “by the hour of gameplay”.
For example, Persona 5 takes, on average, 97 hours to finish, and it was priced at 59.99 dollars at launch. 59.99 divided by 97 equals around 0.61 “dollars per hour”. Nowadays, the game costs 19.99, which equals to 0.20 “dollars per hour”.
The logic goes that, the lower the “dollars per hour” is, the better value the game has. But this is a horrible way to value worth, and it all boils down to subjectivity.
Just because the player is paying less for the hour played, doesn’t mean the value holds up if the experience doesn’t make you want to keep going. This is what many people may call the “fun factor”, which measures how enjoyable the experience is for you. Except that it’s impossible to measure it at all because enjoyment is subjective.
It seems a complex concept, but I’ll exemplify it using Persona 5. First of all, the game is excellent, and it got really, really good ratings from the critics. But as someone who played every Persona since 2, I found that Persona 5 is mostly a “copy-paste” of Persona 4. It doesn’t mean the game is bad, nor that it has bad writing, but I saw basically the same tropes and character development that Persona 4 had. The result? I got bored 20 hours in and didn’t have the energy to play it anymore. The story might take a more interesting turn after a few more hours, but I don’t want to pile through the sameness that I got from Persona 4 to get there.
What I want to say is: for me, the game wouldn’t be worth the 59.99 dollars at launch. However, I don’t feel bad about spending 19.99 on it. On the other hand, I saw a lot of Persona fans singing praises about the game, and the original pricing might as well have been worth it for them.
Following this logic, I bought Horizon Zero Dawn, another game acclaimed by the critics, at a discount, and loved every time I spent playing it. I would have easily paid full price for the game because I think it was worth it.
A game like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, which is also very good (and it really is), but takes three hours to finish, wouldn’t be worth because it costs 14.99 dollars, resulting in around 5 “dollars per hour” — an “investment” too high for the gameplay time it provides.
Just because the player is paying less for the hour played, doesn’t mean the value holds up if the experience doesn’t make you want to keep going.
And that’s why trying to get a sense of game’s value when dividing its price by the hours need to finish it doesn’t work. Worst of all, it would mean that all free-to-play games would be worth it. Since the cost of acquisition for them is 0, it means that every hour of gameplay is worth 0 “dollars per hour”, which is the best “cost-benefit relation”: if you didn’t pay anything, even one hour of gameplay is already worth it. And everyone knows that’s not true. Even great free-to-play games, like Waframe (which I talked about, check the article below), get tiring after a while.
Warframe has a great sci-fi story
Sadly, it’s buried beneath thousands of hours of gameplay
So, how do we know if a game is worthy of your time and money or not? The answer to that might be, funny enough, in the past.
Up until the early 2000s, most games had a “demo”, literally a piece of the game that was offered as a taste of what players could expect. Every time someone bought a new PlayStation, it came with a demo CD that had a few levels of the Sony’s console latest releases. For PC, it was even better: computer magazines frequently had some sort of demo CD with dozens of games, old and new, for people to install and enjoy. That was usually enough to get to know the game and see if it was worthy of your money and time.
However, with the rise of digital distribution, demos got out of style. It’s still possible to see a few games that, upon release, have a “download demo” button on their website or right next to the buy button on Steam, but it’s rare.
If you think about it, it doesn’t even make sense: digital distribution made it easier to release games, and although there’s a lot of competition nowadays, it would be easy for people to check your game, and possibly buy it, instead of having to rely on other peoples’ reviews.
However, with game development cycles becoming more expensive as time goes on, I doubt we will see the return of game demos anytime soon. After all, to put up a demo, the companies have to remove people from developing the game itself. That’s probably why so many games have “free weekends” now: it’s easier to make the game free for a limited time for everyone, than to create a separate project for a game that, in the future, might offer a completely different experience (something I briefly talked about when criticizing the “games as a service” model, which you can read in the link below).
So how can the players know if a game is worth it of their time or not? First of all, they have to avoid websites that give only a review score. Aggregators like OpenCritic and Metacritic might be a good reference to see how well the game was received, but I strongly recommend disregarding numerical values. One of my all-time favorites ARPGs, Sacred 2: Fallen Angel, has a somewhat mediocre score on Metacritic, and I would never have played it if I saw only the ratings.
The best way to see if a game is worthy for you is to check gameplay videos, streams, and read website reviews that illustrate the “pros and cons” of a game. If they put more than one person to play and review the same game, even better. Articles in which the editor specify what they like or dislike are the best “neutral” source of information.
And lastly, check your finances. If you think the game is too expensive, even though you want to play it, that probably means it is too expensive. If you are unsure, give it a few weeks or months of waiting — it will probably go on sale.