More Bang for Your Buck

There is this idea around games that some people think they should get a certain number of hours of playtime or enjoyment out of a game to justify its price. A one-to-one ratio of hours to dollars is not unheard of. This is a notion that I disagree with because there exists short games with gripping stories that make the games worth their prices. For example, I really enjoyed playing Ori and the Blind Forest. It is a twenty dollar game that I finished in nine hours and I have no regrets about the purchase at all, quite the opposite. In fact, I’m really excited for the sequel that will come out in March.

Ori and the Blind Forest – Steam Page Image

For some reason, however, I find myself falling into the trap of this idea when it is in the game’s favor. For instance, I purchased Slay the Spire for around fifteen dollars in 2018, slightly cheaper than the current price because the game was in early access then. I’ve since played the game for almost three hundred hours and one could say I’ve certainly got my moneys worth. I want to be able to just say that I had fun playing the game and so it was worth getting, but I can’t help but want to support my statement by bringing my hours played into the equation.

Slay the Spire – Summary of One of My Favorite Runs

There are also the occasional games that I feel guilty about how little I paid for a game compared to how much fun I had. One such example is Hollow Knight. This mostly has to do with the developers of the game releasing multiple extra content updates for free since the game came out. Those updates had so much content that I found myself thinking that I would have paid for these updates in the form of a DLC. I look forward to this game’s upcoming sequel, not only for what I imagine will be another great game, but also as a convenient opportunity to pay the developers for the work they have done.

Hollow Knight – Steam Page Image

The “Protest”

Terraforming Mars is without a doubt, my favorite board game. I’ve bought every expansion and played it quite a bit solo and even more with friends while I was in Undergrad. I played it so much with those friends, that one of them is near burnt out on the game, saying that we play it too much. At the time, once a week, every week was enough to tide me over. Now that I’m in Grad school and have moved away from those friends, I’m in withdrawal with regard to playing the game enough. Back in 2018 when we found out a digital version of the game was being made, we were optimistic that we would have a good way to play the game together without having to meet in person. Myself and another one of the friend group got access to a beta for the game and long story short, we found ourselves disappointed.

Terraforming Mars – Steam Page Image

A digital implementation of the base game, with no expansions, a plethora of bugs, only some of which were game breaking, and no draft variant implementation led to us making a sort of pact that we called “the protest” where we wouldn’t purchase the game until we saw some major improvements. Where it was at and the twenty-five dollar price did not match up for us. Something that was interesting was that the first time a steam sale lowered the price, we noticed that the base price was changed to twenty dollars immediately after the sale ended. There was a specific sale last year that had the game at eight dollars, the cheapest it had ever been and yet even with bug fixes and adding draft functionality since launch, neither of us purchased the game. The “protest” continues to this day.

Kickstarting Expensive Board Games

More recently, I’ve started Kickstarting board games I’m interested in. It’s been an interesting new experience for me, because instead of purchasing something and getting it right away or shortly after, Kickstarting a board game is more akin to putting money down on a distant preorder. Divinity Original Sin the Board Game is likely the most expensive game I’ve ever bought. Pledging for the definitive edition set me back over two hundred dollars. And since the game won’t be shipping until at least October, it will be awhile before I can get the chance to find out if my purchase was worth it or not. I have a feeling it will be, but I can’t yet know for sure.

Divinity Original Sin the Board Game – Kickstarter Page Image

Miscellaneous Musings

As a tangent to the hours of enjoyment to money spent idea, I could certainly pay the price of a game to see a movie in theaters, with popcorn, get far fewer hours of enjoyment out of it, and not question the decision, assuming I liked the movie. I’m not sure why, but at least for myself the idea or fear of buyer’s remorse is more likely to show up with regard to game purchases, even if I rarely regret purchases I make.

Another thing of note is that the bulk of my points have been made from the consumer’s perspective. The developer’s of the games will likely have different answers to the question how much a game should cost. I think it is likely a difficult balancing act. On one side, they need to price the game high enough to make enough money to cover the cost of paying the people who worked on the game, or the material cost of components for board games, while on the other side they need to price the game low enough that people will actually buy it. This balancing act will likely leave the profit margins small which leads to needing a specific number of people to purchase the game before it is successful.

Unfortunately, I’m left thinking that the cost of games should vary depending on the game. I know that is essentially a nothing answer, but it is the best I have; a sort of gut feeling that can be put to the test by playing the game. I do think that this conclusion does bring into question why most console games are exactly sixty dollars. I think this one price fits all model is likely one that should be moved away from. Some games might need to cost more, while others have no business costing sixty dollars. Personally I think the collection of mini-games that is 1 2 Switch is still overpriced at fifty, which is probably why I never bought it.

1 2 Switch – Box Art Image From Nintendo’s Website

While I cannot currently remember where I first heard it from, sometime last year I heard the line “our game respects your time” as one of the selling points of the game. Essentially, it was designed in a way to allow players to play the game for exactly as long as they wanted to. Whether that is an extended multi-hour play session or a brief half-hour distraction is up to the player. Most games nowadays allow the player to save and quit or at least pause the game and leave it suspended whenever they want so they can continue playing later. This quality of life feature could lead one to believe that games clearly respect people’s time and that there is no issue here. My main problem with that line of thinking is that when a player is having fun playing a game, they are not going to want to stop playing until they really have to.

People who have played a Civilization game have probably heard of the phrase “just one more turn”. It is a good example of how fun keeps a player playing irrespective of how much time has passed. Turns in Civilization are relatively short, they can get long if you’re involved in a war, bits of playtime that the player can partake in and stop on any turn whenever they are ready. Perhaps because the turns are short, players think that just one more won’t add too much more time spent to their current play session. It is when this idea is repeated that players suddenly have the urge to look at the clock and find that hours have passed.

Another thing that makes it difficult to put a game down is the idea of being at a good stopping point. Over the past few years I’ve played a handful of rogue-like games. These types of games have their core gameplay loops set up to be relatively short, perhaps a half-hour to an hour, and repeatable. I like to think of these loops as “runs”. To me, and likely to many others, the natural stopping point in a rogue-like game is after one has completed a run. Many of these games allow the player to save and quit in the middle of a run, but I find myself not taking advantage of that feature. I find that the experience of coming back to the game after a few days of not playing and finding myself in the middle of a run to be a bit unpleasant. There is a period of confusion as I have to remember what was happening during this run and re-acclimate myself to whatever play-style I was engaging in at the time. While this is generally not that big of an issue, it is enough to make me get into the habit of finishing runs when I start them.

Something that is tangentially related to the above point is that there are certain games I have that I know I will get very invested in and play for significant amounts of time. Knowing this actually causes me to be hesitant to start or avoid starting to play these games in my free time because I know they will take up so much time. This behavior leads to me not playing certain games I really enjoy and want to play more of because I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t have time for them right now and it disappoints me to think that I don’t know when I will finally get back to them.

Some games do put in extra effort to try and respect the player’s time. I’ve played a game called Book of Demons that has a built in system called “Flexiscope” that allows the player to choose the length of a stretch of content they will play before they delve into the dungeon and play it. Choosing small might be 18 minutes while big could be 41 minutes for example. These are time estimates that will become more accurate the more the player plays, because the game has more data with which to analyze the player’s play-style. I originally thought this system was mainly meant for respecting the player’s time, but on further research it was actually designed to allow players to tell the game how long they want to play and the game, in response, generates an experience that still flows well in that given length. The flow increasing with moments of tension where there are many enemies to fight at once and decreasing when there are moments of reprieve with few or no enemies to fight. This makes sense as I could often find myself choosing to play another small experience just after finishing one, so it still has the just one more aspect to it.

I suppose what it really comes down to is the self-control of the player. Games give them the power to stop whenever they want, so the ball is in their court. When a player finds they are having fun playing, they are less likely to want to stop and since games are designed to be fun, I lean towards thinking that they can’t respect your time and I think that is okay. From a business perspective, games want as much of your time as they can get. In today’s day and age businesses are competing with each other over people’s time and attention. I think the lesson here is that it’s up to the individual to respect their own time.

The Curse of Lavagedara is a game that resulted from Round 5 of my Building Virtual Worlds class during my graduate studies at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center. I was a part of a team of five which consisted of two programmers, two artists, and a sound designer and we were given three weeks to make a game for the Valve Index VR device with the addition of four computers. The Curse of Lavagedara is an asymmetric multiplayer game where a single VR player uses spells to slow or prevent the four PC players from getting to the center of the maze. The curse is that the player who defeats Lavagedara is the player who, in time, becomes the next incarnation of Lavagedara.

In the first iteration, the maze was square shaped and composed of smaller colored squares. The VR player had the power to rotate all squares of one color in an attempt to thwart the PC players’ progress. The maze proved too complicated to navigate and the VR player was too powerful. The latest iteration involves a circular maze divided into layers where each layer is made of four quadrants. The VR player can drop spells into a quadrant to unleash harmful effects on the PC players who happen to be located in that part of the maze. I specifically worked on the design of the maze and focused on getting as close to a balanced multiplayer experience as we could.

The Ring Toss experience is more of an interactive experience than a game which resulted from Round 4 of my Building Virtual Worlds class during my graduate studies at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center. I was a part of a team of five that consisted of two programmers, two artists, and a sound designer and we were given two weeks to make the story focused experience for the Occulus Rift S VR device. The player plays as a father who does not give enough attention to his daughter who wants him to win a specific bear at a carnival. An argument leads to the daughter running into the street and get hit by a food truck. Filled with immense regret, the father jumps at the miraculous opportunity to be a time travel test subject. Given a second chance, the father makes sure to win his daughter that bear. While not the most successful world I’ve worked on, it was still a good learning experience. I specifically did more timeline work to have various story events happen when they were supposed to happen.

Safari Pinball is a game that resulted from Round 3 of my Building Virtual Worlds class during my graduate studies at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center. I was a part of a team of five which consisted of two programmers, two artists, and a sound designer and we were given one week to make a game for Leap Motion attached to an Occulus Rift S Headset. The game on the surface is a simple pinball game, but the thing that makes our game unique is that the player’s physical hands are the flippers with which to hit the ball, and board or play area of the pinball game completely surrounds the player rather than merely being in front of them. I specifically worked on layout of the play area and the code for the points and lives systems.

Unearthed is a game that resulted from Round 2 of my Building Virtual Worlds class during my graduate studies at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center. I was a part of a team of five that consisted of two programmers, two artists, and a sound designer and we were given two weeks to make a game for the HTC Vive VR device.  Unearthed is a short story driven experience where the player digs to find shards of a mural that detail a tragic love story. Once the mural is complete, it turns into a mirror to convey that the player is the protagonist of that story. I specifically worked on timelines that were used to have the world change around the player as more shards of the mural were dug up.

DIEt is a game that resulted from Round 1 of my Building Virtual Worlds class during my graduate studies at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center. I was a part of a team of five which consisted of two programmers, two artists, and a sound designer and we were given two weeks to make a game for the Magic Leap AR device. DIEt is an area defense game where the player uses a fork (controller) to prevent unhealthy foods from being eaten by your friend who wants a midnight snack. This is done by either stabbing the foods before they get to the plate or swiping them off of the plate before your friend eats her next helping of food. I specifically worked on the food spawning and movement which affected game balance.

Glyph is a tabletop game that resulted from my participation in the Pittsburgh’s chapter of the International Game Developers Association’s Annual Board Game Jam. I was part of a five person team, two students programming background and three students with an art background, who prototyped and iterated a four-player stone placing puzzle game where players try to maximize points by filling personal shapes, that represent different language characters, with colored stones that are worth more to them based on a randomly assigned color value sheet.

During my senior year of undergrad, as a part of a four person team consisting of a programmer and three artists, I prototyped a deck-building card game about electricity production and carbon emissions. The goal of the game is to produce and sell energy to upgrade infrastructure and eventually reach a threshold of wealth before the other players, all while dealing with, or not, the pollution that results from producing the energy in the first place.

The game was iterated upon over the course of multiple playtests. Initially, the game experimented with the idea of the game not being fun to play to support the lesson that polluting the planet for a profit is a bad thing. In practice, we found that if the game is not any fun, no one will play it and thus the lesson won’t even have a chance to be learnt. Changes were made to make the game tolerable, while still attempting to make the players struggle with how their play was affecting the simulated environment.

Escape to Planet Earth is a point and click puzzle game I worked on for my capstone game group project class during my senior year undergrad. Working in a team of four, two programmers and two artists, we developed the game using the agile development method where we added new features to the game in multiple two week sprints. I was the Game Design Lead for the team, and I created and balanced a number of the puzzles in the game.