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.