Video games are one of the most popular forms of entertainment, now rivaling the film and music industries. Compared to movies and music, video games are much more expensive per purchase. On iTunes a typical album goes for F95zone about $10 and DVD movies generally are under $30. Meanwhile full retail games usually go for $60 on both the PS3 and Xbox 360 ($50 for PC and Wii). The current economic downturn has hurt most businesses worldwide, and video games are no exception. Game sales are down substantially from just a couple of years ago and many companies are being forced to lay-off workers and whole development teams. For consumers it is more important than ever to choose games that are a good value. Determining what exactly makes a game a good value is a difficult question to answer, as proven by the drastic difference in sales from one game to another.
A lower cost is a sure way to increase value. Digital distribution does allow for this as publishers do not have to charge for the cost of shipping a game to stores. Every major current gaming platform (PC, 360, PS3, Wii, DS, and PSP) allows in some capacity for digitally downloaded games. The newly announced PSP Go will only allow for downloadable games. This is certainly a good trend but it is not quite the solution, at least not yet. For starters, the vast majority of games are still purchased at retail. There are a few reasons for this. Console manufacturers are just starting to integrate fully featured games into their download services and so most of the major titles cannot be purchased this way. Console gamers will also need an adjustment period to get used to the concept so even as more games become available through Xbox Live or PlayStation Network, there will still be a period of time that retail purchases outsell their downloadable counterparts. Secondly, there has yet to be a noticeable cut in price for buying the downloadable releases. Buying a new release on the Steam download service for PC generally saves a couple dollars, but isn’t the drastic cut that was expected. Also, games designed with the downloadable market are still generally less fleshed out than standard releases. Battlefield 1943 for example is a download-only game recently released that has the same style gameplay as the retail versions in the series such as Battlefield 2 or Battlefield 2142. However, it only has 4 multiplayer maps and 3 classes to use. This is far fewer than the previous entries. So even if Battlefield 1943 is cheaper, it is cheaper because there is less content.
So for the most part, price will not be the determining factor of games just yet. They are usually the same price as competing games.
In that case it comes down to the game itself when looking at value. Some games offer tremendous amounts of content. Supreme Commander takes about 30 hours to complete, The Orange Box could take even more to finish all of the included games, and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion could last for over 100 hours if a player chose to see all it has to offer. Then there are multiplayer focused games that could provide an infinite amount of replayability. Call of Duty 4 has gotten over 100 hours of online play from certain people and World of Warcraft has so much to it that Blizzard charges $15 per month to play it and still sees millions of users play for years.
On the flip side, Call of Duty 4 takes under 10 hours to plow through its excellent, but brief single player campaign. The God of War games are critically acclaimed but none of them are very long and do not provide any multiplayer gameplay either.
This leads to the important question. What makes a game worth buying? If it is the number of hours to finish than role playing games such as Final Fantasy and Fallout 3 are surely at the top of the list. However, it is impossible to measure the hours required to finish a multiplayer game. Going back to Call of Duty 4, you can see all of the maps and modes in just a couple of hours, but some people keep coming back for more.
The answer to the question will surely vary from person to person. For me the best value is a high-quality, high-content experience. I have currently played Oblivion for over 40 hours, have not finished it, and still enjoy playing it. That is undeniably good value. It gets harder to choose when it comes to games that are short but sweet and games that are long but mediocre.
Braid, a downloadable game for Xbox Live Arcade and PC is a Super Mario-style platformer with a twist that your character can manipulate time to solve puzzles. I purchased this game and finished it after just 4 or 5 hours of play. The game even has a mode to try and beat in 45 minutes, acknowledging how short it really is. There is no multiplayer either and so I have not gone back to it after finishing it. That said, I absolutely loved the game. Everything from the unique gameplay, to the soundtrack, to the storyline fits really well together. The game costs money though, and I got far fewer hours of it than I did with other games.
I have been told that Titan Quest for PC can take up to 40 hours to finish. While I appreciate the developers trying to extend the length of the game, I personally did not fall in love with the game. I put in about 5 or 6 hours into it and although there wasn’t anything particularly wrong with it, I ended up moving on to another game and never completed it. It might have the potential to be a worthwhile purchase, but I did not get as much out of it as I had hoped for the price I paid.
This is the risk developers find with making their games longer. With a limited number of hours to play video games, I will not finish games that I find go on for a long time if I am not a huge fan of them. This decreases its value for me because I will never get to see the conclusion of the story or square off against the toughest boss enemies that the game has to offer.
Is there a perfect sweet spot for games to reach, where they provide enough content without getting tedious midway through the game? Should all games have a minimum length, say 10 hours? 15 hours? Should shorter games be cheaper because of their length? Is it better for a game to be short and excellent or long and good, but not great? I don’t know if I can answer these questions but I would love to hear from anyone who has an opinion on the topic.