The Price You Pay

Let me ask you a question: how much is a game worth?

How much should you pay to play something that excites you, that engages you; that takes you out of your gaming location of choice (or your daily commute) and transports you into a digital realm of new possibilities?

Entertainment = My Cash Squared

Back in my beloved uni and recent graduate days I was a minimum-wage warrior, bravely serving at the frontline of pizza-human relations as a waiter. I had a strange though very logical system of ‘valuing’ any game I had my eye on: would the game give back the same number of hours that it took to earn the cash that bought it? Or, as I liked to put it, would the juice be worth the squeeze?

Often I would in fact get far more hours of play from a game compared to the hours taken to earn it; any JRPG costing less than £20 was a stupendous bargain with my system, equating to something like 15 hours of game for every hour of work it took to afford it.

What got me on this train of thought was getting to grips with my first iPhone, racing to buy games I’d heard great things about and mentally bookmarking others that I’d be interested in if they were a bit cheaper (I’m looking at you Chaos Rings!). This, despite the already crazy-low prices of most games on the App Store, especially when compared to the cost of console games.

What baffles me, especially as someone who works in videogame development, is being asked to pay peanuts to sample the App Store’s delights. Angry Birds, for instance, costs a measly 59p and yet has provided hours of enjoyment. If I were to use my minimum-wage worth-scale to judge its ‘value’, the result would surely frazzle my mathematically-challenged mind into dogfood.

Also, I recently found myself pre-ordering a game which, other than when a new Street Fighter comes out, is something I never do.1 As I clicked my mouse to confirm the order I heard my lovely girlfriend screaming in joy at having conquered another level in Angry Birds, leading me to wonder if my anticipated £40 game would offer me a similar delight.

Angry Birds: Cheap Cheep

So, getting back to my question: how much is a game worth? At what point does the digital world stored within the game’s disc decrease in value, turning the content in a £40 game into a £20 game?2 Is a 59p game a ‘lesser’ game than a console release?

Clearly there isn’t a quick and clean answer to this. Measuring a game’s value will always be a subjective process; do you favour quality or quantity when it comes to the hours of enjoyment your prospective purchase offers?3 Obviously the ideal is to receive both, but if you had to choose one or the other, which would you opt for?

Comparing a £40 blockbuster retail release to a 59p download title is a bit like comparing a Formula 1 car to a BMX; although they share a core purpose (getting you from A to B), the inherent joys offered by each mode of transport are vastly different and utterly unique to the individual vehicles. To say that either is better than the other is missing the point of having the choice in the first place; you choose the one that offers the experience you seek, their worth dictated by both their inherent desirability and the expected disposable income of their respective target audiences.

Is one better than the other? Depends what you're looking for!
Is one better than the other? Depends what you're looking for!

The worth of a game, then, is decided solely by us consumers. We decide how badly we want to dive into the experience offered; whether we simply must own the experience from day one, opt to wait for the premium price to drop, or even just dip our toe in to the digital world on offer with a quick rental.

As to the worth of games as a whole… well, we’ll save that for another time.


1   The game in question? Rockstar / Team Bondi’s L.A. Noire.
2   I suppose in terms of multiplayer, it could be said that new releases depreciate in value as soon as the crowds emigrate towards the warmer climes of newer releases.
3   Something discussed by the awesome Sean Murray of Hello Games (developer of Joe Danger) in a recent Edge article.






10 responses to “The Price You Pay”

  1. Mark P avatar

    I’ve got you sussed! E=mc^2! 😀

  2. Dean avatar

    Your right. Nothing really has any innate value after all, rather the value we ascribe it as a community (of gamers). That’s the first rule of semiotics. It’s what allowed Activision to be such douche-bags and hike up the price of Modern Warfare 2 – because they knew people were in such a feeding frenzy they’d by it regardless, and it’s what caused Kane and Lynch 2 to drop in price so spectacularly when people realised how short it was. In spite of recent claims by certain developers i’m really gald the second hand games market is still so vibrant as it certainly mitigates a lot of the risk involved in buying games… if you can wait a bit that is.

    As for new releases i’ve got into the habit of renting all my games from Love Film and only buying if i really loved them. I’d say Love Film is the best friend a gamer can have, especially at a time when their are such a high concentration of quality games coming out.

  3. Bob avatar

    Well, nice article Gilo, you definitely had me into commenting into this!

    A lot of my friends in Madrid point at me with the finger when I purchase a fresh-new title, saying that “how could I spend 70 € on a single game”. This often makes me angry. I wonder how much money YOU spend on a single week on booze, for instance?

    This forced me to set myself a “standard value scale” to determine if a game was worth the prize… In my case, I decided to compare it with going to the Cinema.
    Going to the Cinema in Madrid is horribly expensive, yet way cheaper than the UK. Getting your ticket for a single session is up to 9-10 €, which is a guarantee that you will be entertained for an average of 2 hours. Therefore, if we use the same value of prize-entertainment rate, a freshly new game must have me over 14 hours entertained and willing to play it in order to consider it “money well spent”. Value games such as Platinum series or pre-owned titles, are more likely to fulfill my feeling of “not-wasting-money”. Have I spent 70 € on a game that I haven’t actually played for 14 hours? Of course, but I bet you also went to the cinema and didn’t enjoy the movie at all… That’s a risk I’m willing to take. Have I seen a movie on theatres more than once? Most certainly, sir! The same reason why I’ve played certain games more than once to completion.

    So then I turn again to my friends and ask them, “how much did that booze you bought last?”

    Who’s laughing now?

  4. The Rook avatar
    The Rook

    I was wondering what this was leading to(1), obviously not all games now costing 59p as I was hoping would be the outcome.

    The cost of games has gone to the gamers value as when the XBox 360 first came out the new releases were £50 but brought down to £40 to compete with online purchases. I even bought the MW2 Prestige pack and the night vision goggles (2)were tried for 10 minutes and have since resided on the figurehead that came with it.

    Still, I continue to buy games and get a lot of play time from them so I feel I get a good value from my games. Of course I wouldn’t object to lower prices. (3)

    Good read G.
    (1) Only one Gilo pic this time.
    (2)They do work
    (3) No superscript for me

  5. Giles avatar

    Mark P: Always nice to see a good caption appreciated, cheers bud. ^_^

    Dean: I didn’t necessarily mean ‘nothing has any innate value’, but I see your point. I mean yes, we all individually and collectively decide the monetary worth of a game; it just puzzled me to think of any other reason why a £40 game becomes worth £10 when nothing about the specific game changes…the only things that change are the releases that come afterwards that (hopefully) push the tech further than that now-worth-£10 game.

    As for LoveFilm tip – that is an ace idea! I reckon once I’ve worked through ‘the pile‘ (one day!) that might be for me!

    Bob: It’s great to hear from you! (For everyone who isn’t Bob – we used to work together at EA in Madrid).

    And it’s great to know I’m not alone with my ‘standard value scale’! Interestingly, the same argument (game price compared to cinema ticket prices) was raised following a review of a game my colleagues made, have a peek if you’re interested.

    Rook: Always nice to get a little footnote love! ^_^

    But blimey it’d be nice if all games were 59p! No idea how I’d make a living, but I’d have a whole lotta games! Maybe the old Love Film tip is the answer…?

  6. Terry avatar

    A great read Gilo, I have to admit i have not read your first blog so im heading straight there now!

  7. Lauren avatar

    Love the pic XD Great job Giles. I use to buy games willynilly when I was younger, but now Im more mature *coughsometimescough* I do wonder if the games worth it. Some games now just dont seem long enough for the price we pay. I temember getting Final Fantasy VIII for £19.99 when it came out and it was 4 disks of pure Heaven! Games back in the day lasted and were worth the pound. But now … does make you think!

  8. Ninja avatar

    Some games I’ll buy for £40, some I won’t. I find that it *may* be due whether it’s from a developer I like; yeah, I’m buying a brand I guess. And perhaps the difference of format has a part to play in the cost gulf? I don’t know, I’m just surmising 😉

    “At what point does the digital world stored within the game’s disc decrease in value, turning the content in a £40 game into a £20 game?”

    Now that’s an interesting point! *strokes imaginary beard* Again surmising, maybe it’s when so many units (did I just say units? Aw man!) have been sold? Or, as you say, when something new comes out and to ensure “late adopters” pick up a ‘cheap’ copy?

    “Let me ask you a question: how much is a game worth?”

    That made me think of BioShock XD

  9. Dean avatar

    Sorry Gilo, i wasn’t critiquing your value system. Just being too much of a clever-cloggs:)

  10. Duncan avatar

    Amen brother Gilo!

    I’ve had a similar discussion with mates before that it’s insane how much thought I put into buying a 59p (or, God forbid, a £1.19!) game on the App store.

    Yet I happily stumble into Gamestation and drop £30 down for a copy of Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions without a second thought…

    Great blog, Gilo! Keep ’em coming. 😀

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