The Value of a Game

I’ve been spending a lot of time as an observer on forums and comments sections lately, partly because debates via social media oft end up frustrating rather than intellectually-stimulating, and partly because it’s been some good fodder for thought. This week, I was reading a review thread on a newly launched game and noticed this comment:

“People still pay $60 for a game at launch?”

At first, I immediately jumped on the defensive, since I’ve purchased a fair share of $60 new titles over the past several months. But then the comment lent itself to a more productive train of thought: what factors really influence the value we, as individuals, place on a game? I came up with a list of the top things that really drive me to buy (or wait on) a game, and affect when I do so.

GAME MECHANICS: There are a wide variety of classifications for game mechanics, ranging from text-based games to first-person shooters. Depending on a gamer’s experience, comfort zone, and skill set, they may simply be better suited to a particular game mechanic style than others. Even if a game has a fabulous, intricate story, it will go underappreciated by a gamer who is frustrated by the underlying game mechanics.

As a personal example, I’ll call upon my (albeit brief) experience with XCOM. The franchise has received many accolades and has a long, storied history of quality games. However, I had to practically force myself to play for more than one mission – simply because the overhead, turn-based strategy genre didn’t compel me. I felt too detached from the experience, but that wasn’t because the game was poorly executed… It just wasn’t for me, and I had many friends who loved the game.

GENRE: One of the greatest things about video games is the sheer diversity in genre; it’s almost a guarantee that anyone can find a game that matches their interest. You can simulate the life of a sports superstar or hop into a mystical realm in another universe; games can take place in almost any setting imagineable. But much is the case with all media, not every setting will hold a universal appeal. In fact, two nearly identical games, from a mechanics standpoint, can be received quite differently by the same gamer based on the atmosphere of the game.

Take, for example, Dead Space. Everything about Dead Space screamed that I would enjoy the game. I enjoy shooters and science fiction, and it reminded me a bit of Mass Effect in terms of mechanics. Unfortunately, and much to the chagrin of a friend who is a Dead Space fanatic, I never finished the game. The dark, suspenseful atmosphere of a horror game is simply not up my alley – there’s not enough adult diapers in the world to get me through it. What my friend found to be a riveting experience, I found to be a game to bury in my backlog.

FOMO aka HYPE: Gaming conferences and publishers make sure to show off every game in the best light possible before launch. Some gamers are simply more susceptible to hype than others. Hype around a game makes it seem like a new, shiny object; oftentimes the buildup for a mediocre game can be more exciting and satisfying than an under-the-radar gem. It all depends upon perception.

Of course, hype also plays directly into FOMO, or the fear of missing out. If all of a gamer’s friends are talking about playing a newly-released game together, they’re more likely to purchase the game as well so that they don’t miss out on experiencing it with friends. There’s also the community size factor to consider, too. When a multiplayer game first launches, it will typically have its largest player base. After a few years, the servers start to quiet down. Gamers might be afraid to miss out on a vibrant community if they wait too long. Conversely, if the gamer doesn’t place as much emphasis on online play, they won’t have as much FOMO motivating them to purchase the game on day one.

MILEAGE VALUE: This is one factor that seems especially relevant these days. Sources with early review copies of games have cited linear, story-driven game as being short, in comparison to some of the more open world titles – Fallout 4 with its hundreds of hours of play come to mind. While the length of a game doesn’t necessarily influence the overall game quality, it can affect how gamers feel about the game’s value.

To some gamers, they simply don’t feel that a $60 price tag is worth what amounts to a single weekend of enjoyment. If they don’t purchase games often, they may prefer a title with a longer grind, or more side missions, that promote overall longevity. Other gamers may purchase many games or have a large enough backlog where a new and innovative title doesn’t need to be lengthy to warrant a purchase. It’s all personal preference.

RESOURCES: This may be one of the largest influencing factors in determining how valuable a game may be to a player. Whether we like it or not, our purchases and indulgences, as a society, are driven by how much money we have. To someone with a lot of money, dropping $60 on a game is relatively insignificant; they don’t feel the need to wait for sales or choose between games because they can afford to buy anything they fancy. On the opposite spectrum, gamers with a tighter budget have to be more selective in the games they buy. Not everything can be a day-one purchase, and sale games or cheaper indie games might be more attractive because they don’t require as large of a monetary sacrifice.

When I was in college, I rarely (if ever) bought a brand new game. Spending $60 simply wasn’t an option; you can’t enjoy a video game as much if you consequently can’t afford to eat. I found myself skimming the bargain bin for used games. Some of those games weren’t great, but at least I got to play… So I valued them more than, say, Destiny 2 on which I have currently only logged five hours, even though I bought it at full price. Now that I have a full time job, that purchase didn’t hold as much weight. Resources can also include things like which gaming systems a gamer owns. A game only holds value on an individual level if it’s actually playable.

TIMING: Timing is everything. Literally. The amount of free time someone has can impact a game’s value and when it is worthy of purchase. If a gamer knows that their life is simply not conducive to a lengthy game – because they won’t have time to beat it – shorter games suddenly have more appeal than longer conquests.

I actually wrote an entire article once on an old site about how I was holding off on playing Fallout 4, simply because the timing wasn’t right for my life. Because I was always busy, quick COD matches fit my schedule better and made it more appealing. But I doubt you’d find many people who would otherwise put COD above Fallout 4 on their “must have” list.

GRAPHICS: Graphics matter differently to everyone. Some people are a stickler for appearance and want their games to look utterly beautiful. Other people aren’t picky and can endure bad graphics if there’s a decent storyline. This can be a huge factor in game worth, especially in the age of HD and 4K graphics.

A huge example of this is someone’s evaluation of retro gaming. I, for one, think retro games are incredible; I love the nostalgia and revisiting games that have influenced the industry. However, I have plenty of friends who simply can’t bear the outdated graphics. Regardless of how much they may have loved the mechanics or the game back in the day, it’s difficult to stomach the crude appearance, and so they no longer value the games.

At the end of the day, gaming – and a game’s value in the eyes of a particular person – boils down to personal preference. There are so many different factors that can influence a game’s worth on an individual basis. So the next time you question why someone would or wouldn’t purchase a game at $60, just remember – there are so many aspects to consider.

What factors influence you the most when it comes to the value of a game? Kick off a sound discussion in the comments, as I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Feature image by JESHOOTS @ Unsplash

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