I know you’re probably tired of hearing the word “recession” by now, so let me say instead that money is tight these days for lots of people. Restaurants are little less busy, shopping malls aren’t as packed, and finding value for a dollar is a constant quest. With frugality at a peak, what are gamers to do with an industry that doesn’t want to budge for their budget? Most games release at $60 a pop, so how can we be certain that we will receive sufficient bang for our buck? In a world where licensed action games and JRPGs aren’t created equal, there is a call for a balancing of cash and content.
You and your friend go to the local electronics store. Both of you have enough money to buy one brand new game each, because you skipped buying lunch with mom’s cash at school for a month. You both b-line for the video game aisles, and scrounge around for the perfect gem of a game. After about twenty minutes you meet your pal at the cash register. In your hands you clutch a brand new game based on your favorite comic book character ever. Your friend is fondly reading the back of a Japanese RPG.
You each go your own ways and start plugging away at your respective games. You grin in glee as you see your graphic novel idol fully rendered and tearing bad guys’ arms off. You’re sedentary on the couch for all of the afternoon long into the evening. Blood flows, one-liners are muttered, and the final boss is felled. You sigh in relief as you see the end credits roll. Glancing at the clock, you see you’ve only been playing for 7 hours. What? 60 bucks for 7 hours? There must be some unlockable multiplayer mode or something after the credits. You grimace as you discover only an alternate costume has been unlocked. Realizing you just paid $8.50 per hour to play a seven hour game, you suddenly wish you would have rented the game for the same rate.
Calling up your buddy, he asks you to hang on as soon as he picks up the phone. You hear swords clashing and monsters snarling in the background. After he gets back to you, he informs you that he hasn’t even beaten the first dungeon and he’s been playing since he got home. He says it’s going to take weeks. He also boasts that the game was only $40. He asks how far you are in the game. You mumble something profane and hang up.
“What the hell?” you ask yourself as you stare at the receipt in next to you. $60 for 7 hours? Sure your game may have been prettier, and it was for a current generation console, but who decides what costs what? Firing up your computer, you turn to the internet to vent your frustration.
This story is a common one. It may have even happened to you at some time. Paying full admission price for a game with bare bones content, no single player replayability, and broken or absent multiplayer stings hard. The issue is that some games can be beaten in 7 hours and offer you incentive to play them over and over, and others can take the same time commitment and go belly up after the credits. Why do both rich and meager games get the same price tag?
Obviously, asking developers to admit that their own game is inferior to another is ludicrous. Every programmer puts energy into their game and should be compensated, they would be crazy to offer their product for less than standard. However, every game that hits the shelves is play-tested. Why not survey the testers asking them what they would feel comfortable paying for a particular game? This would help the right games reach the right gamers. It would also offer incentive for more people to take a risk on an unknown game. Imagine how well Valkyria Chronicles would have done if it initially released at a lower price, tempting gamers into the unexplored territory.
You may be saying “wait Tim, RPGs and action games are entirely different, nobody wants to play God of War for over 60 hours.” To this I would reply, “don’t they?” God of War‘s main game may have been less than many RPGs at around 20 hours, but many people enjoyed playing the game again or enduring the gauntlet mode. With that replay added in, an action game could easily come close to your average RPG, and therefore merits the full price tag. Did you play Resident Evil 4? How many times?
If game developers want to combat popular rental services like GameFly or second hand stores like GameStop, they need to accommodate the consumer’s wallet. A so-so selling game like Guitar Hero: Metallica would have sold more and have better reached its more niche audience if it hadn’t had the full $60 price tag.
Ultimately, I don’t think anyone would argue that games should be cheaper if they hold less value. DVD seasons of TV shows are more expensive than movies because they have much more content, why shouldn’t the same be with video games? We live in a world where Super Smash Bros. Brawl sits on a store shelf next to Sonic and the Black Knight, each priced at $49.99. Isn’t there something wrong with that?