Price vs Length

We all like to get our money’s worth when we buy a game.  How many times have you brought home a fresh new game and been absolutely frustrated with it?  Or finished it in just a few stiff, unfun hours?  I know that I have fallen victim to this several times in the past, particularly in the days before the Internet and dozens of reviews within easy reach.  With the recent release of Bioshock Infinite, I have seen a lot of discussion (again) about the concept of the length of a game being related to the value said game should be priced at or is “worth.”  This is a discussion that has always annoyed me and always makes me feel like writing something in response.

I understand why this concept still exists.  In today’s world, with people losing their jobs left and right, money is a somewhat tight commodity in some households.  Spending $60 on a brand new game that you feel didn’t give you your money’s worth is a constant problem.  This is the reason why game reviews exist, however, and why most of them tend to have an hour count somewhere in their text.  Those people who rush out to the store to buy something on day one only have themselves to blame for buying a stinker or something that isn’t as long as they expect it to be.  A few days of patience and research can save a gamer from blowing hundreds of dollars a year on games that aren’t quite for them.

Reviews aren’t perfect, though.  The real issue with the whole price vs. length concept is that every person has their own set of ideas on what makes a game worth the purchase price.  A reviewer may look for different things in an ideal game of theirs than a reader of that review.  As an example, there are those people out there that think any game without some kind of multiplayer is a rip-off.  When you compare the potential life of a multiplayer game such as Call of Duty to the 8-10 hours of your average single-player focused game, it’s not much of a competition.  Those games with multiplayer are obviously the better value for those gamers, as long as they are widely played online.  While there are RPGs out there with 60+ hours of gameplay, a number much better than the average game release, they still don’t quite match up to the potential longevity of a good multiplayer game.  This is an understandable conclusion to make for some value-minded consumers.

Still, why must a game have hours and hours of content in order to be “worth the money?”  To me, the defining characteristic of what makes a game “worth the money” is my level of enjoyment with it.  I paid $50 for Portal 2 when it came out and beat it in an evening.  Did I regret that it was so short?  Maybe a very little bit, but the experience I had with the game was great enough that I didn’t care.  I played through Journey in about three hours, but it was one of the most powerful gaming experiences I had that year.  If it had been even a couple hours longer, I might not have thought so highly of it.  That game is such a sharply made experience that any more content might have diminished what was so great about it.  In my mind, the best games know just how long to be and don’t overstay their welcome by padding with useless and boring content.  I can think of few things worse than a game that takes a fun idea and runs it into the ground by being too long for its own good.  Length does not directly relate to a better game; a game must instead be the correct length for its gameplay systems and content.

I think I’m just going to have to accept the fact that everyone thinks of a game’s value in a different way.  While I may have no problem with a $50-60 game with only 5 hours of (amazing) content, some people won’t be satisfied with those numbers.  There are gamers out there that have more time on their hands than money and just need games that will last them for a month or maybe even a year in some cases.  While I still think calling a game like Bioshock Infinite a “poor value” is ridiculous, because of the sheer quality of the content in question, I am at least beginning to let myself be okay with other people’s reasons for these beliefs.  After all, we are all looking for different things in our games, and that is one of the main reasons why gaming is such an interesting form of entertainment.  I just wish that those people could also realize that these games aren’t poor values; they just aren’t exactly the games they are looking for.

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