I recently reviewed a little title that got a lot of people talking – Goat Simulator. This tongue-in-cheek addition to the recent glut of simulators on the market managed to make a big impact on the gaming community. The developer, Coffee Stain Studios, has also brought to market the popular Sanctum series of FPS tower-defense games. Both of these games are going for $9.99 on Steam, and yet I suspect that a majority of people would not necessarily say they are both worth the same amount of money. The fact that many people find Goat Simulator to be a cash grab and rip-off even at only the cost of a movie ticket says a lot about how our purchasing habits have changed as gamers. To me it seems like we are doing ourselves a great disservice as a community by forcing every game to fit into some sort of price-to-time curve, or by extolling the virtues of low-cost indie gaming and deriding the high cost of mainstream gaming.

So then, how exactly do we as gamers decide if a game is worth it, and how do we derive value from the games we play? Most of us have pretty limited gaming budgets, so how do we actually decide what we spent money on? Why it is so many people dropped ten bucks on a title that was designed from the start as nothing but a joke? Where do we see value in a game that has crashing it as an achievement, and where “every bug is an undocumented feature” is reality rather than just a humorous mantra.


 

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That goat is hang-gliding. How could this not be worth $10?


 

Before I really say anything else, let’s just start at an obvious reality of the world, a reality that extends into gaming. Value is subjective, and the only person that can determine the worth of something is the person using it. There are people who spend thousands of dollars on coins that were once worth only one. There are people who spend in the millions for a car, because that is how they get their kicks. On the flip side, I’m searching for a new car and balk at the prices on even the cheapest ones I can find.

For some people buying goat simulator at $9.99 is a great value, and for others it is a rip-off. There is no getting around that subjectivity. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t still examine that ideas we have regarding valuing games, and making decisions about where our money goes.

There is no greater sign of being a hardcore gamer than about complaining of the rising prices of video games. If you haven’t completely dismissed the notion of paying $60 for a new game, many gamers will think you are just a corporate shill, despite the fact that if adjusted for inflation a $50 N64 game like Ocarina of Time would today cost over $70.

So what caused our perception of price to change in the intervening years? Why is $10, the same price as a 2-hour movie ticket, seen a rip-off for a game that could give you 2 or 3 times that amount of fun, while being interactive to boot? There are two potential culprits I would personally pin the blame on: Steam and indie game developers.

Of course, blaming Steam for low prices isn’t exactly a fair choice of words. I can hardly fault a company for bringing me more games for fewer dollars. However, it often seems to go unmentioned that it is only older titles (albeit, maybe only 6 months old) that are seeing big drops in prices on Steam and other distribution services. Most triple-A titles are inevitably going to be $60 on release, and that is unlikely to change in the near future. Moreover, when it does change, it is going to change in an upwards trajectory.  None the less, the lower prices we see through Steam are ultimately good for the gaming community as it drives competition and makes it easier on our pocket books to enjoy the games we want to, even if it may also be somewhat impacting the revenue of major game developers.

Steam has, without doubt, drastically impact our purchasing habits. As indicated by Jon Francois, co-head of the video game department here at DTC, Steam sales can drastically impact our view of the value of a game, even if we have already purchased it:

 “Unless I’ve really enjoyed the game and think that the developers deserve the full price for the game, seeing a game that I just bought for full price go on sale for 70% off is an awful feeling.”

Developers are simply going to have to adapt to an ever changing market, and recognize the changes occurring in the perceived value of games to gamers.

The other big motivators for a decreased perception of value of modern games are independent game developers. Popular games such as Minecraft, Terraria, Super Meat Boy, and the aforementioned Sanctum have drastically altered our perceptions of value. Minecraft is one of the most expensive independent games out there and it is still only 26.95 USD. Most independent games run the gamut between $5 and $20, often for many hours of entertainment.

“But wait!” You say, “You can’t blame indie developers for depressing the price of games. Aren’t cheaper games a good thing?”

Well yes and no, fictional debate partner. The consumer in me readily recognizes the tremendous benefit to gamers everywhere in having lower priced games It means that even those of us with limited budgets can continue to enjoy the hobby. Factor in the lower system requirements for most indie games and they have truly turned gaming into an accessible multimedia medium, available to all economic groups.

On the other hand, indie developers are rarely on the cutting edge of gaming, at least when it comes to technology. They are often taking an avant-garde approach to game design, which is a welcome change from playing the same shooters and RPGs year in and year out, but it is developers such as Epic Games and Crytek that bring us cutting edge physics, near-realistic modeling and textures, and the latest and greatest in game engine development. As great a team of developers as Coffee Stain Studios are, they simply do not have the resources to push the medium to the next technological level. As they and other studios like them continue to produce low cost but high quality titles, they will be walking hand in hand with the technological developments that other developers bring to the table.

As such, it does us no good to feel slighted by every little price increase in mainstream gaming. There is no reason that games that cost $60 (or even more) cannot sit alongside titles that cost less than lunch. It is those expensive triple-A titles that will continue to fund the forward march of our hobby into new and exciting technological realms, and will provide new tools for other developers to work with to bring us the next Minecraft.


 

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Even being the cheapass I am, it’s hard for me to say that doesn’t look like a $60 game.


 The high price of mainstream gaming is not the only point of contention with gamers when it comes to value and money. Another hot-button issue is DLC and “free-to-play” games. Many people, me included, completely balk at the idea of spending money in game to buy a new skin or unlock a power-up faster. My recent purchase of Titanfall came with an internal determination to never pay any money for new maps or other DLC as it comes to the game. As a gamer raised on the full expansion pack of yesteryear it is hard for me to justify paying money for something as small as a new map. Of course, not everyone feels the same way, or else games like League of Legends would not be able to survive at all. With some players spending hundreds of dollars on Riot points it is remaining harder and harder for me to bullheadedly refuse to spend money on in-game purchases.

Charles, another writer here at DTC, put it best when he said the following about in-game purchases:

“How many times have you walked past a vending machine and were like, ‘Man, a Coke sounds good,’ and then pay $1 for that Coke. How many times were you enjoying Candy Crush or other similar games and ran out of energy but refused to pay the fifty cents and complain how it’s not worth it. How we buy something affects our perceived value of it.”

Not only does how we buy something affect our perceived value of it, how we interact with it and how it was produced do so as well. We can easily justify the Coke by looking at how much was spent to produce it and bring it to us (even if our ideas of these costs are not well established), but it is much harder for us to quantify the costs involved in producing and bringing to market a video game or other piece of software. We tear apart in-game purchases and the high cost of gaming by trying to tell ourselves about how infinitely dividable a game is. I can just make a copy of a game and give it to someone else and easily justify it because the developer had no part in copying that game.

This is now part of the job of every game developer. The digitization of the medium has resulted in a dissociation of product and price. We no longer have the direct correlation between the cartridge or disc we would have bought and the price we paid for it. Instead we are paying for ideas, licenses, and services. These are concepts, and pinning a price to them is much harder for the average person. As such, game developers will have to work extra hard at selling that price to gamers. Game developers will have to always be trying to justify the value in their game.

So then, where does Goat Simulator fit into all of this? Some have decried the game as nothing more than as cash grab, while others have extolled it as the developers giving the community exactly what they want. Whether you see it as a waste of ten dollars, or some of the best money you’ve spent in years will be entirely dependent upon which of the above opinions you subscribe to.

We often come down hard on gaming as being an expensive hobby, but I personally find it impossible to put a price on the incredible impact that it has had on my life. I am me in part because of gaming, and that is how I’ve found value in gaming, and how I’ve justified my purchases to myself. So as you hover your mouse cursor above the buy button on Steam, just keep in mind all of the work that went into putting that game in front of you, and in giving you a chance to experience it. Think about the amount of fun that gaming is bringing into your life, and decide whether to click the button, or close the window. Ultimately, you are going to be the only one that can make that choice, but we should all be a little bit more aware of how we make it, and the impact it will have on the future of gaming.

About The Author

David grew up in the Detroit area without becoming a degenerate. He loves exploring the world in every way imaginable. His favorite pastimes include video gaming, board gaming, watching anime, and speaking in the third person.

One Response to The Price of Gaming: Finding Value in Video Games

  1. Scott Gregson says:

    Being in Australia, our games (and lots of stuff) are a bit more expensive. AAA titles have been known to be $110 for PC and consoles. Nuts, right? The “amount someone is willing to pay” is obviously pretty connected to the importance of the hobby in their lives. I’m more of a comics guy so when I have the cash, I’m more than happy to plonk down the $8 (Australia) for an issue (22 pages, non-interactive, etc) but paying $10 for Goat Simulator seems (to me) to be an absolute folly.

    At the time of writing The Stanley Parable is 50% off, making it about $7.50, but given the chance I’d rather buy the next issue of All-New X-Factor. Now, part of that is me being old and having a physical THING for my money is probably something my lizard-brain wants, but at the same time, I feel like I’m going to get my money’s worth from a comic – even it sitting in a collection makes me just a little happy – while the game would make me happy for a time, perhaps, but I’d still prefer to just play F2P stuff like DC Universe Online, RIFT or The Secret World.

    Trepidation perhaps, since I don’t know if I’ll enjoy a game till I play it, or maybe conservatism, since I plonked down a chunk of cash close to release day for both Pokemon X and Pokemon Y. But for me, a game needs to keep me playing for… well, hundreds of hours, before I can justify its purchase. I paid about $4 for Risk of Rain and I regret it weeks later when I’ve only played it for about 20 hours. A game needs to be a permanent addition to my life, I guess, before I deem it worthy.