Near the end of pay periods at work, I gaze at my bank account while a strong sense of wanting to kill myself pervades my soul. The number inches ever closer to zero while the hole in my heart has still not been filled with enough stuff. Then I see a new game is released and I curse the price of games these days. I imagine myself sitting in a rocking chair telling youngsters that in my day we didn’t have the fancy Internet but games cost pennies and we had to make them last. Ok, maybe not pennies, but surely games back in my day were cheaper. So off to the Internet I went to prove my point, and I found out how much of an ignorant fool I really am. But this research got me thinking – What is a video game really worth?
Let’s take a look at the results of my minutes of research on game prices. I came across this nifty graph on 1UP that listed Final Fantasy II (IV), my favoritest game ever, as costing $69.99 when it was released in 1992. Ok, that was a bit more than I had remembered. But hell, my FFXIII-2 collectors edition was $80 so I still win! Then I saw the after-inflation prices. For those of you without a degree in economics, inflation is a process by which you realize your parents should have gone bankrupt feeding your game addiction. Also something about adjusting prices to what they would be today. Final Fantasy II (IV) jumped up to a $113.57. Well that’s something. Oh, Streets of Rage II, that game that people are complaining about paying a couple bucks to download? Try paying just shy of a hundred dollars for a chance to beat up street gangs for an hour. As for console pricing, well, I still can’t afford a Neo Geo at $993.65. Thank you for existing, Virtual Console. I admit, games are actually cheaper nowadays than they were in my youth. So how do I know if a game is actually worth my money? For me, it comes down to two factors: Cost over the duration of time I play the game, and the lasting impact of the game.
After I’m done with a game, I mean truly completely done where it goes back on my shelf never to see the light of day, I do this little math equation to determine the surface worth of the game. It’s really simple. I divide the cost of the game by the hours I spent playing it. Let’s say, for example, I spent 17 hours on Uncharted 3. Not being big into multiplayer and not having the time to return for treasure hunting, I declare myself finished with the game (I actually stand up and say “I am finished with you!”). I paid $60 for the game so I divide 60 by 17 and arrive at $3.52 per hour of entertainment. If that dollar amount us under five bucks I consider the game “worth it” from a financial standpoint. I figure I’ll spend ten bucks on a two hour movie so a game should offer me the same if not larger bang for my bucks. This also works for games I play once and never return to. Maybe I played Musashi: Samurai Legend for a grand total of an hour and spent $20 on it. Well then clearly the game wasn’t financially worth it. Does that mean I wasted my money? Nope, because a game’s worth exceeds past the financial investment, at least in my opinion.
Before we move on to defining worth beyond price, let’s apply this exercise to gaming consoles. Everyone was up in arms that the PS3 cost $600 at release. Yeah, I’ll admit, that’s a huge chunk of change, just as the PS2 was when it came out at $300. Funny story, I emptied my saving accounts when I was 16 and ditched school to purchase a PS2 on launch day. The parental units were not happy. I use my PS3 as my primary Blu-ray player, to stream movies, play games, chat with friends, workout, and so on and so on. Let’s do some math. I bought a launch PS3 for $600, then had to pay a repair fee of $150 when it broke and was out of warranty. Then I picked up a slim model for $300. So my total investment in a PS3 console (let’s ignore controllers) was $1050. Now let’s say I use my PS3 an average of 2 hours a day. That’s roughly 5 and a half years, or 2007 days. Using my insanely simple formula my PS3 has given be entertainment to the tune of 26 cents an hour. Think about that. That’s less than I pay to save those animals Sarah McLachlan guilted me into sponsoring. Think about that number the next time you’re debating a game/console purchase.
This works all well and good for traditional games, but what about for casual games like Angry Birds or MMOs? This is where things get a bit more complicated, but it will act as the bridge between monetary worth and deeper value. I paid a buck for Angry Birds on my Kindle. So no matter what I should be happy, right? I can’t justify spending sixty dollars on the game, but I play it every morning on the train ride to work. I have been ingrained with this idea that casual games should be way cheaper than consoles games. I think this is because casual games are not about an experience, they’re about a distraction, a way to pass time. It is this view that impacts my cost analysis. If I pay five bucks for a Kindle game, you’d better be damn sure it distracts me for many a commute.
MMOs on the other hand swing into the opposite direction. They have an ongoing cost for an ongoing experience. Provided new content is being released, you have to weight the cost long term. Fifteen dollars a month is a small price to pay for 30 hours of gaming each month, but for one or two log-ins maybe you should invest in Skyrim. As for free MMOs, it asks you to place a monetary value on the game. I never paid to play the Shin Megami MMO but I did buy a membership to DC Universe Online. One grabbed me, one was a casual distraction (and we know how I see casual distractions). So there are times when my cost analysis is super effective in determining how much I’ll pay for a game.
Cost is one thing, but what about a game’s impact? If the only value video games had were financial I’d have given up the expensive hobby a long, long time ago. For me at least, games have an inherent value in my life that no equation could calculate. As I mentioned above, Final Fantasy IV is my favorite game of all time. I’ve bought and re-bought copies of it and will continue to do so as they release new iterations. Why? Because of the value it holds in my life. Final Fantasy IV was the game that got me into RPGs, it was the first game that created a dialogue about games among myself and my friends. It was because of that love that I bought a Playstation for Final Fantasy VII, that I discovered online gaming journalism in my hunt for FFVIII information. It lead to my reading of a preview for Final Fantasy X in an issue of Electronic Gaming Monthy that inspired me to actually WRITE about games. Other games hold similar value. Zelda II was the first game I broke a controller over. Mischief Makers showed me that games could be wacky and awesome. The first Mortal Kombat ignited my Nintendo fanboy rage when I had to defend the lack of blood to my Sega-owning peers. I could go on and on. Even games I hated still hold value, because they taught me what I wanted in a game, flaws I could forgive and those I couldn’t. In many ways, games shape us in the same way that people shape us. Yes, on a smaller scale, but we are the sum of our experiences, and 40 hours invested in a game is an experience. Take a few minutes and think of your favorite game. Think WHY it is your favorite game. I can guarantee the reasons are far deeper than great graphics or a solid storyline. Great games, like music, movie, books, and television impact us long after we put down the controller. Therein lies the non-monetary value of your games.
What have we learned from this little exercise? Firstly, I clearly have too much time on my hands. But more importantly, games are worth the value we ascribe to them. Maybe we want a fifty hour adventure or perhaps we want a couple hours of flinging birds at pigs. All games have worth, but it’s up to you to decide how you define it.