The Value of Video Games

I have long sought to develop a metric to determine whether or not a video game was “worth it” other than the extremely subjective “it felt worth it” scale. A lot of proposed scales use things like “dollars per hour” using the average hours to completion for the game. Other metrics try to tie it to replayability or how many times per week you play the game. One metric proposed by Brian David Gilbert when he still worked for Polygon involved creating his own units and figuring out what was the best game of the year because it had the highest score after being run through his incredibly complex equation. All of these are certainly useful metrics to some people or at least funny to try applying, but I am beginning to think that it might be impossible to actually come up with a true metric for if a game was worth the price in cases where it isn’t clear one way or the other.

Most of the time, it’s pretty clear. I paid $60 a year when I was playing Destiny 2 and I got hundreds of hours of genuine and enjoyable entertainment from those investments and it was easy to just not spend the money again when it became clear I was no longer enjoying myself. On the other end of the spectrum, I spent about 20 hours total playing Celeste and I would have easily paid triple what I did for that game. Then there’s stuff like the latest Madden game that absolutely isn’t worth any amount of money for me, but I can see how other people might be willing to pay $60 for the latest US Football numbers in their sports game of choice. After all, I paid $60 for a remake of a game I still own and could just replay for free since there doesn’t seem to be much content to distinguish Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl from their original versions other than a chibi character model style I, personally, don’t particularly enjoy. I may be a little on the fence about if I should have spent that $60 on this game, but I don’t question that the game was worth $60. After all, now I can continue working on collecting legendaries and completing a full Pokédex in whatever service it is that currently lets you swap pokemon between games for $15 a year.

Every so often, though, a game comes along where I’m just not sure it’s worth the full price. Just like the other cases, it comes in many different flavors. Like Baldur’s Gate 3 (I’m specifically talking about its pre-lease state), that still crashes once every hour or two while I’m playing it and has recently started giving me creepy “The Exorcist” vibes because the character models turn every which way except for their faces with ALWAYS stay facing the camera rather than my character model during cutscenes and dialogue. I regret spending $60 on it. I’ll still play it, of course, because it can be fun and enjoyable when it works right, but it definitely isn’t worth more than Celeste was. Fallout 76, on the other hand, I paid full price for because my friends seemed super into it and then we all stopped playing pretty much instantly. I got maybe three or four hours into that game and just stopped. Too much play time to return it, but enough to know it wasn’t worth my time. It was worth some amount of money, of course, because so many people worked on it and would continue to do so, but I don’t think I’d pay more than $10 to play it knowing what I do now, even after everything they’ve done since launch.

For the most part, games seem to fall into price categories based on the type of studio that produces them rather than gameplay time, hours played by the community, or any other, more sensible, metric. Well-established studios get to put out clunkers valued at $60 a pop plus DLC and various collectibles while some of the best games I’ve ever played, released by small or unknown studios, get priced at $20 or less. And sure, those studios usually have fewer employees, fewer costs, smaller budgets, etc, but it’s almost an industry standard these days that they produce better games than all those so-called “Triple-A” studios.

There’s a longer conversation to be had here about game quality and how throwing an infinite number of “disposable” employees at a game doesn’t actually fix any of the problems involved in developing huge games. I’ll leave most of that to the people actually involved in the industry because it’s super easy to criticize from the sidelines but incredibly hard to offer actually constructive criticism from the same position. Instead, I’ll end this with the best tip I’ve got for figuring out if a game is worth your money or not: check the reviews on the store or whatever platform you’ve got that have fewer than five hours played.

These reviews will usually list whatever made them quit the game and nothing else. If you have over 200 hours in a game and you say it’s not a good game, I do not believe you. No one plays a game they hate for 200+ hours. No one with that many hours in a game gets to complain about it being empty or boring. Sure, some of those people may have just left it running for a week or whatever while they waiting for it to respond, but if you give me a critique of the plot and notes about how empty the world is and you have over 250 hours playing, then I’m pretty sure you just want to be mad about something. Like me and Baldur’s Gate 3 (though what I want to be made about there is them using their “beta” players as testers in place of sufficient testing staff and I feel like that’s legitimate to be mad about but I’ll also admit this is my opinion and opinions are usually pretty biased).

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