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Sun, 23 Jan 2011

The Value of Video Games

In this news story, Michael Rawlinson, some panjandrum in a video game makers' association, says that big budget video games aren't overpriced. "These big games, you get 20 to 50 hours game play, which is tremendous value for money". This is for games that have a typical retail price of £55, so you pay between £2.75 and £1 for each hour of entertainment.

If Rawlinson really cared about value for money and not simply about milking his gullible customers for every penny he can, then he'd agree with the pirates who say that such games are poor value for money. The proof? Osmos. It currently costs £1.79. For it to be as poor value as rubbish like Call Of Duty 94, it would have to provide just 33 minutes of entertainment. I've already spent hours playing it. Of course, you'll get even better value out of a pack of cards (which cost £1), Scrabble or chess (a tenner), a pair of walking boots (60 quid), or any number of other entertainments which don't involve an expensive computer.

Of course, this notion that a video game has a certain amount of game play and no more is the real flaw. Good video games don't constrain the player to a plot which will eventually come to an end. If you want a plot, then you should read a book or go to the cinema. It's lack of a plot, and reliance entirely on the player's ingenuity through which he will find novelty, that has made games like Scrabble, chess and go remain popular after decades, centuries, even millenia.

Posted at 13:45 by David Cantrell
keywords: media
Permalink | 4 Comments

I think Rawlinson could possibly have put together a better argument.

In the case the latest Call of Duty it probably cost upwards of $40million to make, could be bought on day one for £24.99 (or a fiver with the the trade-in) and the majority of gamers play online almost exclusively - which is where the guts of the experience happens, so there's no story that comes to an end.

5.6 million people were happy enough with the previous CoD to spring for the latest on day one - not something that would happen if it were anything less than an excellent experience.

More importantly, we should hit the ale soon. I suggest grabbing Mr Zie too. You've got my email address now :)

Posted by Mark Patterson on Sun, 23 Jan 2011 at 14:08:16

You raise a very valid point about the openness of the game. There are games where the payer can play it for a few minuets and come back to play it a different way. Games where you play against other people typically are also very different each time. There are plenty of free puzzle games that come bundled with a computer that will happily keep me occupied for hours. Open games have very long life spans - people still play minesweeper and Tetris!

The closed format game is much more structured, you need to do X to achieve Y so that you can do Z. Unless there is a multi-player element or very complex structure, these games are nothing more than partially iterative films. In that case while I accept the very high production cost, I agree with you, I don't think at an intellectual level they represent good value for money!

Posted by Adam on Sun, 23 Jan 2011 at 16:36:57

Good video games can constrain the player with a plot, if the plot is the point of the game. By this, I mean the early Infocom oeuvre and other non-action games.

I think you're wrong to compare a non-plot game (Osmos) to a plot-action game (Call of Duty - various versions), but a bigger wrong is to slap a shitty plot onto an action game and call it valuable. The early Infocom games were valuable because they were intricate puzzles in which one could spend a lot of time exploring before finishing the game. Yes, there was a lot of repetition in the games, but not so much as in the modern games, which tend toward mindless repetition.

Ultima IV is another example of an elaborate puzzle world, and perhaps a better example than the Infocom stable. Ultima IV did not have a set plot, and was one of the first (if not the first) games in which moral choices affected one's character and the perception of that character within the game world. The game also had an elaborate cosmology, which several of us inferred until a friend took the time to document the intricacies of the world. The value there was that four of us pooled our resources to map and discuss the game. It speaks poorly to our high school computer science teacher that we finished in-class work early, so we could use the final 20 minutes of class to discuss Ultima.

Ultima primarily was a puzzle game, and it does not do to compare shooters, like CoD, to other genres. Shooters are mindless at best, and the level of entertainment is little more than what is provided by a strobe light, loud music, immobilization, and a good drunk.

Posted by John on Sun, 23 Jan 2011 at 20:55:53

I hated Infocom-stylee adventures. Partly because the user-interface was so obtuse, but mostly because you would either solve puzzles the authors' way or not at all. This is why I prefer old-style face-to-face adventure role-playing. If I diverge from the plot, then the *human* moderating the game will cope, where a computer would just say "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid you can't do that".

Posted by David Cantrell on Sun, 23 Jan 2011 at 21:19:43

Sorry, this post is too old for you to comment on it.