Debate Club: Price Should Affect Expectations.

Game A comes out today at $60.  It’s a triple-a title chock full of top-notch graphics, great art and sound design, good gameplay, and a solid 8 hour campaign.  It’s reviewed relatively well, an 86% on Metacritic.  Game B comes out today as well, and it’s $20.  It’s an indie title, a 2d action RPG with a simple pixel-art style.  It’s got some rogue-like elements and a 5 hour campaign.  There are some technical issues with the game and the gameplay is a bit unbalanced.  Overall the game is fairly well like, it ends up with a 73% on Metacritic.  So, which game is better?

The importance (or lack thereof) of reviews aside, how do you judge games in an era where differences in price is so vast.  Gone are the days when pretty much all games were $50 – $60.  These days games range from $10 all the way up to $80+ for some collector’s editions.  So with so much difference in price, what defines a good game?

The truth here is that value is important.  That’s not to say that an utterly awful $5 game is better than a brilliant $60 game just because of price, but all things being even moderately equal, buying cheaper games means buying more games.  But even when things aren’t quite equal, even when the cheaper game might not be quite as good as the more expensive one, the price difference is still usually enough to make a pretty significant difference.

An example an inexpensive game also being an excellent one.

For most of us it comes down to a math formula, even we don’t realize it.  Given any two games we’re interested in buying we’re always more likely to buy the cheaper one, even if the more expensive one is the one we’re more interested in.  The reason this makes so much sense is because price we all want to find value in what we’re buying.  It’s the same reason that the Steam sale is so popular.  We find more value in games based on the amount we have to pay for them.

Not all games are created equal, some are just better than others, but as long as we’re not talking about games that are wildly different in terms of quality the price difference makes a huge difference in how we perceive quality.  Quality and value are two concepts that are almost impossible to divorce when thinking of games.  Take Watch Dogs  for example.  If you’re a hardcore gamer you were probably interested in the coverage that it received when it came out.  You most likely checked out some reviews.  If you did, you knew that the game didn’t receive the perfect scores that some were expecting.  It wasn’t the “welcome to next gen” moment that some thought it might be.  It wasn’t a bad game though.  It was a decent game, but it was a decent game with a pretty high $60 price tag.  Watch Dogs at $45 or even $30 feels much more like a great game though, doesn’t it?  Imagine walking into Best Buy and picking that game up for $30 on day one; you’d feel like you were getting a steal.  The same game with the same luke-warm reviews at $60 feels much less like a great game though, doesn’t it?

Is this worth $60?

The bottom line here is that even if we’d like our view of games to be purely based on quality, with no other factors carrying any weight, that’s just not feasible.  It’s much easier to review movies without taking into account price because movies all generally cost the same.  The price difference in games, on the other hand, is so wildly different that it’s impossible to not tie at least a little bit of the perceived quality of a game to it’s price tag.