Sway Speaks - The Price of New Games


The MSRP of most new releases seems to be $49.99 (US). LetÂ's just call it fifty bucks. XBox, PS2, Gamecube, or PC, this seems to be the price where publishers can move the most product at the highest price. WeÂ've seen a couple exceptions on both sides of this line with games like Serious Sam and Neverwinter Nights. And lately, in order to pull a little extra profit, weÂ're seeing CollectorÂ's Edition, Platinum Edition, or Ultra Special Limited Fresh Squeezed Edition versions of games that tack an extra ten or fifteen dollars onto the tag. These versions are clearly giving avid fans what they want. We saw the Warcraft III Special Edition in the top ten list of games for a week or two. Are games too expensive? Maybe...maybe not, but I think there might be room for a lower-cost alternative.

When gamers justify the price they pay for a new release, the most common comparison I see is between video games and movies. This makes sense. They are both popular entertainment on screens. They both generally feature actors and storylines and a sequence of events that build to a climax and conclusion. TV is free(ish), so the most logical comparison would seem to be a movie. The argument I usually see goes something like this:

"A movie costs $8 for an hour and a half to two hours worth of entertainment. Final Fantasy X takes 50 hours to finish. Therefore, paying about $1 an hour for this game is a tremendous deal."

Is this valid? Sure it is; for those who will enjoy playing all 50 hours of Final Fantasy X in order to complete the story.  However, not all of us have the patience or passion to do this. Sometimes, despite the most enthusiastic intentions, we end up only making a dent into the plot. Will Zelda ever be rescued? We may never know. And there are the games that just donÂ't float our proverbial boats. The feeling of being cheated out of your money can be a little more acute when youÂ've dropped half a c-note than when youÂ've sacrificed a tenner.

Then there are the games that *gasp* donÂ't deliver 50 hours of rich gooey gaming goodness? We saw this most recently with Unreal II. This was a game that people spent more time writing previews about than actually playing. I heard times of under 10 hours to complete. Well, I would suggest that if you follow your $8 movie comparison, a 10 hour game would be worth $40-$53. Therefore Unreal II would appear to be a perfectly reasonable length for its price.

Am I going to argue that the movie vs. game comparison is flawed and should be sentenced to death in the Rancor Pit? Nope. IÂ'm merely going to use it as a basis for proposing a new shorter series of games, at a new reduced price. Imagine a solid ten hour game with maybe a few difficulty levels for replayabilityÂ's sake. Now imagine picking it up the day itÂ's released for $20. I think there would be some appeal to this sort of breed.

A short game offers advantages to developers, publishers, and gamers. Scripting a ten hour plot should be much more manageable in terms of maintaining a good pace than "boy meets girl - evil genius kidnaps girl - boy visits 30 towns and talks to 9,000 people - boy finds keys, dragonscales, moonstones, holy relic of Faraway - boy rescues girl". A shorter game would have to be a more controlled game, as opposed to the huge open-ended saga. This tighter structure would lend itself to easier playtesting and reduce the probability of bugs from players doing unexpected things. Publishers could push these games out the doors a little quicker. Smaller productions would cost less and require less of a return to realize a profit. The pressure for any individual game to succeed would diminish as the production cycle is shortened. The smaller productions would also allow publishers to take better advantage of a hot product. If a game proved popular, gamers could expect a new chapter of the game in months rather than years. And, perhaps most importantly, we would never have to fight the real final boss after the final boss again.

These games would clearly not replace any of the current genres. There are just as many gamers squeezing hundreds of hours out of a game as there are moving on after just a handful. But IÂ'm curious how many of you, especially filling the gamer-with-job role, would be interested in a more compact game experience. Personally, I donÂ't need each game I buy to be the most ultimate game in the universe, nor would I expect it if I was only paying $20. However, I would consider it money well spent if it gave me that movie-like satisfaction over a weekend or two.

I donÂ't even pretend to be in, near, or within the same zip code as "The Business". IÂ'm sure those of you who are have already compiled a list of reasons why this is impossible and have the formulae to prove it. ThatÂ's cool with me. IÂ'd encourage you to post them below. IÂ'm not trying to preach. IÂ'm only enabling the discussion, like Maury Povich, only with a sort of goatee thing. So sound off and tell me why IÂ'm wrong or why this idea might just be crazy enough to work. I canÂ't afford a new game yet so IÂ'll be stuck here for a while.


Nice piece there Sway.  This topic has been on my mind for a good year now.  I felt very burned for paying full price on NWN and WC3.  NWN just became boring fast and WC3 was so hard it was too frustrating to play.  I am now at a point where I almost always wait until a sale, ebay, or used.  I also don't have the time to be absorbed by a huge universe and take a long time to complete games.  I would welcome shorter games for less money.  With a wife and two kids I only average about 10 hours or so a week on games now.  I simply can't afford to get every new game that comes out for $50.  

I kind of feel the gamers that have grown up on video games are lacking games based on their needs.  The funny thing is I am 30 years old and have the money to spend on games, but I am not being catered to.  I need fast and satisfying gaming experiences based on 30 minutes to an hour of game play per week. 

I meant 30 minutes to a hour game play time per day.  Didn't know how to edit the comment.

I'm going to use Sway's analogy the next time I buy a game and my wife gives me "the look".

I find what also works is saying, "Geesh, this game cost $49.99 and I'll play it for months (small lie) and you just spent $60 on getting your hair 'cut' and that only lasts a few weeks!"

-man, I need to grow up.

I think one of the main issues around this is that there are already 10 hours games coming out that take at least two years and millions of dollars to produce. Games are getting shorter and shorter as it is, I don't think going forward and saying "We are going to make a 10 hour game and sell it for less" would fly at this point.

As far as something episodic for RPG's, I think that might work except I have enough trouble following the plot after leaving a game for a couple weeks, let alone a year

I agree with Sway with the sense that it's crazy but should be done, (though I doubt that you will be able to finish Final Fantasy X in 50 hours because as I hear it's bigger than FF8 which took me 147hours!... ) With the recent release of NFS6 (x- die hard fan because of NFS6 ) which is flop, I paid 50$ just to beat it in less than 5 hours, comparison to the same 50$ that I paid for Hitman 2 which took me a week. It seems unfair"… I should of paid 20$ on release for the NFS"… and that's why I support the idea.

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Budget games are short and 20$ and under!!

I agree with Sway, too. Actually I just wanted to mention that some games like this do exist. From what I've read, Moonbase Commander would fall under this category. I haven't played it, but everything I read about it was positive. It didn't try and change the gaming world forever. It simply provided a fun game at a less expensive price.

 I'm in agreement with Certis.  Games seem to be getting shorter and shorter.  Elite Force, Max Payne and Unreal II come to mind.  I really enjoyed Elite Force and Max Payne (haven't played Unreall II).  But my enjoyment was tempered... I don't think I got $50 worth of recreation out of either. 

Something episodic is an interesting idea.  However, I'm guessing that most of a game's production cost isn't in the story or its length.  A game that's 12 levels instead of 24 might not cost a lot less.  Most of the development costs probably have to do with creating the engine and other coding issues that are a mystery to me.

But once those are out of the way, I don't have a problem with buying sequels or expansions for something I enjoy.  Serious Sam is a good example.  I can't get enough of its over-the-top action.  I bought the first one and then the second.  And despite complaints that the engine isn't cutting edge anymore or is "looking old," I'll buy the third installment.