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Do bad games get better as they drop in price?

posted on September 12th, 2007 by jay

Game Revolution gave Excite Truck a C, partly because it wasn’t worth 50 bucks. Does this mean that when the game sells for $20 they will change the review score to a B?

Factoring cost into a game’s review has always been something I try to avoid. It is very difficult to do. As much as I pretend games should be considered as stand-alone pieces of art and should not be compared to other things you could do with the money, this is at least partially idealistic bullshit. If a crappy $10 downloadable game is a waste of time, maybe it wouldn’t be at $1, and part of the reason it’s a waste of time is because an episode of Sam & Max is only $8. Clearly, on at least some level, it makes sense to consider the cost of a game when deciding whether you should recommend it to potential buyers.

Excite Truck will be so awesome when it costs $7.

The problem with this reasoning is it leads to many confusing and absurd questions. Is Otogi a better game than Disaster Report even if the latter costs a fifth of the former? No? How about a tenth? Is Resident Evil 4 still an amazing game if it costs $100? Does Suikoden 2 become less fun as its eBay price rises? Comparing fun to money works best in broad strokes – boating costs $5,000 and I am not very fond of it, going to the movies costs $40 with popcorn and a drink and I like movies. That’s an easy decision.

But when comparing cost between games we are engaging in a foolish arithmetic we hope will provide crystal clear answers of exactly how much fun per hour per dollar each title will yield. This is only further complicated by games’ constantly changing price sticker.

Ico and Orphen cost me seven dollars each. Shadow of the Colossus and Shining Tears each cost $50. Yet, Ico is as good as Shadow of the Colossus and Shining Tears is not worse than Orphen. I can sit here forever trying to convince myself that I would rather play Orphen then Shadow of the colossus or even Shining Tears because it cost me less money but it will never happen. However you compare these four games, what they cost has no bearing on how much fun they are or what I’d prefer to play.

Imagine an art critic arguing that expensive paintings need to be significantly better than cheaper paintings in order to be viable. How about a book reviewer saying a book is too short for its price and therefore worse than if it had been longer? Games are frequently criticized as too short, though most people would rather play a good short game than a bad long one. That the reviews of games often mention value is yet another symptom of video games being as much an electronic consumer product as a piece of artistic expression, a topic I touch on here.

It may be the case that there are two distinct types of game reviews, though the boundaries are frequently blurred in any specific review. There is the review that treats a game like a DVD player, HD TV set or any other electronic device. These weigh the fun against the cost and factors in game length in hopes of making an informed suggestion to the reader on whether or not the game is worth buying. The second type of review may ultimately also be trying to answer the buy or don’t buy question, but it focuses solely on the entertainment the game provides. These write ups ignore the factor of price in an attempt to objectively assess a games quality.

This game’s plot is less painful in Japanese (because I can’t read Japanese).

Both types of review exist on most sites and in most magazines. It is difficult to make a clear distinction between the methods while thinking about a game. You likely still feel ripped off after buying certain crappy games for full price but have forgotten about others – a 2 out of 10 may just be remembered as a terrible game but a 1 out of 10 may always represent you getting financially screwed. Besides being somewhat difficult to distinguish the two methods of thinking about a game, few or no reviewers explicitly make an effort to stick to one style of review. There are no “Art Games – We examine only the inner beauty of games” or “Consumer Reports Games: Is it worth your time and cash?” publications. Personally, I prefer the second type of review. Tell me how much fun a game is and let me do the math and book keeping.

If Game Revolution does not amend Excite Truck’s rating after its price drops, is it safe to assume they believe games become worse as they age, generally at the same rate as they are discounted?

7 Comments

  1. Matt said on September 12, 2007:

    I agree that at some points a reviewer should let the consumer decide if the game is worth the sticker price, but there are examples in the industry that lend themselves to factoring price into the overall review. One game that comes to mind is Shadowrun. While the game is rather fun, it has a huge lack of content. There really isn’t enough. Similar games at that price ($60) have a lot more than what Shadowrun gives the user. The game is great, and most reviewers enjoyed their time with it, but when your dollar doesn’t go as far as other games, the reviewer should let the player know that. I personally would like to see the actual score unscathed when considering the price tag, but I do want the price info added to the Closing Comments or general description of the game. I don’t like the fact that the game may get reduced in price, thereby increasing the game’s score, but no reviewers actually acknowledging the fact. The system we have now is semi-flawed.

  2. christian said on September 12, 2007:

    IRT Books – I’ve felt plenty of books could have benefited from longer expositions or by cutting out certain droning sections. Length can affect the quality of a book.

  3. jay said on September 12, 2007:

    If a book was too short it was too short because it didn’t expand things it should have, not because you didn’t get your moneys worth. In game reviews it’s rarely said that a game was too short to fully elaborate on all the game mechanics. It’s very frequently said that a game was too short to warrant its cost.

    A book or movie’s length may affect its quality but it does so only internally. A good movie should be short enough to not bore you, and long enough to express everything it needs to express. Outside factors like pricing don’t apply to our judgements of a book or movie being too long or short.

  4. christian said on September 12, 2007:

    Jay I agree with you, but you need to clarify this a little better next time.

  5. jay said on September 12, 2007:

    You’re right and so I added a few words that hopefully clear it up. And what do you mean next time? Are you implying I keep writing the same article over and over? Because you’d be right.

  6. Stefan said on September 12, 2007:

    What’s interesting is that I’ve almost never seen reviews of the consoles themselves which fail to explicitly consider the cost. It’s always a criteria for the hardware, but somehow it becomes something that (at least potentially) should be ignored when it comes to the software.

  7. Andrew said on September 13, 2007:

    Re: Books

    Yes and no. Entirely apart from a book being a good book or a bad book, it can be too-expensive-for-its-length.

    Obviously, I wouldn’t buy a longer book just because it’s longer. But I might not buy a shorter book because it’s too pricey for what it is.

    Let’s talk hard-covers, for a minute:

    Hard cover books seem to go for about $20 – $35 at full price, and more like $15 – $25 after discounts

    Assuming it was a book I wanted to read, I’d have no trouble paying $25 for a good book that I wanted to read.

    But what if the book is only 60 pages, and still costs $24.95 after the discounts I can get. At that price/length it would have to be so good that I couldn’t bear not to read it… it’s just too overpriced for its length — or too short for its price.

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