Reviews! They’re a big deal on the Internet. We love to slap numbers on stuff and dissect games into tidy little compartments – placing a chunk of Gameplay here, a morsel of Audio there – before we give it a Final Review Score For Metacritic. What does it all mean? The Review Rundown is a series explaining the process of reviewing games.
And, we’re back! After a few weeks away the Review Rundown hits digital shelves with its digital self’s new installment. This time around, I’m going to lump two concepts together into a hopefully cogent amalgam of thought. These two ideas are Replay Value and Monetary Value. But, seriously, what is value?
The two intertwine in obvious ways, the longevity of a game having a large influence on whether we are comfortable paying the asking price. This doesn’t necessarily equate to the price of a game serving as a benchmark of length, though. In fact – dealing with issues as vast as physical vs. digital and Metacritic and review scores in general – it mostly the opposite. So, how the hell do I look at the fundamental value of a game when reviewing?
Well, it’s a balancing act. I remember reviewing Zeno Clash 2 and being a bit torn. It is admittedly a mediocre game held aloft by a unique gameplay hook and stellar design (I feel my three and a half stars a bit too generous in hindsight). What constantly conflicted me was the value. Is this title long enough? Is it pretty enough? Is it deep enough? Is it simply good enough? All these were up in the air because of the asking price of a scant twenty dollars.
The answer to most of those questions is “maybe,” and that’s a-okay. If it was a $60 game, they would be bumped down to “probably not,” and that’s not okay. Cheaper games are usually games that don’t have the luxury of large publisher support. We can assume it’s because of low confidence or even lower funding towards a successful product. Likewise, the publisher of ZC2, ATLUS, was almost silent about it.
I’ve often said two things about indie games: support them and they’re unimaginative. They also typically have low replay value. This is a foreseen consequence from having a truncated timeline and shoe-string budget. To make up for this inherent lack in replay value, they beef up the monetary value. That’s where the established $5 – 15 price point comes in. At that cost, almost anything of tangible substance has worth. You can only get a footlong sub for an entire Wii console anyways!
But what about the Halos and the CoDs? They have budgets larger than most space exploration ventures. That’s where our other beloved price point is: sixty America dollars. It’s a good number, but with it comes a hefty weight. Whether or not the game’s story is enough to justify such a large cost is totally up to the gamer. Multiplayer modes are a dime a dozen now, too. So, it’s hard to slap a binding definition on it all. How do we judge if such a complex octopus of a thing has value or not?
Now we’re getting into some stuff! We can ask if a game successfully meeting the goals it set out to accomplish. Besides being the basis of reviewing itself, when I put this side-by-side with cost, I get value. And don’t go all Liberal Arts Degree on me and say some snooty BS like, “How can you, the consumer, decide what the end goal of a product is?” or, “Simply by observing the experiment, you change its outcome.” We can easily guess what a game is trying to achieve and thusly judge it.
We all have different budgets, and that’s a factor I can’t control or assume. But I often wonder what makes a game worth buying over a tank of gas, a nice dinner out or 12 footlong subs. As a reviewer I feel a definite responsibility to safeguard the reader’s money and think about value more so than any other criteria. It’s a guessing game, sure. But, as most things, you just gotta feel it out. Sixty dollars towards BioShock Infinite might get you a lasting touchstone story, but the same money could get you one or two hundred hours of an MMO.
It’s nearly impossible to quantify value, yes, but it is the one thing we should always keep in mind. Because I’m playing with your money so-to-speak and that’s hard enough to manage. So, let me know. How do you judge value in a game?