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PAX East Panel: It's Not The Length, It's The Mirth - Game Length Versus Value

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Posted March 14, 2011 - By Guest Writer


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By Dennis Scimeca

PAX East Panel: It's Not The Length, It's The Mirth - Game Length Versus Value

With so many platforms and mediums on which to purchase and play our games, how do we decide how much a game is worth anymore? Lord of the Rings Online is an infinite experience which is entirely free to play. Limbo only takes three to four hours to complete and actually costs you money. AAA titles with ten-hour-long campaigns cost $60 while an iPhone title like Angry Birds, which for many gamers is the gift that keeps on giving, only costs $0.99. Is there any coherent math by which we can make determinations of value anymore? 

According to Christopher Grant, Editor-in-Chief of Joystiq.com, and moderator of the panel, time-per-dollar metrics break down very quickly. Compared to Tetris, Dragon Age is a ripoff, he jokingly suggested. Grant cited websites like Gaming Age and Cheap Ass Gamer who complained about the short playtime of Limbo, which was also a title that won a slew of awards. In this case, the time-per-dollar metric doesn't seem to make sense versus a quality-per-dollar analysis. So what does make sense? Read on for more.

Chris Hecker, the designer of Spy Party, doesn't understand these sorts of complaints. "If you value your time, which if you're over 20 you probably do," he began, "Why would gamers actually want titles that provide a specific number of hours' worth of content if much of that content is padding? If you value your time, then you should want the game to be as efficient as possible."

Justin McElroy, Reviews Editor of Joystiq.com, expressed a concern that the people who complain about not getting enough length out of their gaming experiences represent an unhealthy relationship between these people and their games. He suggested that these were people looking at video games as an ìanesthetic and distractionî rather than a valuable experience. 

Hecker observed that people don't judge movies by these sorts of metrics. Titanic doesn't cost more because it's three and a half hours long. If you start doing games that deserve to be judged on their artistic value, he said, ìthe time versus money equation goes away. Hecker was concerned that this time-per-dollar analysis is essentially a businesslike way of looking at video games, reflecting on the fact that video games are often covered in the technology section of a newspaper, which is connected to the business section, rather than in the entertainment or art sections. But when it comes to time-per-dollar analysis, this is something conducted by gamers within the culture, not outside observers of it.

Michael Wilford, the CEO of Twisted Pixel, developers of the Xbox Live Arcade title Splosion Man, thought that the time-per-dollar metric existed in part due to gamers' technological savvy. He remembered hearing that the SNES would be 16-bit, and then learning how more advanced game cartridges and later CDs would hold even more information. Gamers understand what this means in terms of the amount of content which theoretically can be provided, and Wilford wondered whether or not gamers simply expect the boundaries to continue being pushed.

Grant asked McElroy whether professional reviewers might look more kindly on shorter games than fans by virtue of reviewer's unique relationship with games. McElroy admitted that if he is sent a 30-hour game two days before he is expected to review it, he's going to hate that game by the end, but has to put that feeling aside. He certainly might look more kindly on an 8-hour game, however, if he thinks about his 50-hour work week and how much more the 8-hour game will allow him to accomplish in that time period.

Most of the panel was spent talking about this time-per-dollar metric, but Grant also asked the panel some pointed questions about how they determine the prices for their games. Hecker stated the fact that Microsoft, not the developers, often sets the price points on Xbox Live Arcade titles. Grant cited Team Meat's desire to sell Super Meat Boy for $10, but were overridden by MS who set a $15 price. Hecker said that the same thing happened with the title Braid.

Al Reed from Demiurge Studios talked about trying to figure out the price point for his studio's upcoming title Shoot Many Robots. When he and his designers asked what the difference was between a ten and fifteen dollar price point, they were told in one word: marketing. 

The panel touched upon title bundling, whether the current models of cheap titles and microtransactions were sustainable, and whether big publishers with salaries to pay and health insurance to provide could ever compete with garage companies on price, but Chris Hecker summed up the conundrum that the panel attempted to delve into when he said Every psychological study in the world has shown that people are not rational about prices.

PAX East Panel: It's Not The Length, It's The Mirth - Game Length Versus Value
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