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A Question of Value

Robert Lashley Posted:
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At MMORPG.com we have 5 categories that we use to rate MMOs and RPGs: Gameplay, Visuals and Sound, Polish, Longevity, Value. For the MMO variants we add a sixth category Social into the mix. While all categories are inherently subjective, across all mediums each reviewer brings their own personal bias to a review whether they are attempting to remain impartial or not, I’ve recently been spending a great deal of time contemplating the subjective nature of our value scores.

How do you assign value to a game that is microtransaction based? Once people see the term “free to play” most rational thought flies out the window. Studies show that people will behave in ways that are abnormal if they believe they will get something for free. All the while they have forgotten that they are giving up something for this free item/gift/service/game and that is their time along with the opportunity cost associated with it.

At the opposite end of this spectrum are the games that charge what has become the standard retail price of $49.99 for PC and $59.99 for console. Most buyers are lead to believe due to the price that these games are of a certain quality. Again this is not always the case but research has shown that people do equate quality and value to higher prices. While some people assume that all free games are terrible conversely many assume that full price games are of AAA quality. These pricing techniques are not unique to the entertainment industry; they are fairly standard across all industry. If Car and Driver as well as other industry trade magazines rated a Kia Optima and a Mercedes C class exactly the same, maybe even gave the Kia better marks, which would you prefer? If a certain game releases on steam at $29.99 is it automatically assumed that the game is inferior quality to a game that is released at a standard MSRP?

People also fall prey to relativity (no not the one Einstein talked about). We become ingrained with price points and make judgments based on those fixed points of evaluation. A common example I use when justifying the price of a subscription is the price for a movie ticket. Depending on where you live the average price for an adult movie ticket, not in 3d, is roughly $15. Unless you are going to see a Lord of the Rings Movie or Interstellar chances are the movie will only last between 90 and 120 minutes. That breaks down to at least $7.50 an hour you have spent on entertainment. How long do you plan on playing that MMO each month that you may have spent $15 on? If it is more than 2 hours it is a relatively good deal compared to the movie you went and saw. Would you be willing to pay more for a game based upon the amount of content it contains? Dragon Age: Inquisition boasts over 200 hours of game play. How much is that worth?

Another newer trend in games is the addition of season passes. For the last 20 years most successful RPGs and MMOs have had some degree of additional post release content. The majority would have an expansion or two before the players would see a full-fledged sequel a few years later. In the case of D3 “few” is relative. Typically these expansions would cost less than the base game but not a lot less. While the production quality would typically be as good as the original release the expansion would not usually provide the same amount of content or even 75% as much contest as the original release even though the expansion would cost about 75% of the original release. From a value standpoint mathematically it would seem the expansions are never as good of a value as the original release. Something that is important to note about these games is the expansion content never felt as if it was created at the same time as the main game. Maybe some initial preproduction but never in full development. (Maybe the studios just kept secrets better). Now we are seeing games like Destiny, just a recent example, that are developed and released with the first two DLC fully conceptualized, box art created, and  seemingly held back just for the sake of being DLC, and while not entirely true the perception is still there. Especially considering how short and unfulfilling a majority of the players found the original narrative.

Furthermore these DLC individually will cost $20 or $35 for the two. The first DLC, The Dark Below, has had its content details released to the public and I’m really left wondering, is it worth it? A large part of me is leaning towards no. The content is less than a quarter of the game had on its original release for a third of the price. The same could be said for Shadows of Mordor, a game that I hold in my top 3 for the year, and any Call of Duty or Assassins Creed game released the last few years. Also should games that are left feeling incomplete and require the DLC to flesh them out later on be penalized upfront for their value score? I believe so and of the previously mentioned series I believe Destiny is the only game truly guilty of that.

Unfortunately value is pretty difficult to assign. Not every microtransaction based game that is free to download deserves a 10. At the same time not every game that costs $60 upfront and has a monthly subscription deserves a 1. The observed quality of the game compared to its price is what I believe is the only fair way to assign value.  While many would agree with my way to assign value the problem still remans, what is the “base unit” to measure with? Should we use cost per hour of quality game time? Does less than $1 an hour rate a 10 and anything greater than $5 an hour rate a 1? I doubt that is a question a majority of us will agree upon.

Hopefully I’ve raised more questions than I answered in this week’s column. If nothing else I hope it provides you with insight to some of the thoughts that go through my head when I’m assigning a value score to a game. I promise I’m not just pulling numbers out of my hat or other places that are three letters. I look forward to reading your feedback. Let me know your thoughts on value in the comments below.

Robert Lashley /  Robert Lashley is a Staff Writer and Online host for MMORPG.com. Rob's bald and when he isn't blinding people from the glare on his head talking in front of a camera you can find him spending his free time checking out the latest games and technology. Feel free to hunt him down on twitter @Grakulen or on PSN Grakulen.

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Robert Lashley

Rob Lashley is a Staff Writer and Online host for MMORPG.com. Rob's bald and when he isn't blinding people from the glare on his head talking in front of a camera you can chase him down on twitter @Grakulen or find him on YouTube @RobUnwraps.