Boss Rush Banter: Should the Length of a Game Affect its Price?

With current-generation games often costing $70, constant criticism of Nintendo releasing ports of older games at $60, a wide variety of prices for DLC and expansions, and other monetary models like battle passes and microtransactions becoming prominent, the price of a video game is a changing and controversial topic. Often, when discussing a game, its content, and a player’s satisfaction, the number of hours played gets touted as part of the cost consideration. However, should the length of a game affect its price?

Prior to the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series era, video game prices had remained pretty stable at $60 for new releases for some time. Despite that, other models, and an increase in supplementary content for an additional fee, have also been creeping into the conversation. Indie games have risen in prominence and visibility, and they sell for varying amounts, usually less than $30. 

Video games don’t have any sort of typical length, and the standard deviation is much larger than it is for, say, films. A video game may allow a player to sink in hundreds of hours, as some RPGs and competitive games do, or it might offer a compelling narrative experience of just a few hours, with little replay value. Is it fair to demand to pay significantly less for the latter type of game?

It’s understandable to want to quantify an experience, and use some sort of value judgment to decide if a game is worth the cost. Time is an objective factor that can be easily cited to inform the decision of whether a video game is worth its sticker price. When you shell out a bunch of money for something, and the experience is short lived, that doesn’t feel fair. Regardless of whether you agree that length should be the main factor in a game’s price, it’s hard to ignore it as at least part of the formula.

Image from The Ringer, using data from How Long to Beat

However, there are other ways to think about a game’s value. The effect a game has on you, the emotional impact, the memories it can provide, and the shared experience with other players are all important parts that are distinct from length. A short, engaging and meaningful game is surely better than a long, boring and obtuse game. In addition, something different and unusual, with brand-new mechanics or a very different theme, might jump out. A game where the developer took some risks and created something unique, even if it’s short, could stick with you and impact the industry.

Making an interesting–albeit short–game might mean the development goes longer, and these are usually made by smaller teams. While a smaller team may not need the budget of a large AAA developer, they still have considerable expenses. They’re competing with the bigger releases for visibility, and their budget may not include as much for marketing when they’re just concerned with keeping the lights on to finish the game. To keep the games industry robust and varied, there should be studios of all sizes making experiences of all sorts of lengths. Steam’s refund policy, where they allow players to request their money back if they’ve played a game for less than 2 hours, means players can beat a shorter game, enjoy it, and get their money back. If players aren’t willing to pay up to $20, possibly more, for a game that’s under 5 hours, then short, interesting games will be devalued. Gamers should support companies and individuals making a wide breadth of games by being willing to pay a reasonable price for a shorter game. 

Personally, I think length has to be a part of the conversation around the value of a game. It’s inescapable. But there are other equally important factors that matter as well. I believe that as gamers we should explore different kinds of experiences, and support developers who take risks and make tighter, more compact games. Games increasingly cost more and take longer to develop, and a set or standard price may make less and less sense. The length of a game alone doesn’t always reflect how much time, work and passion went into a project. We should approach a game’s price not just based on how much content it offers, but the quality of that content as well. 

Tell us your opinion! Do you think the amount of hours of gameplay should affect a game’s price? Share your thoughts below or join the conversation on the Boss Rush Discord.

SOURCES: PC Gamer

IMAGE SOURCES: The Ringer, HowLongToBeat

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