The Cost to Fun Ratio
In January I bought a Codemasters gaming bundle for the sum of £2.79 which contained ten titles. One of them was the action RPG Rise of the Argonauts, initially released in 2008. The game’s setting in the world of Greek mythology was its main appeal. A little research showed that the game had a distinctly average score and offered nothing new. I completed the entire story over the period of a week in about sixteen hours or so. It was broadly entertaining, although nothing special, apart from not being in the usual fantasy setting. The word “adequate” springs to mind. Here’s a reminder of the dictionary definition.
Adequate (adjective). Satisfactory or acceptable in quality or quantity.
Rise of the Argonauts has an enjoyable story, which apart from drawing upon famous characters, has no real basis in established mythology. Yet the original plot serves its purpose and includes some enjoyable characters and good voice acting. I liked Pan especially, mainly due to his banter and quips. Combat is based around hit chains and unlocking bonus skills. There are the usual dialogue trees with their arbitrary choices and optional side quests. However if this game were compared with a more recent title such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, it is simply not quite of the same calibre. However I still enjoyed Rise of the Argonauts and felt that my time had been well spent.
This raises the question how much does a games price have upon the level of enjoyment you gain from it? Is there such a thing as the cost to fun ratio? If I had spent £40 or more on Rise of the Argonauts would I have been so forgiving of its generic game mechanics or distinctly average storyline? Would I have felt that its sixteen hours plus running time was good value for money? Would I have finished the game with quite the same sense of satisfaction? I believe that my opinion on these points would be somewhat different.
In the past I have equated the difference between good and average games as being similar to comparing a fine restaurant and a fast food outlet. Both can be enjoyable experiences but they satisfy different needs. The money that you spend determines some interesting differences between meals, such as presentation, the overall quality of the constituent parts and that most nebulous of terms, the customer experience. Fast food chains use their generic nature as an actual selling point. You can get an identical meal at any of their outlets. The expensive restaurant is trying to sell a more unique experience with the bespoke creations of its gourmet chef. These points can be applicable to games.
Another important aspect to consider is the expectation that comes with the purchase of any game. This most certainly does vary and there’s a great deal of research out there on this very matter. When you stump up £70 for a triple A title along with a season pass, you do so expecting to have your socks well and truly blown off. It’s the same if you go and see a major band or musical artists perform an arena concert or buy a top of the range electrical device. Purchases of this nature come with perceived expectations and practical obligations. Conversely, games bought as part of a bundle is not subject to the same criteria. If it amuses for an evening then it’s justified its cost. If not then it was hardly a major financial loss.
I can’t really say whether this perceived difference in the quality “fun” is real or simply an illusion, born of snobbery and clever marketing. I do think there is some truth regarding cost influencing expectation. From my own perspective, I’ve had more consistent enjoyment of late from games I’ve bought from bundles than those I’ve purchased upon releases. Out of the five premium games I bought upon launch last year, three were abandoned for various reasons. Yet many of the titles I bought at a discount were played to completion. So perhaps for me at least I am influenced by the cost to fun ratio.
Is there a similar parallel in other industries? Are other products subject to the same scrutiny? For example consider the difference between an inexpensive bottle of wine and one of a fine and rare vintage. Both can be the basis of a good evening, have a similar affect as far as consuming alcohol but have entirely different price implications. Returning to a gaming example I enjoyed Skyrim immensely but I bought it in 2013 at the retail half price with all the DLC included. Would I have enjoyed it just as much if I had purchased it at launch eighteen months earlier?