- Quantum Break (Xbox One): $43.48
- Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (Vita): $29.01
- Assassin’s Creed Chronicles (Vita): $24.17
- Double Dragon II: The Revenge (Arcade; on PS4): $7.99
- Mr. Crab 2 Full Level Unlock (iOS): $6.99
- Minecraft Pocket Edition (iOS): $6.99
- Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (PS4): $5.99
- 80 Days (iOS): $4.99
YTD Total: $893.09
- Fire Emblem Fates (3DS): 11h 28m
- Assassin’s Creed Chronicles (Vita): 2h 37m
- Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (Vita): 1h 30m
- Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move (3DS): 1h 19m
- Runner 2 (Vita): 45m
- Double Dragon II: The Revenge (Arcade): 43m
- Crab 2 (iOS): 33m
- Street Fighter V (PS4): 30m
- Dangonrompa (Vita): 30m
- Hot Shots World Tour (Vita): 20m
- Pocket Card Jockey (3DS): 18m
- Imposion: Never Lose Hope (iOS): 12m
- Minecraft Pocket Edition (iOS): 11m
- Unlimited Spend Game 10 (iOS): 10m
- Super Smash Bros (iOS): 10m
- Super Mario Bros 3 (NES): 9m
- 80 Days (iOS): 6m
- Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4): 6h 10m
- Assassin’s Creed Identity (iOS): 50m
Last week, I argued that no game should go over the cost-per-hour rate that Uncharted 4 (PS4) provides. There’s no grinding, no backtracking, and no meta game in Uncharted 4. It’s all muscle, no fat. Critics agree that the audio/visual presentation is peerless. I posited that if you were paying more per hour to play another game, you were getting ripped off.
And what would the Uncharted 4 cost-per-hour be? Well, if the game takes players an average of 15 hours to complete, then the $60 purchase would break down to $4/hour. Less than a movie ticket, more than a home movie rental. So far, so good.
That would mean that the 160 hours I have put into Fire Emblem Fates (3DS) for $67.45 would come out to $0.42/hr – an amazing value that’s well below the $4/hr benchmark.
It would also suggest that spending $1.99 to get only 50 more minutes of campaign play in the iOS game Assassin’s Creed Identity (iOS) is totally reasonable, since it is also below the $4/hr benchmark.
So what, then, would be a ‘bad deal’ under these terms? Let’s look at Double Dragon (Arcade), which I purchased last week on PS4 for $6.99, and then played completely through in 17 minutes. That comes out to $24.60/hr! Sounds like an awful deal, right? Particularly given my own admission last week that the game ages terribly. But here’s the thing… I bought Double Dragon II: The Revenge (Arcade) seven days later. If I had gotten a terrible deal the week prior on Double Dragon, why would I buy another game that’s just like it?
Because, as it turns out, trying to benchmark monetary value in games is a stupid thing to do. It ignores the emotional attachment you can have to different experiences, regardless of quality. I grew up playing the Double Dragon games. Purchasing arcade perfect ports provides a window into my childhood. When I’m playing Double Dragon, I’m not thinking about how poorly it compares to contemporary brawlers like God of War. I’m thinking about how much I would have freaked out as a kid to have arcade perfect versions of these games at home, to play whenever I wanted. And that is what makes that purchase worth a premium price.
I’ve been thinking a lot about cost and value this week, in part because I picked up Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (Vita), and it occurred to me that the game offers a vastly better value to paying players than Marvel Contest of Champions does on iOS. Sure, if you’re planning to play for free, MCoC is the only way to go. But if you plan on spending money, you’re way better off getting UMVC3. Why? Because the starter roster you get in UMVC3 for $30 would likely cost more than $200 to build up in MCoC. In addition, UMVC3 has no timers, and it features synchronous PVP – which is pretty important in a fighting game!
So then why is MCoC so much more popular? Convenience, for starters. I’m happy to carry around at least one dedicated gaming device with me everywhere I go, but that is becoming increasingly uncommon behavior, even within the core gaming crowd. People refuse to put anything in their pocket besides their keys, phone and wallet. Besides, most players don’t want a rich and engrossing game like Uncharted: The Golden Abyss (Vita) on the go. It is not an experience that works on a phone, and it can’t provide a satisfying two-minute session while waiting in line at Starbucks.
Social play is another big differentiator for Marvel Contest of Champions. A smartphone is always connected, so it makes it easy to text chat with other players as a part of the experience. I’m not a big fan of that, but clearly some players love it. And to be fair, Kabam’s social integration (in MCoC) is very elegant.
So then, what you have are two very similar looking games that target two very different audiences. And each is so well optimized for its particular player base that few would bother to play both – even if they had access to both. Of course, the skill-based gameplay of UMVC3 speaks to me… but I’m sure that plenty (if not the majority) of MCoC players would find the combo strings of UMVC3 alienating, particularly in a synchronous PVP environment.
But the one thing in MCoC that I’d think would be off-putting to all players would be the high end of the spend model – $99.99 IAPS and no spend cap. That setup has always made me nervous, particularly when the spending is tied to gambling mechanics like variable ratio schedules (gacha). I spent beyond my means on two mobile F2P games last year – I am highly vulnerable to gambling mechanics – and I experienced terrible feelings of buyer’s remorse. Those games are the very reason I started keep track of all of my spending on this blog – to make sure that I didn’t repeat destructive behavior.
But with that said, it’s also clear that some players know exactly how the model works, like it, and don’t feel cheated by it, even if they are spending thousands of dollars in one game.
So …is there anything we can do to allow well-informed big spenders to have their fun while combating the potential for others to fall into a damaging gambling loop, spending much more than they intend to? Yes. Companies can provide better clarity on the cumulative costs of games. Below is a mock up template by Baekdal (www.baekdal.com) that I love…. Bear in mind that the rate numbers listed are just place holder. This setup makes it easy to see both the immediate and long term costs of mobile games of all stripes. It’s not perfect; opponents of this approach would be right to say that “unlock all” has no meaning in a game that offers consumable items, for instance. But the idea is to start talking about cumulative costs in a manner that common players can understand. And above all else, to step away from the inherently dishonest term “free to play”.
Last week, I also said that the games I love most are the ones that tell a great story. I want to walk that back a bit, as well. Most of the games I played this week had no story elements at all. Instead, they were the kinds of games that are easy to dip in and out of for 10 minutes at a time. Sure, there is a “save the princess” motif in Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES), but that is just a wrapper… it’s not a compelling story. Characters don’t drive SMB3… the gameplay does. Hot Shots Golf (Vita), Pocket Card Jockey (3DS), and Street Fighter V (PS4) were great fun to play this week, but they are endless experiences, not crafted tales tied to the rising and falling action of the “Hero’s Journey” template. And I love them!
One surprise game I wanted to highlight this week is Assassin’s Creed Chronicles (Vita). I picked it up used at a GameStop, expecting a rough port. To my surprise, not only is this version as good looking and mechanically satisfying as the console release, it’s also ideally suited to the small screen. The 2D visuals and painterly style are a bit out of place on the PS4, but they are a perfect fit on Vita. The pacing could be compared to a puzzle game: you’re trying to figure out the optimal use of your many ninja skills to get through stages unseen. But if you happen to trigger an alarm, no problem; the engaging combat you’re thrown into feels like a reward instead of a punishment. This game is substantially better than Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation (Vita); it’s an unexpected end-of-lifecycle gem. Check it out on the PSN store, where you can get it for $24.99.
To close, I wanted to write a little bit about my time in Fire Emblem Fates. I took a break for a few weeks, but coming back, I found myself pouring 11 hours into a single stage – Chapter 11 in Conquest, to be exact. Now, it only took me a few tries and a handful of hours to beat the stage – but I didn’t want to continue on until I was able to clear it (on hard in classic mode) with no casualties. So I replayed the sequence nearly 50 times, until I got the result I wanted. This is fun because it represents an extreme challenge – I felt like a God when I pulled it off without losing a soldier. I learned a lot about strategy, too. But my desire to play this way also speaks to how much I have begun to love every member of my team – it just feels wrong to let one die. Experiences like this make me feel like we have only just begun to scratch the surface of what interactive storytelling can be like. The future of games is bright indeed.