Not that long ago, whenever some non-gamer type would get all judgey about how much money I, quote-unquote, “wasted” on games and stuff, I’d be more than happy to point out (at great length) how completely and utterly stupid they were being. ‘Yes’, I would say (rolling my eyes a lot for emphasis) ‘the hardware can be expensive, but after that initial outlay, games represent excellent value for money, both absolutely, and relative to other forms of entertainment’. Each game, even if it’s bought at full-price, represents many hours, weeks, or even months of enjoyment (years if you get addicted to one), and then, if and when you do finish with it, it can be traded in towards something else representing similar value for money. Indeed, compare that to, say, going to the cinema, where nowadays you have to pay the equivalent of your first-born child for an average of 2 hours of entertainment, and where there’s no money-back option (I’m looking at you, Pacific Rim) and games, undoubtedly, look like a really smart investment.

console-warsNowadays however, whilst all the above still holds true, to some extent, I think we’ve also recently seen the cost of gaming start to creep, slowly but surely, upwards. And I’m not necessarily talking about the actual price of games (although, the cost of the new-gen games did leap a good £10 to £15 pounds in the UK), but rather the combined and cumulative cost of all the peripheral stuff. Some of this can be classed more as optional, and some of it decidedly less so (although even in the case of the former, “optional” becomes rapidly more “necessary” if you keep getting your ass handed to you because everyone else has paid for the “optional” mega-gun/armour/whatnot, and you haven’t).

Anyways, allow me to explain what I mean, using a fictional example.

Let’s take a regular gamer and call him, erm, Jamie. Jamie doesn’t get out that much, and games are something he takes a lot of enjoyment from, and he therefore spends the money he’d otherwise spend on, say, friend related stuff, on gaming instead (this is entirely fictional, remember). When the next-gen consoles come out, Jamie gets himself a PS4, an extra controller (on the off-chance he finds a friend), and other bits and pieces; all told, £400 of really nice, shiny new gear. He also buys a couple of games for the new hardware, adding an extra £110(ish) to the total. That’s the initial outlay.

ps plusHowever, when Jamie gets home, plugs it all in and starts to set everything up (after an hour of stroking everything and saying “my precious” a lot) he gets asked if he’d like a PS Plus account. A quick look at the pros and cons, but mostly stopping after reading the words ‘free monthly games’, Jamie throws his money at Sony. Another £40.

After a little bit of time spent concocting a story to explain why £550 has suddenly disappeared from his joint bank account, Jamie puts in the first of his new games, and is mesmerized by the fantastic graphics, vivid colours, awesome sound etc, and spends the next few weeks playing the shit out of the game, collecting the various bits and pieces, making headway on the trophy list, etc, etc. In this respect, he feels a lot better about the £54 pounds he spent on the game, because even at this early stage, it works out at something like £1.50 per hour, which is fairly reasonable. Having done all of that, and really enjoying it, Jamie notices two things: one, there are DLCs available, and, two, there’s an online option calling out to him.

Now, having spent a few nights on the sofa after the initial outlay (word of advice: if you decide to say you “gave it to charity” be prepared for follow-up questions, and at least have the name of an actual charity ready!!) Jamie is more cautious and sensible this time. He genuinely looks at and assesses his options. He can play the online thing without paying any more money, and he can forego the DLCs. That’s an option. At the other extreme he can pay for a Season Pass, which gives him the dlcs, plus some free maps, characters and gear, as well as further discounts on others. There’s also the middle-ground, whereby he can start with the free play option, and then buy individual weapons, guns, maps, DLCs etc as and when he wants, or needs. The season pass represents better value for money, but more expense, the first option costs nothing, but he might miss out on some of the experience, and the middle-ground is less expense, but potentially less value for money, and Jamie might still miss out on some of the overall experience. Tough call, right!?

cod_ghosts_season_passFor the sake of argument, let’s say Jamie takes the middle-path, and starts with the free option, plays around a bit, and thinks carefully about how much additional money to spend, and what to spend it on. Eventually, with a bit of rare self-control, he only purchases a few of the available DLCs, weapons etc, and this costs, say, £20, but it does add to his enjoyment and makes his experience slightly better, given he’s now got some cool gear and extra content. Again, he could’ve spent nothing, but he could have spent more, so this is an average.

Now, I’m not a total skinflint, and I appreciate that there are additional costs involved in most of this extra stuff, from programming time, to servers and online infrastructure, so it’s not like we’re paying good money for old rope or anything, but are we getting genuine value-for-money as gamers!? Is £10-15 for a DLC that may only add a couple of hours of extra gameplay reasonable, for example? Is paying even more money for some extra maps and weapons for the multiplayer option fair, or should all that stuff, at least to a much greater extent, be covered by our initial (not insignificant) outlay when buying the game??

The above example, remember (at least after the hardware bit) is for just one game, and although we might not bother with all the additional purchases for every game, there’s a fair chance that we’ll eventually do it for quite a few, and over the space of a year, this is all going to add up to quite a significant chunk of our hard-earned cash. Yes, as we get more demanding as gamers, the budgets of Triple A games are going to increase, and, yes, studios and developers ain’t operating as charities (which is a shame, because it would’ve made Jamie’s answer to the “where’s all our effin’ money gone?” question less of a, you know, “lie”), but are they starting to reach the point where they’re at risk of biting the hand that feeds them?

Expansion passObviously, while the market for pre-played games remains a viable option, this goes some way to mitigating some of the above, for now, but are we starting to reach a tipping point where getting the full experience from any given game becomes prohibitively expensive, regardless of how much we might want to partake in it?? Given that games aren’t exactly cheap to start with, is asking for an additional chunk of money to get the full experience from that same game a) a bit cheeky, and b) doesn’t it risk turning games from being a thing of value and enjoyment, into more of a luxury item, and making elements of gaming increasingly unavailable to a lot of us!?

This is something I’m genuinely interested in hearing other people’s thoughts on, and especially people who love games and gaming. So, if you’re still reading, and have your own thoughts, please do share them in the comments below…….