I’ve been shopping this week – both online and in my local town – and something is troubling me. There are too many cheap games on the shelves, and some of the deals just seem too good to be true. I realise this may sound like an odd argument, but does the cheap price mean we value the game less?
My personal yardstick is pounds per hour of entertainment. A trip to the cinema works out at £3-4 per hour, a new paperback about £2. Pre-owned and second-hand games obviously are a boon, bringing down the average. I’ve played Burnout Revenge on Xbox for about seven hours in total now, meaning that I got very good value out of my £5 purchase in CEX.
But do the games live up to it? Reports are that the new Ghostbusters game lasts about six hours. Going into a shop and buying that at full price (or importing the region-free Xbox 360 version to get round the Sony “timed exclusive”) makes less sense to me than investing in a pre-owned DS title such as Professor Layton that is a) cheaper, and b) going to last a lot longer. I also have to decide which format to get – the Wii with its motion controls, or the 360 version with shinier graphics and Achievements.
Online, the competition is even fiercer than on the high street. HMV’s seemingly endless sales have put many temptations in my way – I succumbed to Manhunt 2 and Bully for Wii, both games I have barely scraped the surface of but promise many hours of gameplay. The combined price was £12 including postage. Similarly, Play.com’s offer of just £2.99 for Tony Hawk’s Motion WITH the Motion Pak was too good to turn down. Yes, as a collector and Tony Hawk fan I wanted to get the game anyway, but surely that is an indication of a problem somewhere? Either an over-confident buyer getting in too much stock, or a lack of funds heading back to the developer?
And that is a key point. To help sustain the industry, perhaps we as consumers should spend more. I’m not talking about ending pre-owned sales (I’ve argued before that in the long run that is GOOD for the industry), but with developers running into trouble – Midway’s divisions scrambling to find buyers before the end of the month, for example – and the spiralling costs of next-gen development, more of our money needs to find its way back to them.
I don’t need to point out how things were different back in the day – Atari fans can probably regale you with stories of £40 cartridges and the hype of the official club magazine – but massive price cuts in 1983 did not help the industry through a tough period. The Government announcement (as part of the Digital Britain strategy) of a review of tax breaks for developers making “culturally British games” is a step in the right direction, an acknowledgement of the talent here in this country. So put your hand in your pocket and support them.