Video games are not cheap, which I am sure you all know—especially if you buy new releases. When buying new, you are looking at an outlay of between $35 and $55 for whatever it is. Given that oftentimes this means 20+ hours of gameplay for a single playthrough, it is actually not a bad cost-to-value ratio. And this is if you are playing it only one time. Should you play the game multiple times, the cost-to-value shifts even further in your favor. Then if you use Steam to get games on sale or used, that ratio can improve. How many games are designed for decent “replayability,” another means of increasing value?
There are some games, along the style of 2048, Angry Birds, and Bedazzled, which have a near infinite variability built into them. You may never be able to play an exact variation of a previous game no matter how often you play. This almost always creates a very high value-to-cost, as these games are rarely expensive since the coding is not as extensive. The downside to this style is that the games are, in many ways, very repetitive, because they have a simple premise. You gain a skill in the logic of the game and are able to get better and better through repeated playthroughs, however, it is rare to say that these games are completely engaging, at least not for long. I have played the above mentioned games multiple times but have often stopped in the middle of them to do something else—eat, read, what have you. There is little to really catch me hook, line, sinker, wharf, and fisherman like some games.
Strategy games can be very engaging, especially if you are against a competent player. So Words With Friends, Go, chess, etc. can really get you into the match and hold your attention. Even against a high level computer opponent, these games are less mindless than, say, Flappy Bird, which fits the above information fairly well. Just the fact that you are facing an opponent makes a major difference, as it forces you to think and approach things differently, utilizing far more brain power. That is why there are tournaments for many of these games outside of the CPU, as it can really be a contest. Again, these sorts of games would have a high cost-to-value balance because there is a high degree of variability, and playing against an opponent is a fun challenge. There is no denying that they can be fun, but even those can be easier to walk away from.
Games that immerse you with interesting graphics and complex storylines tend to be the highest cost out there, as there is a lot more design and coding that go into them. Driving or flight games, FPS games, MMOs, and RPGs all fall heavily into that realm—and these games are where replayability is more problematic. There are a number of factors involved in these games that effect that issue, each dependent on their own variables, so we should address them individually. Some make replay more exciting, while others are not so interesting in later playthroughs.
Driving and flight games, which often involve racing against the computer or other players, seem to have a very high cost-to-value balance, giving you a great deal of original play to the initial cost. As players of Super Mario Kart can attest, while you may memorize the nuances of each track or pattern, the variables of the opponents can make each race a new and different thing.
Think about why people like watching NASCAR. Despite being effectively a series of left turns, the race can be very engrossing even if you are not a racer due to the variables of the car, driver, weather, etc., and for these games, it is pretty much the same. I even throw games like Sonic into this category because while the pattern of any given level may be unchanging, how a player approaches it can effect a great deal. Even a small muscle twitch on the controller can screw you up.
First-person shooters, on the other hand, can become less than interesting rather fast. The enemies you face tend to approach the same way, in the same manner, and with the same weapons, so the player can completely anticipate what is going to happen in any given scenario because the pattern stays the same. Dynasty Warriors, Duke Nukem, Castle Wolfenstein, and Doom all fall prey to this issue because the game designers have to set forth certain parameters in order to make the gaming scenario work, and the player can learn them quickly. The cost-to-value ratio can become problematic with these games, which is directly related to this.
I must have played my Dynasty Warriors game for hundreds of hours. I knew the scenarios like the back of my hand and moved through them with ease no matter what the difficulty setting was. However, my enjoyment came from the stress relief I gained from the carnage—not the challenge. Should a player have a similar approach, the value is great, but if not, the cost is rarely worth it in terms of replayability.
MMOs tend to be quest-style games where the player goes from mission to mission and the format for an individual quest is the same time after time. That is one of the major factors that has kept me from really losing myself in MMOs. Once I had played through a scenario, the novelty and mystery faded, because with the exception of class-based adventures, it is the same thing with the same challenges. To me, that makes the cost far too high for the value.
Sure, there are a number of MMOs out there that are free-to-play, which is lovely, but if you pay you can get access to new missions and new areas. That can increase the draw, but if you are an unrepentant gamer with little cash, you will find yourself grinding things on later playthroughs with new characters, because why not? Granted, some people adore MMOs and maybe that is due to guild membership or their gameplay style since they interact with others and it becomes a group thing, but it is not my style, so I cannot fully speak to that.
As for RPGs, that is where a number of factors come into play that directly effect the replayability. For role-playing games, the engagement is in making decisions that affect the later storyline rather than on clubbing the enemy in each individual mission. There are similar issues with FPS games, as there tends to be a great deal of repetition in the combat scenarios, but by being able to make different dialogue choices, different actions, and so on, you can provide yourself with a very different gameplay scenario.
In my replay of Mass Effect, Skyrim, and BioShock Infinite, I have purposefully chosen different responses in important conversations and patterns throughout the game. I have chosen different classes, genders, races—any variable that I could to broaden my gaming experience. That can give you a very decent cost-to-value ratio. Some games hinge on surprise moments that don’t hit you as well or as powerfully after repeated playthroughs. Once you know the gimmick, it affects you less. [Mass Effect 3 Spoilers Ahead!] I was finally able to keep from bawling when Mordin died in Mass Effect 3 on my sixth playthrough, so that one worked for me, whereas in Skyrim I mostly raise an eyebrow at certain moments. Mileage may vary greatly in this arena depending on a number of personal variables.
It is your money you are spending to purchase these games, or perhaps it’s your parents, partners, or someone else. Regardless, being able to enjoy what you bought time and again is a major factor for why we buy books, movies, and music in the numbers that drive the market. The fact that we, as consumers, want the best ratio of cost-to-entertainment value can easily explain the success of some gaming franchises and cause the death of others. Just having a great game is rarely enough anymore. People want to spend their money wisely, and so giving the player as much value as humanly possible is important. Making sure that games are as nearly fun on replay as first play is a factor in this. Providing multiplayer options also can enhance that. Making sure the customer gets the best value keeps companies in the black and working to provide us with new and more exciting games.