time = money / money = pizza [therefore] time = pizza

Callan hits an interesting point in the comment section over at Tesh’s musings about the value of his time.

I am in Tesh’s camp here, where my discretionary budget is at an all time high, and my time budget is at an all time low. Gamers often judge the value of a game based on how many hours it gives you, and that argument often supports ‘the reason why a subscription model works for me’. Take WoW, and remove the part of the game that annoys you the most that feels or is necessary (grinding for cash? getting locked out of an instance for a week? farming for mats? runnin the daily heroic for frosties?) figure out how much time you spend doing doing that activity every week you dislike, and realize what your sub fee is buying you.

It happens in all games. I just finished Mass Effect 2. I had great fun. I didn’t think it was too short, but there was a nagging part of it that drove me nuts. Go crazy with me after the break.

The game is based on conversation choices and blowing things up. You get to upgrade your character as they advance, and even discover new technologies to make your weapons and powers better.

Problem is, when you get those upgrades, you have to research them. And to afford to research them, you have to have different kinds of materials. There are two ways to get those materials – finding them while on missions (usally 500 to 1500 units) or flying your ship around, exploring planets, scanning them, and mining them.

Considering some upgrades cost as much as 25,000 units of given substance, if you want the upgrades then you have to mine. It isn’t as simple as clicking ‘scan planet’, etiher. you have to pinpoint an area with the mouse and click. It gives you a reading FOR THAT SPECIFIC SPOT. you move up 3 pixels, it might triple the amount you wil get. You move down 2, there might be nothing.

Planets make no sense, all 4 of the minerals needed seem to be available on all planets (you can’t fine a certain needed mineral heavy planet). A rich node might yield you 3000 units. You spend an awful lot of time mining. I should be able to click scan once, and the computer in my startship that lets me travel between systems at warp drive should tell me where all the rich nodes are on that planet.

Now, my playstyle isn’t like everyone elses. Some MAY acutally enjoy doing those tasks. So, I have 3 options.

1) don’t do the research to activate the upgrades (which has dire, game changing consequences – more on that in a second)
2) learn to love the scanning/mining mode
3) teach my 5 year old how to do it for me.

In a game that took me about 20 hours to complete (doing all side missions), almost 4 hours of that was mining/exploring. 20% of my game time was spent doing something I absolutely loathed (because I had no choice, because I wanted the upgrades, so I could blow stuff up better). Bioware did throw me a bone, as in my second play through they give you 50,000 units of EACH mineral so you don’t have to mine – as much. You still ‘have’ to. In fact, if you don’t, members of your squad will die during the Omega-4 relay run and subsequent missions. So, there is a choice. Kill off your team (which could have consequences into Mass Effect 3) or do something you may not like, all in the name of ‘stretching out the hours you get for your dollar’, aka, value.

Of course, the slap in the face is that Bioware knows this, which is why after they have made you do it once, the second time they shave off a few hours of the menial task.

Back to Callan’s point, ME2 for me would have been a much better experience if it was 16 hours long, and I didn’t have to do a task I hated just to enjoy the parts I liked more.

3 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Then one has to wonder: Would you pay $50 for a 16-hour ME2 instead of a 20-hour version? Where is the inflection point that says “this just isn’t worth the price”?

    Not that I disagree, but gaming goodness concentration seems to run against the price/value curve somewhere around 10-15 hours from what I’ve seen. If a game (especially one of those RPG things) flirts with being shorter than that, somehow it seems to be not worth the $50, no matter if it’s concentrated awesomeness for the full 9 hours or whatever.

    I think this is why some devs have toyed with episodic content. Shorter games just seem to be worth less, so making it clear up front that they are shorter, and carry a smaller price tag, seems to skew that inflection point. It’s almost like the closer the purchase price is to the impulse barrier, the less important the time consideration becomes. A five episode game might wind up being $75 or so for the full game and a solid 50 hour epic, but when it’s sold in chunks of ten hours of gaming yumminess for $15 apiece, it goes down smoother.

    It’s less about actual game design quality (and yes, grinding SUCKS when it’s necessary for progress… though zen grinding for fun can be OK), and more about perception. Change the perception, and you can slip past some complaints.

  2. Good Question, Tesh. Details (paid $39.99 for it) do not really matter. It is hard to judge – I was very satisfied with the gameplay (rant about mining aside) and felt satisfied at the end. Would 10 hours have been too little for what I spent? Probably – then again, I’m not sure if I can put a time limit on the value considering how much I enjoyed the journey. I played through twice, and now am going through a third (I am a Paragon player, going through it now making all the tough guy decisions as a Renegade). So, the replayability value itself naturally adds hours.

    I like the concept of episodic content a lot, if the barrier to entry is low. Trouble there is designing a game, story-boarding it out, hire staff, launch – and then keeping up with the content as consumers devour it.

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