Shack Chat: How do you determine if a video game is worth its price tag?

This week, the Shack Staff discusses how they determine if a video game is worth the cost.


Shack Chat is back once again, our weekly feature each Friday where we’ll ask the Shacknews staff to give their opinion on a particular topic, then open the floor to our dedicated Chatty community to provide a diverse mixture of thoughts on the subject. It’s a great way for us to get to know one another better while inspiring healthy debates with all of you passionate gamers out there.

Question: How do you determine if a video game is worth its price tag?

Replay value - Asif Khan, Value Investor

I don’t determine if a game is worth its price tag before buying it, but I can certainly tell if it was worth the purchase after the fact. If I am still playing a $60 game after 60 hours, that seems well worth my time. A game like Gears of War 3 was well worth the $60 plus the price of the DLC as I played Horde Mode for hundreds of hours. To me, time enjoyed playing the game is what determines value. If I pick up a game and only play it for a few hours, I clearly didn’t enjoy it, and would not be considered a value to me. Time played is not the only metric worth using, as some games can be played in short bursts and still be worth the price tag. Some examples of games that are totally worth the price tag to me include The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the entire F-Zero series, Tetris 99, and Cities: Skylines.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

I don’t, but I have my reasons - Brittany Vincent, Senior Editor

It's probably weird of me to say this, but I don't actually care if a game has value. If I enjoy playing it, it has value. Whether that means I'm spending $100 on a game I played for 10 minutes in my childhood to experience it again for 15 minutes before it gets lost in my closet or I'm looking to play something for hundreds of hours (looking at you, Persona 3) it doesn't really matter. I'm a collector, so I want to own every game, every console, every peripheral, and I'll have to part with a lot of money to get as feasibly close to complete as I can before I decide I'm finished. Collecting aside, if a game appeals to me, I just buy it. YOLO. Yes, I did buy Ground Zeroes at full price, and no, I don’t feel let down in any way, shape, or form. 

There isn’t just one way - Josh Hawkins, Calculated Gamer Guy

Determining a game’s worth is all about really defining what you want the most from it. For me, I don’t just determine whether a game is worth its price by looking at the same metric every time. Instead, I like to approach each title differently, because it really allows me to dive deeper into it and see if I’d want to pick it up.

For example, I’ve been wanting to pick up Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice since the game originally released. However, I haven’t done so just yet. It’s not because I don’t think it’s worth it, I just don’t have the time to play it right now, which is usually a key component I look at when picking up new games. 

With so many great games releasing each year, it’s really important to figure out what makes a game worth it for you. Some games I’ve bought are worth it because they bring me an hour of happiness and joy while I play them with my friends. Others bring me joy in that they allow me to escape dealing with online players and just envelop myself in a good, heartfelt story.

I honestly don’t think there is a single metric that I can use to determine if a game is worth it. Each and every game has something different to offer and I feel like it’s unjust to that developer and the time put into it to try to break a game’s worth to me down into a single, simple reason. Instead, I’ll continue to look at all the benefits that a game can bring me -- a moment of happiness, laughs with friends, a great story or gameplay loop -- and then judge based on that. It hasn’t let me down yet.

Good old-fashioned math - Kevin S. Tucker, A Good Man, And Thorough

While there's really no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, I'm of the belief that a game's value can indeed be codified or quantified. If you ask me, the value of a game boils down to the interrelationship between entertainment, play time, and the cost of the game itself.

In an ideal world, a game will thrill me for 6-12 hours and/or provide replay value up to or beyond the 20-hour mark. Past 20 hours, it better be a fantastic game, because I'm too busy to play something for much longer than that. And while it's great when a game costing $20 or less can keep me entertained for that amount of time, I would still say 6-12 hours of actual fun is the bare minimum requirement for a full-cost new release. (In this instance, I specify six to 12 hours because one player's five-hour blockbuster can easily be another player's 20-hour grindfest.)

Under the full cost of a new release, things are a lot less rigid. Some of my favorite games have been $20 or less, and many of them are or have since become free-to-play. With that said, free-to-play games just don't thrill me the same way AAA releases can. Naughty Dog games are easily worth $60, for instance, even if they're over in ten hours, because I'm having fun the whole time. That's $6 an hour, which is less than the cost of seeing a movie in theaters these days.

By this new metric I've just now established, the value ratio is set to $5 per one hour spent playing (60 dollars/12 hours). It has to be fun, of course — there's no value to be found if there's no fun to be had. But if a game can keep me smiling and occupied to the tune of $5/hour, I would conclude that said game is worth its price tag.

Obviously, that creates a very low barrier of entry for affordable indies, and mainly serves to weed out the less-than-stellar AAA titles. That's just how it goes — ask for more money, players will expect more fun.

Before I close out this random train of thought, this metric does not take into account games offered on sale. Games developed and sold for $60 are full-price, full-fledged games, period. Even if you caught it on sale for five bucks, the original comparison still stands. A price tag will always be what people are willing to pay, but it's the intent of the developers and the scope of the game that determines real-world value. The bottom line is obvious: A great game worth the $60 price tag is an absolute steal at $10. But given that real-world prices fluctuate, and with the understanding that games can be traded or outright stolen, there's no other way to account for entertainment value in fiscal terms.

Did I have fun? - Chris Jarrard

I’ve paid $100 for bottom of the barrel crap (early N64 days) and $5 for some of the best gaming in my life (S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl on Steam in 2008). I would be lying if I said I could always tell which games would click for me prior to my first time playing. After 30+ years of playing, I might be a little better at spotting quality than I was at the beginning, but it can still be a crapshoot.

Admittedly, things are easier these days because the availability of games is exponentially greater than it was in previous generations and the rise of online game coverage makes it nearly impossible to buy a game completely blind unless I actively choose to. Games are also cheaper than they’ve ever been thanks to inflation and access to the global market, so the risk involved in acquiring a bad game is at an all-time low. There’s never been a better time than now. Get out there and buy some games. 

Enjoyment - Sam Chandler, Guides Editor

Value is found through enjoyment. I enjoyed the 20 hours I played Return of the Obra Dinn. It’s a game that has zero replayability. Once the mystery is solved, repeat plays offer no additional joy. Despite the fact it’s a $30 AUD game, I still think it was worth every dollar. The same can be said for Firewatch, a four hour experience that’s one-and-done.

I only know if a game is worth its price tag after playing it. Furthermore, this is a purely subjective experience. I think the $99 AUD price tag of Sea of Thieves is more than worth it, and I thought this at launch. I also believe buying Dark Souls four times across multiple platforms is worth it.

I think the dollar-to-hour ratio is a terrible metric to judge a game worthy of its value. Value cannot be broken down into a pure math formula. Value is based on your socio-economic position, your time commitments, even your mood.

If, at the end of the day, you are happy with spending the money and the gaming experience leaves you happy more often than not, then the game you brought has value.

It's subjective - David L. Craddock, Longreads Editor

This could end up being one of, if not the most intensely personal answer tackled in our weekly Shack Chat column. Value is such a subjective thing. Will you pay more for a game if it has 20 or more hours of content? I would submit that Half-Life 2, while inarguably brilliant, dragged at points, whereas its two--because Valve can’t count to three--episodic expansions offered more bang for the buck, even though they were a fraction of the size.

Of course, hours played is only one metric by which to determine if a game is worth its price tag to you--the key words in that sentence. I also use it, but differently than many. Since childhood, I’ve prioritized replay value over any other element of a game’s design. 

I can blaze through Super Mario Bros. in fewer than 10 minutes, but how many times have I done that? More than I can count. It’s a game I’ll always come back to, and in that regard, I’ve gotten my money’s worth and then some.

Word of mouth - Greg Burke, Lives in the mines

In the school yard and even today, you can usually tell if a game is worth spending 59.99 on. Friends, or even strangers on various social media sites can give you an idea if a game is worth paying full retail price. It’s relatively hard to trick Video Game Consumers now a days, I look back at LJN, a company that made terrible video games on the NES, but back then all you had to go off of was the cover art & the back of the cartridge box. I’ve wasted a lot of money buying terrible games, but with so many voices connected via the series of tubes called the internet it’s a lot easier to avoid that mistake. 

Trust - Bill Lavoy - Living in Trapper’s Cabin

I’ve had to write this about three times while I attempted to nail down my thoughts, but I think I’m going to settle on trust. Trust is what determines if a game is worth its price tag. To be clear, though, I’m looking at this from the perspective of before the game is released. How do I judge a game’s value before it comes out?

It’s all about trust for me. If a developer has always done right by me, or I’ve always loved their style, I’ll drop that pre-order or buy without having to wade through all the pre-game hype. Look at CD Projekt RED with The Witcher 3. I’ve actually not seen everything out there about Cyberpunk 2077 because I don’t need to. They had my Cyberpunk 2077 money before I got to Velen. Same goes for Raphael van Lierop and Hinterland Studios. Whatever they make next, be it in The Long Dark universe or in a completely different direction, I want the super-duper edition with the maps and mugs and game logo branded notepads.

If you’re looking for somewhere that that trust was broken, I’d say Bethesda with Fallout 76. That one hit me hard. Fallout 4 is still one of my favorite games of all time, and there are friends that I introduced to the Fallout universe with Fallout 76. I looked like an idiot, which is ultimately on me because I knew how buggy Fallout 4 was, but how can I trust that the next Fallout game won’t be a buggy, broken mess?

If you earn my trust, the price tag is irrelevant. 

Satisfaction - Donovan Erskine, Intern

For me. It’s pretty simple. If I feel satisfied with the experience a game gave me, then I know I got my money’s worth. I’ve purchased games and beaten them within two days and never touched them again. If the story was there and I enjoyed my brief time with it, there’s never a second thought as to if it was worth the price tag.

On the other side, I’ve spent just $15 on a game like Stardew Valley and then proceeded to clock in over a hundred hours play time. In a case like that, I feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth several times over. I’d say it all comes down to expectations, and rather a game meets those expectations, falls short, or exceeds them.

Does it spark joy? - Blake Morse, New Wave Guru

The only thing I really care about when it comes to a game is whether or not it puts a smile on my face or gives me a sense of satisfaction. I’ve plunked down $15 on games like Fez and had the time of my life and I’ve paid out the nose for Red Dead Redemption 2 just to feel like I was trudging through the world’s longest episode of Lonesome Dove. Other times I’ve paid $60 for a game like Metal Gear: Revengence and only got that one-time playthrough but the experience was such that I would never complain about the price-tag even though it was only a 6-8 hour game. I have never paid a single dime to play Warframe and yet it’s probably the game I’ve played the most in the last two years of my life. In games and in life happiness is measured in how the experience makes you feel, not in the price tag. That’s all there is to it for me.   

Enjoyment - Ozzie Mejia, Senior Editor

This question definitely isn't what it used to be, just because of how much post-launch content is out there and also how frequently sales come along for a majority of the games on the market. So my first thought is that this question is addressing, "What makes a game worth $60?" For me, that answer is always a matter of how much time I spend with the game, but also to bring out my inner Marie Kondo and think about how much joy does it ultimately bring me. If I get little to no joy, then it's not worth the $60 price tag.

But the question can also go a number of different ways. Hearthstone is one of my favorite games out there and it's a free-to-play game. I would argue that the game is worth well over its asking price, even if I toss down about $20 in card packs. I bought Starlink: Battle for Atlas on Black Friday for $35 and I think it's exceeded that price tag in spades to the point that I would have gladly paid the original $60 for the digital edition. It's a matter of how much fun I have with it and how much joy it brings me.

On the other side of the coin, Anthem brought me no joy. I would argue that it is not worth $60. Might that change later? Who knows? But as it is, it doesn't bring me joy and therefore I don't believe it is worth its old price tag.

Disagree with our picks? Think we're a bunch of clowns? Let us know in the Chatty below.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    August 16, 2019 2:00 PM

    Shack Staff posted a new article, Shack Chat: How do you determine if a video game is worth its price tag?

    • reply
      August 17, 2019 6:08 AM


    • reply
      August 17, 2019 6:25 AM

      Two main metrics for me:

      A) can I sell it for what I'm paying for it?
      B) does it feature graphic nudity?

      • reply
        August 17, 2019 7:58 AM

        You are a man of vision and avarice. Salute.

    • reply
      August 17, 2019 6:58 AM

      Buy g Ames at $5-$10 and you'd never have to worry.

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        August 17, 2019 7:59 AM

        Time and attention are the real currencies.

    • reply
      August 17, 2019 7:57 AM

      Before reading the article response:

      Hard to gauge because for me it comes down to the gameplay. I was very hesitant on Dead Cells but as a fan of Castlevania type gameplay I had to get it. It was worth it and then some. I haven't finished it yet but I have fun every time I play.

      Celeste I was frustrated with. Once I got a better D-pad I restarted the game and I think I am going to enjoy it much more now.

      Games that give me customization options galore, I adore. I bought GTAV twice and would have gone thrice but my PC's not nice. Rather than roll the dice I stuck to PS4 but the reason I don't play more is because NPC dialogue is tied to the volume of sound effects. Why? I want a mute all dialogue option. I would pay extra for this.

      I get motion sickness. I want to be able to turn off all movement bob in my first person games. Reason I did not play Rage.

      Bonus stuff
      I appreciate NES Ninja Gaiden's 2 music player with the bars. I wish more games included soundtracks with custom visualization.

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