The Value Of What We Do
I read a piece by Ben Kuchera over at Polygon entitled “No, you shouldn’t get your money back for games you finished and loved“, which has the subtitle of “Gaming shouldn’t be a countdown to a refund”. For the tl;dr crew, and because I don’t want you to leave me just yet, Mr. Kuchera talks about a few folks who have been contemplating requesting a refund for the recently released Firewatch because they completed the game in two to three hours, and who didn’t feel that they “got enough game” for the price that they paid ($20 USD as of the writing of this post).
I’d like to start off by saying that I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Kuchera. We buy games for the entertainment, and if we feel entertained then we should absolutely agree that we have received our money’s worth regardless of whether the enjoyment was 2 hours or 200 hours.
Games have always tried to sell us on the notion that a longer game offers more value for the asking price than shorter games. The estimated time to completion used to be (and sometimes still is) printed on the back of the box as a marketing bullet-point. When placed next to another game on the shelf that didn’t boast about the man-hours needed to invest, but was priced similarly, that estimation of time probably went a long way to convince someone to pick the 120 opus over it’s “who knows?” bretheren.
We are always on the lookout for a bargain, which is why hundreds of hours of gameplay for $49.99 is a better deal in many people’s eyes than a 12 hours game for the same price. There are a lot of other factors, of course: multiplayer, replayability, and even more minor contributing points such as developer reputation, genre, and graphics. But if we’re talking time as a factor of value, it’s easy to comprehend that more for less is a positive trend, and less for more is…well…considered to be “greedy” by a lot of people (feast your eyes on almost any argument concerning cash shops for a convenient example), especially when compared to similar items from a “what do I get out of it” point of view.
Although it sounds like I’m defending those who might ask for a refund after completing Firewatch, we haven’t even gotten to the core of the argument. Mr. Kuchera’s point isn’t simply about value as a factor of time; it’s about enjoyment as a factor of time, and that’s a hell of a lot harder to quantify than raw numbers like time to complete or price.
As far as entertainment is concerned, enjoyment is 100% in the eye of the beholder, although I think we’re easily swayed towards enjoyment when we are otherwise ambivalent about it. There’s no blueprint for universal enjoyment because we as consumers are imperfect beings; we like different things, so different approaches appeal to different people. Firewatch is not going to be enjoyable to all people who play it, and one of our ingrained consumerist tropes is that if we’re dissatisfied for any reason, we ask for a refund.
But that can’t possibly be the complete story behind those who might consider asking for their money back on Firewatch, right? I personally believe that gamer’s min/max culture might have something to do with it. Some folks may have enjoyed Firewatch a lot, but seeing limited replayability, figure that if they can get their $20 back then they could spend it elsewhere and double their enjoyment for half the price. Maybe that’s cynical, but hey…this is the Internet, and Deadpool is dominating the box office now, so “cynical” is hip right now, isn’t it?
Speaking of movies, that’s what really cements my agreement with Mr. Kuchera, because even though Firewatch may take 2 hours to complete, going to the movies nets you about the exact same bite of entertainment. a 2 hours game for $20 takes the same time for about the same price as going to see Deadpool and buying a tub of popcorn and a drink in most theaters across America. Maybe those people who want a refund on Firewatch should have skipped the game and just gone to the movies instead.