Link, wake up!

I wanna just enjoy the game without thinking about how I could tell the world about it, but… ahh. Metal Hellsinger is a game– sorry, an album that comes with a game included that just came out of a demo which was released on September 15 2022. The gameplay combines a movement shooter with a rhythm game. You have to line up your attacks with the drumming beat of the metal music to get the most out of your attacks. It’s a highly compelling and intense game. If you like metal and/or high-octane gameplay, this game is a must-play. 

This game is extremely linear, stage-based where you go in, kill enemies, and go out back to the menu. There are only 8 levels total, and each level only lasts for 30 minutes tops. That translates to around 4 hours of gameplay. Extremely short for today’s standard. 

If you’ve heard of Ultrakill or Neon White, this follows exactly the same philosophy as those two, namely level-based games. Now, depending on your person, you might think differently on the statement “extremely short”. This brings me to a discussion about today’s topic, a game’s value. 

GAME’S VALUE

On the broader gaming community, we have to include the casuals into the mix. See, sometimes those casual has a very simple way to judge whether a game is worth it or not. 

See, problem is that usually this method is applied before even the player plays the game, since the main objective is to decide which game is worth the most bang for your buck and time, so you don’t waste as much. 

The method in question is usually cost per hour and replayability, both of which talk about the amount of content in-game, but are not quite similar to one another. So I will talk both.

Now, how do I begin?

Game is an entertainment medium. Like movies. Like music. Or like this video you’re watching (yes, this is not educational). Inside each medium, there is information that we call content. (Information as in, at its most fundamental level, the interpretation of that which may be sensed.) 

Going from there, you can say content is a unit of information that is within a piece of media. Now I think it’s easier to imagine a game’s value with content/dollar. 

When talking about content/dollar in games, or like I said before, cost/hour, the idea is to measure a game’s worth in how much you can get out of said games. There’s really not much beyond that. Once you found the cost/hour, it really ends up to you. Is it high enough that you can justify buying it? Or perhaps compare it with another game’s content/dollar. In any way, it’s like a tool to help you measure the value of a game.

An example, Ultrakill is currently $24.99, let’s round it to $25, and on howlongtobeat.com the main story only took 3,5 hours to finish. This makes Ultrakill a value of 7.1$/hour. With that same method, Fallout 76 is a $39.99 game, again, rounded to $40, with a main story that’ll take 33,5 hours to finish. This resulted in a rock-bottom 1.2$/hour. That’s a steal compared to Ultrakill. Do you see the problem now? If you’ve never heard of Fallout 76, then you probably don’t, so let me take this example to the extreme.

Diablo Immortal, an absolutely detested game is a free game. Do you see the problem now? How do you divide by 0? By this logic, no matter how long Diablo Immortal can last you, it’s always a “great value” game so you should always play it. So now, for the sake of it, we compare it to a game generally accepted “oh yeah, that’s cool”, Breath of the Wild. For the sake of the argument, on howlongtobeat.com, BOTW took 50 hours to finish the main quest and is priced at $60 on Nintendo eShop. This resulted BOTW with a 1.2$/hour. Now I’m just gonna let you do the comparison, between BOTW with 1.2$/hour or Diablo Immortal with 0$/hour.

Yeah, how’s that working out? 

I’m pretty sure the origin of this method is well-intended, but now it’s actually more of a problem than a helping tool. Because there are some arguments floating around supporting this method that echoes within me yet irked me as well. 

When we’re still a gamer hatchling, we typically don’t have that much spending money. There are so many choices yet you only have, say, $60 for one Christmas. That’s one game. Or maybe, 3 if you’re buying used games. But for an easier argument, let’s say it’s only one, to make the comparison easier. 

One game on Christmas for the whole year until the next one. The idea is to find a game that you can play for a whole year long until you find a new one. I think this is a good justification for the method since you want a game that is bang for your buck. The longer the game, the less time you need to wait after you finish it until next Christmas.

So you can actually justify the use of this method if you’re a kid with little money to spend… So, hey kid! Would you like to play Diablo Immortal?

Yes, the method is justifiable, but it’s so full of flaws. It doesn’t count the quality of content, only the amount. What if after you buy a game with great value using said method, the quality of the content is so bad you want to erase everything you just played from your head? Like, you want to commit self-lobotomy. 

The method doesn’t count for that, does it?

And I see another justification like, “ugh, this is a bad game, but because I’ve gotten enough hours out of this according to the cost/hour, I guess I’m content. I should be content.”

Umm… Stop torturing yourself, please? If you don’t like the game, you don’t like the game. You don’t need to justify it because you don’t wanna feel like you wasted good money on a mind-numbing game. Seriously, you don’t. Just accept that you wasted good money and moved on. Yes, you’ve wasted your money. Yes, you’ve done a goof you silly little goofball. You can even shit on the game. Some people may not like it, but at least you’re not on copium. And there are ways to shit on the game without triggering as many people, which is infinitely healthier. It’s okay to have an opinion derived from your own person, unaffected by anything. 

Going back from here, the method can also be used contrariwise. Say, like Ultrakill or Hellsinger. This guy, let’s call him Guy (creative, I know), enjoyed every bit of the game. He likes the intense gunplay and soundtrack, basically everything. But when asked about them, he says, “oh, those are really good game, but I can’t recommend it because it has so little content to offer, the cost/hour is so high it’s not worth it.”

Such is how the method is now used as the main measurement because of overuse, making it entrusted as the true one and only way to measure a “game’s value.” Everything else comes second.

THE QUANTIFICATION OF “FUN”

I believe the problem rises from the very beginning someone thought this is a good idea to measure a game’s value. I’ve said this once, I’ll say it again, games are an art form. Yes, it could be used as an informational or educational piece, but mainly, it was created as entertainment. And just like any other entertainment or art, quantifying it with numbers like math and physics isn’t going to work. They are, after all, subjective. It’s okay to have an outline to guide your thoughts, like how in drawing you can start with thinking about the composition and balance, but the mainline should always be about you. What you want to make, what you felt, what you want to tell to others. 

In another word, this is a world of selfishness and egoism. There’s no objectivity here. The process of quantifying “fun” is just another excuse for someone to justify their own desire borne from the human’s ability to reason. As in, Vsauce Michael’s reasoning from his video, The Future Of Reasoning.

Speaking of Hellsinger, I forgot where I heard this, but there are some words thrown around, like “Game’s too short, there’s only this amount of stages, it’s too easy.” Now, I don’t know if they’re actually a god gamer or they forgot to change the difficulty settings, but the idea with games like this, Ultrakill and Neon White included, is that you’re supposed to play the stage over and over again.

Modern linear game vs Old style arcade

I guess if you’re too young you wouldn’t know that games used to be like this or even more primitive. Games today are a very closed-linear experience. Easiest example like Uncharted. It’s a one-off experience, more so for casuals. You go in, you get entertained, you get out. Many games today are like this, Resident Evil, God of War, Tomb Raider. 

Contrary to this type of game, old games usually stood on arcade machines where you put coins and you can play for one session, counted either with time or stages. Or lives. As in, you die 3 times in-game, it’s game over. You either put another coin or leave. Some of these games have stories, but most of them only sell the experience without any accessories. A beat ’em up game is a beat ’em up, a rhythm game is a rhythm game, and so on. You may be able to see this as a one-off experience that sells one gimmick to be tried once and never again, but in truth, it’s not like that. It wasn’t designed to be a one-off gimmick. Far from it, even. 

Games like this are usually designed with the intention to fork the players to play again, put another coin after one session is finished, despite the player perhaps already exhausted the amount of content there is. The way they do this is by implementing a factor that introduces another value, replayability. This factor is none other than high scores. Scores can be counted differently, but most of them are put on a leaderboard, spiking the competitiveness within players to replay and do better, thus boosting the replayability of such games.

So I can understand that seeing a game with a different philosophy, possibly an old one, can be off-putting to modern casual gamers. But even in modern games, there is a community-driven challenge that reminisces on the philosophy of old games, called “speedrunning.”

Speedrunning, according to Wikipedia, is the act of playing a video game, or section of a video game, with the goal of completing it as fast as possible. It takes on the idea of score-based arcade games where the only challenge is to better your own (or other players’) score and implements it in the modern linear games of today.

Obviously, the act of speedrunning itself is a challenge not built into the game itself. The developer did not think of creating such a challenge since the experience they want to confer is one that is already linearly designed. Unless…?

Enter indie games.

Ultrakill, Hellsinger, Cuphead, Neon White. Well, not limited to indie, but it is most often found in them. Integrated leaderboard or not, only by introducing a score system and style meter can already push a game’s replay value through the roof. Provided the base gameplay loop is designed well. Which these games are.

Seeing as the scores go up, that you have improved, and either putting it on the leaderboard or sharing it on social media is an element strong enough to beg another replay for players. Many casual gamers may not understand, but the practice towards perfection is not limited to the hardest hardcore gamers if there’s a Smokin’ Sexy Style at the right side of your screen. 

The best way I could explain this in layman’s terms so casual can understand is, imagine working out. The first time you do it, it’s hard, it’s painful, but only moments after you did it, even though it’s a placebo, you always feel healthier, like you did something huge. And then that gym bro just went up to you and said, “ey, bro. Congrats. It was a tough first day, but you did it. And you did great. Let’s work harder tomorrow.” Tell me that ain’t pushin your confidence?

This gym bro is the Style Meter. With only confidence in hand, you came back, again and again. Until you catch up with the others in the community, aspiring each other’s work of art, exchanging techniques, helping the ones who just started. It’s an endless grind for the sake of it and nothing more. The idea may seem absurd, but coupled with a prime gameplay loop, it’s always fun to go back and forth seeing you improve your time until you mastered anything in the game.

While the game itself is short, replayability, no matter what form, destroys the method of calculating value by cost/hour. There are some that offer some content, but even without, a well-designed replayable game with no more content to offer will still double or even triple the game’s overall value. There is only a challenge left. An endless challenge. The challenge to improve oneself.

But what if we count the total amount of gameplay hours, instead of just the main story, to the method of cost/hour? A game that has immense replay value like Ultrakill that, for Main + Sides average according to howlongtobeat.com, has 11,5 hours of content, would result in a 2.15$/hour. That’s quite a great value. And that’s not counting if you want to pursue a completionist run, which has an average of 29 hours, resulting in a whooping 0.8$/hour. 

That’s not counting the endless grind to perfection. And uh… according to my calculation, it’ll take you… hmm… forever. Therefore, endless amount of content hours. 

So I guess the problem is now solved, huh?

On that same spectrum, I would like to divert a bit to a completely different game, one that has no such thing as replay value. One completely closed off in its own inner circle that has no offer other than its own. One where, if judged by the same method, would have an absolutely abysmal value.

GAMES WITH NO REPLAY VALUE

Puzzle games, story-based games, or adventure games that have no collectables or any other accessories to the main game. The content itself has no additional challenge, no randomness factor that will provide a fresh experience if replayed, a one-and-done deal. 

If we still use the method of quantifying the value, along with the argument of replayability from before, these one-and-done games are the worst contender for it. 

Most of the time, these games wouldn’t even have a “gameplay loop.” I mean, there’s no way they’d loop a puzzle. Once is phenomenal, but twice is lazy. It has to be fresh. Story-based? Yeah, basically like re-reading a novel. It’s okay, but that’s not exactly fresh. So the first experience they give have to be long enough to define a great value… Or is it?

I think otherwise. This argument basically expands on the previous one, where the method doesn’t consider quality among all things. And while “quality content” in the context of replayability means an absolute banger gameplay loop that allows high scores that enable good feels when playing, the content of one-and-done games is more… well, abstract.

Games like these typically have to be either novel in their mechanics or absolutely inspirational… and perhaps life-changing as well. Games that, despite no other accessories, would still be able to hold a candle on their own.

Portal first introduced the idea of a non-euclidean mechanic to the general mass. Outer Wilds physics system is handcrafted to simulate the REAL real space. Like how an astronomical body would react with a flesh body.

But it’s easy to recognize a novel mechanic. How do you consider something… inspirational?

It’s different from person to person, but I’m sure most of us have seen a movie or anime that is highly emotional, either happy or sad. Something so abstract, hardly able to be converted to words, something that… touched the soul, for the lack of better words.

Games, as one of the art forms, may as well be able to do this. Something that resonates with us. Something that could teach a long-used life lesson, that changes how you think. Something that makes you start a youtube channel despite the chance of being watched is abysmal.

Now, how the hell do we calculate that? That’s the problem I raised. And here’s the answer.

You can’t.

Anti-climatic, I know. But, each of us is different, I don’t know the shape of your soul, I can’t say for sure if something that touched me will affect you in any way. The only way to know (not calculate) is to experience it yourself. And by that point, the method itself will have become obsolete. Like I said, as a guideline before buying, it’s (ugh) fine. But when you already finished the game, that’ll just come off as an excuse.

So for this one, I don’t have the answer for you. I have my own answer. You have to search your own. Kinda counterproductive if the point is to buy a game, but it is what it is. You can instead check other people who’ve already played the game, see if you’ll like what they explained or not. It’s much better than numbers on the screen. We’re not computers, at least not mechanical.

Because of how abstract they are, it also means they can reach peaks that numbers cannot explain. Or even words at that point. When that happens, I think it’s safe to say that no money can ever be worth that experience. 

That’s how valuable the content is. Content so expensive it can’t be bought with money and can only be experienced once in life. A content that touched the soul.

If replayability is content of infinite quantity, these games are content of infinite quality. Both infinities cannot be measured with numbers.

Outro

“This game’s so short,” so what? “This game has no replay value,” so what? Are games so shallow that their worth can only be measured by how long they are? You won’t play Ultrakill if it’s not inherently fun. I wouldn’t trade in my experience with Outer Wilds even if I could. Instead, I would pay good money to forget everything I’ve experienced just so I get that feeling when I played it for the first time. Ah, those were the good times.

Both the length of the game nor the replayability is NOT a requirement for a good valued game. Yes, having them is nice, but acting as if they’re the golden standard is harming the industry at large.

Counting the value would instead incentivize players, or consumers to pick games with longer playtime. And if there’s a rise in demand, there’s a rise in supply, Incentivizing the developer to instead focus on increasing playtime instead of the quality of it.

The number of dollars you spent should not be compared with how much time you played. It should’ve been compared with… fun, or how moving it is, or any other value in your head. But if I can’t even name it, how should we implement it to numbers?  

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