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The Order: 1886 - How much should new video games cost?

03/06/2015 05:00 EST | Updated 05/05/2015 05:59 EDT
The Order: 1886, the latest big-budget video game for the PlayStation 4, has had a rough time under gamers' and critics' microscopes, with some saying it's too short an experience for too high a price tag.

It has fuelled a debate over the price of video games, and how much bang gamers are getting for their buck.

The Order, developed by the studio Ready at Dawn and available for Sony's PlayStation 4 console, takes place in a fictionalized version of England during the Industrial Revolution. You play as Sir Galahad, a member of an order of knights tasked to defend the populace from werewolf-like monsters.

Before the game hit stores, a YouTube channel leaked a playthrough online, completing it in a little less than 5 1/2 hours. The videos have since been removed from YouTube. Most critics and reviewers said it takes around six to eight hours to finish the game the first time through.

Many of the most highly promoted games can take much longer. Dragon Age: Inquisition, by Edmonton's Bioware, takes at least 40 hours to play through the main storyline and upwards of 80 in order to see and do everything its massive world has to offer.

Both sell for $59.99 as a digital download and $69.99 in stores.

Speaking to video games site Eurogamer, Ready at Dawn's CEO Ru Weerasuriya argued that it was a matter of quality, not quantity that makes The Order worth its ticket price.

Ready at Dawn's founder and CTO Andrea Pessino was less diplomatic on Twitter, writing, "I am done commenting on clickbait rumors about game length, 'downgrade' idiocy and such nonsense. Don't bother asking."

Publishers set the price

But if these games' experiences are so wildly different, why do they all cost the same?

The  $60 to $70 price tag of new games theoretically makes the question stickier than other forms of entertainment. After all, new novels or movies at the theatre generally sell for a flat rate of $20 to $30 – a little more for the 3D glasses and popcorn in the theatre, a little less for a novel's paperback edition. New games go for at least twice that.

According to a report by Consumerist last year, games publishers such as Electronic Arts, Sony or Microsoft set the price of all new games at $60. Retailers have little recourse but to agree.

"Stores that choose not to abide by the price agreement quickly find themselves out of favour with the publisher for future shipments," writes Consumerist's Kate Cox, adding that the price doesn't actually give retailers a large cut. For this reason, games retailer EB Games makes close to half of its profits from used game sales.

Gamers want 'hours per dollar'

Game length has long been a point of scrutiny by a portion of hardcore gamers who search for the perfect hours-per-dollar ratio.

One site, howlongtobeat.com, crowdsources players' play time with the game, crunching the numbers to show the average number of hours players take to finish them. So far, responses for The Orderclock it at an average of 7 1/2 hours.

Video games and tech analyst Brian Blau notes that gamers and games critics tend to factor in the price of the game more than in other entertainment products or media. "Sometimes a few voices are very loud in the [gaming] community, and that's not necessarily representative of the overall customer base," he told CBC News.

But it has, in a strange way, become a point of pride for gamers:

"If there's an expectation set in the industry that there's a simple equation that 40 hours equals $60, then on a per-hour basis it's way less expensive than a movie," he says.

Mixed reception for The Order

Reviews for The Order are all over the map. Metacritic, a site that aggregates review scores for games, movies and albums, lists scores for the game ranging from 95 to 20 out of 100. For many, the relatively short length of the experience was a point against it.

"I applaud the developers for not tacking a throwaway multiplayer component onto The Order: 1886, but at the same time there's virtually no reason to play the game again when it's over," writes the Toronto Sun's Steve Tilley.

The debate can distract from what's actually in the game, though, argues the National Post's Patrick O'Rourke, who rated The Order 7.5 out of 10. 

"Yes, it is important, but there's an awesome experience in The Order that a lot of people are going to miss because they're too worried about how long the game is," O'Rourke says.

Games' lengths, along with the price, often take centre stage in games reviews, which straddle the line between reviews for the arts like books or theatre, and technically focused electronics. Owing to the latter's sensibilities, a game's graphics, sound quality, and resolution often factor heavily into final scores.

It's a consideration that CBC Books columnist Becky Toyne says is "completely separate" from most novel reviews. "People rarely even comment on the cover design or the production value of the book. You're just reviewing the actual content."

Wherever this debate about games' price versus its content, however, it's likely to only get worse, especially in Canada: several high-profile games slated for release later this year, including Metal Gear Solid V, are currently listed for pre-order on EB Games' site at $74.99.

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