The new Metal Gear Solid asks: where do we place the value in videogames?
11th Mar 2014 | 12:30
Lopping a tenner off the price doesn't solve an industry-wide dilemma
Where is the value in video games?
Here in the land of share buttons, beanie-donning antiheroes and actual 1080p gaming, the talk of the town is Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes.
Specifically: it's short. So short the developers can speedrun it in five minutes, which is less time than you'll spend typing out a caps lock-laden response to that smug 1080p bit a few lines back.
Most people who've played it are reporting it took them about an hour and a half to complete.
They're also reporting that it's an incredible hour and a half, representing a successful marriage of Metal Gear legacy, modern day sandbox gaming and scintillating next-gen visuals (alright, so it's ménage à trois).
So should we hike Big Boss up on a stick and throw rotten fruit at him for ripping us all off, or just enjoy the magnificent, movie-sized portion of entertainment on offer? It's a genuine dilemma.
How much are games worth?
MGSV Ground Zeroes: This new game acts as a prequel to events in the forthcoming MGSV: The Phantom Pain and introduces a new open-world environment to the series, alongside changing day and night environments, changing weather elements, and extensive AI advances.
Konami probably thought they'd squared it all away when they announced a price cut for Ground Zeroes, slashing it from $40 to $30 (which will inevitably equate to £30, because publishers think we don't know how exchange rates work).
Obviously they didn't come right out and say "Yeah, it's really short. Feels weird charging full price so let's call it £29.99, yeah?"
No, it was more about "providing as many people as possible an opportunity to experience Kojima Productions' new FOX Engine and the first installment in the two-part Metal Gear Solid V experience".
Which, if anything, deepens the dilemma. Because there was a time when developers provided an opportunity for many people to play their game by releasing a demo version. A completely free demo version.
Metal Gear Solid 2's tanker demo is a shining example of this archaic practice, a vertical slice of tactical espionage action still spoken about with the reverence of a holy scripture in some circles.
At first it seemed like a straightforward few minutes of sample gameplay, but each time you went back you found new content, hidden jokes, endless depth. Which is exactly what people are saying about Ground Zeroes.
Series creator and prolific meal photographer Hideo Kojima even talks about the game in demo-like terms: "[It's] a tutorial. We wanted to allow as much freedom as possible within this one small world so that people can easily learn how to use our new systems".
So is Konami charging £30 for the kind of content you used to get free with a magazine a few years ago?
It ain't free, babe
Thanks to the advent of DLC, episodic gaming, and Kickstarter, it's not that easy to make cut and dry conclusions.
The industry's still trying to figure out how to price content that doesn't fit the traditional, £40 boxed copy 8-hour campaign model, and more often than not it's arriving at a lovely new model where you keep your wallet out long after you've taken the game home.
For example: I sucked at NBA 2K11, and there was nothing I could do about it. I still suck at NBA 2K14, but now there's a glimmering 'purchase virtual currency' button on the menu, leering at me, promising to shower my player in stat upgrades if I...just...press...confirm.
I'll spend £17 on slightly improved stats in a sports game, so it's not unreasonable for publishers to expect I'll pay £30 for a standalone piece of playable content, regardless of size.
No fate but what we make
The going rate for DLC season passes, which give you access to the entirety of a game's post-release content, is widely accepted as somewhere around the £19.99 mark.
Meanwhile, episodes of Telltale's Walking Dead And The Wolf Among Us are going for less than a fiver - it's basically the wild west out there.
There are simply no precedents for certain types of content. Imagine being the person who has to price the UK version of Short Peace: Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day, which is a five-piece collection comprised of four short animated films (one of which was nominated for an Oscar this year) and one half-hour long side-scrolling platformer.
Go on, slap a price on it. £4? £40? Publishers are looking to us for direction, and our purchasing habits directly inform the pricings for games like Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes.
The future of game prices
There's a tipping point; of course there is. Other publishers will be particularly interested on its release to see if Ground Zeroes has reached that point where it's priced itself out of the market.
But as the gamer's age demographic continues to widen and those with narrow windows of opportunity for play time are continually recognised as a viable market, movie-sized games will take root deeper into the industry.
And ultimately, we'll make the call on whether to buy those titles based on their quality, not length.
If we really held longevity in higher esteem than level design, storytelling and smart mechanics, tedious 40-hour JRPGs like Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland and Tales Of Xillia would be international chart-toppers and not relatively obscure titles I've brought up for effect.
Further to that point, Lars Von Trier's provocative Nymphomaniac parts I & II opened in cinemas worldwide last week.
Reviews were largely positive, praising its bravery, dark humour and strong performances.
But with a combined running time of over four hours, I didn't see any reviews praising its value for money...
Phil Iwaniuk is games editor of Official PlayStation Magazine UK. He has a non-ironic love for saccharine 3-hour epic Titanic, and is probably never going to finish Metal Gear Solid 4.
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