Monday, January 14, 2008

A New Taxonomy of Gamers: Cash Rules Everything Around Me

This is the seventh in an 11-part series. To start from the beginning, read part one: "What We Talk About When We Talk About Games." Or read the previous post, "Case Study: Metroid Prime 3: Corruption."

There's an old joke I've seen attributed to Woody Allen: "The food here is terrible -- and the portions are too small!" Many critics have said much the same thing about games, only without irony. The graphics are terrible, the play control is non-existent, the storyline is stupid... and it's only six hours long! What a rip-off!

Thus far, we've been able to talk about gaming in a vacuum, without consideration of the practical side. Games cost money. Consoles cost money. For most of us, that means we've got to choose carefully what we play, and what system we play it on. That's the obvious reason for the fanboy phenomenon, in which people declare themselves on one console's "team" and do battle with opposing teams: people don't want to have wasted their money. With games these days costing sixty dollars apiece, and consoles going for as much as $500, it's only natural that people want to get their money's worth. As with the disparity between Skill Players and Tourists, it turns out that getting one's money's worth can mean completely different things to different people.

Let's try to put this in the simplest manner we can. A consumer buys a game, and either likes it or doesn't. For that person's purposes, the game is either too long, too short, or the right length. That would seem to leave us with the possibility of a game being any of the following:
  • Good and too short
  • Good and too long
  • Good and long enough
  • Bad and too short
  • Bad and too long
  • Bad and long enough

"Good and too long" almost seems like a contradiction. But what if you really don't have enough time in your schedule to play a 40+ hour game, no matter how much you like it? We've covered this topic before, and it's a real concern for a lot of people. We'll leave that on the list. A lot of people would tell you that most good games are too short, and "good and long enough" works to describe any satisfying game. Those all stay.

The "bad" list is a little different. Can a bad game be too short? I would submit that no bad game could possibly be short enough! So let's strike that one from the list. A bad game could conceivably be too long, but if it's truly that terrible then you'll quit playing before you ever reach that point. In a sense, every bad game is too long. Strike that one, too. That leaves us with "bad and long enough." What does "long enough" mean in this case? It means playing long enough to know the game stinks -- making the temporal descriptor redundant.

Our new list looks like this:

  • Good and too short
  • Good and long enough
  • Good and too long
  • Bad

Relative terms like "too short" and "too long" are likely to mean different things to different people. If we can define them in a way that works for everybody, we have another chance to broaden the foundation of gaming discussion.

Next: Supply and Demand

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

First of all, you should have stated that time is money, or some relationship between life and gaming.

Second, bad games can be bad because they are too short. There is something called value, which determines whether the game generates enough utility over time, versus its cost.

You should not have created lists of what bad and good games are. In fact, it feels like your 11 part series is jumping around all over the place, barely touching the surface of any one subject, let alone building solid arguments for your conclusions. If that's not what you were trying to do, you should have combined several parts already.