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Jumping the Shark Podcast #84


No High Scores

Do you think games are too expensive? Are they priced too low? Should reviewers factor a game’s cost into their evaluation of the game? These are the questions that drove this week’s Jumping the Shark to the brink of civil war with Brandon and Danielle arguing that determining overall value is a fair factor in evaluating a game, while Bill and I contend that the reviewer should stick to evaluating the game itself, regardless of its price. Along the way we also talked about Avadon, inFAMOUS 2, HTML 5 gaming and the fact that Disney’s Animal Kingdom is measurably hotter than any of their other parks. It’s a fun week for JtS. Be sure to step into the comment thread and weigh in!

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READ ALSO:  Jumping the Shark Podcast #98

Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and proceeded to spend over 16 years as a development editor for Pearson Education, publishing books, videos, and digital learning products under the Que and Sams Publishing imprints. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd has also been a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets. Follow him on Twitter @ubrakto or check it out his website at ToddsFoolery.com.

44 thoughts to “Jumping the Shark Podcast #84”

  1. I found myself just like todd. I was agreeing with both sides on this but in the end came down to the side of Bill.

    Just review the game, the price, while it should be mentioned if appropriate, shouldn’t be added as part of the criticm of the game.

    I know you guys hate grades/scores but I would hate to see a game judged harshly due to price or given an inflated score because it was at a discount price.

  2. And yet, price really is an object. It’s something that is a factor in the vast majority of games a given person will play. Like, you have to ask yourself “Oh, I beat MvC3:Ultimate will be good, but do the features justify the 40 dollar price tag?”

    I dunno, I think both sides are right on this issue… It’s a weird issue.

  3. That was entertaining. I think you guys should have a “curmudgeonly grouchy Bill” segment every week – oh wait…

  4. Now stop. I am rarely in a bad mood on JTS. I wasn’t in a bad mood on this show.

    Bill rage is highly overplayed.

  5. …a performance review!

    It wasn’t as heated as presumed on your twitter box; cordially divided but respectful of each view. I expected beatings!

  6. I think price can be a factor in a review. A game review to me as a consumer is about purchasing decisions and I think Bill is right in saying that the value of time and money is subjective person to person and the price of an individual game on it’s own should not really be a factor.

    Lets say a consumer wants to play a deep rpg over the summer, GoG will sell them the witcher for $50 but Skyrim is $90 is their country. A reviewer has spoken and written about both games glowingly. Relative to the witcher (or other RPGs) is Skyrim worth almost twice as much?

    What if a consumer is looking for something that they can play while their toddler and newborn sleep. It is probably just a filler nothing amazing but something that can be fun in 15-30 minute blocks. They read about dungeons of dredmor. The game is good and fits those requirements. The consumer thinks great but for arguments sake it is priced at $60. The reviewer has rated this game highly, the game is $60 so the consumer assumes the reviewer has recommended the game at $60 feels ripped off when the game feels comparable to many $10-$15 indie titles and now thinks less of the reviewer. Perhaps it is not fair but I think it is probably a reality.

    In a free market the idea is that competition will lead to market to paying the price equivalent to a products value. Within a free market then assigning a price is a statement of value. If there is a status quo it is probably not an important part of a review however if the price deviates from the norm a statement has been made regarding the value of that product and as a reviewer why should you not evaluate that statement?

  7. I think if the reviewer had done a proper job on that hypothetical Dredmor example (and don’t get me wrong, I love me some Dredmor) then it should have been made clear in the text of the review that the graphics are not top end and it plays like a rogue-like with dated graphics still better than what you expect from a rogue-like and an interesting skill setup.

    At that point, if the customer buys it for $60 they shouldn’t feel ripped off as the reviewer told them what the game was and let them make up their own minds; the only way I could fault the reviewer was if they didn’t mention the graphics or the slightly clumsy UI. If they didn’t, it’s just a poorly written review and you note that persons name and don’t rely solely on their judgment next time but for arguments sake here I think we have to assume a quality review is done and so the onus is on the consumer in my opinion to decide how much the game in question is worth to them.

  8. Really loved the animated discussion, and I was surprised to find myself on “Team Bill & Todd”. When I am reading a review, the money involved frequently enters my thoughts and I most definitely consider how much I think I’m going to get for my money before I buy.

    However, I have to agree with Bill & Todd that the reviewer shouldn’t be considering it for a couple of reasons:

    1) Different strokes etc. A Halo/Call of Duty game might actually be worth $60 if you’re a fan of the genre, but I wouldn’t pay $5 for all of them put together (unless I could resell them!). On the other hand, if I were to pay 2k/Firaxis what Civ 4 was worth to me it would cost me a month’s pay. Please don’t tell them, probably something in the EULA I didn’t read that would cost me what I said it was worth if greater than purchase price.
    2) It really should simply come out in the text of the review; if the review is well written I’ll have a feel at the end of it for what the game is really about and can make up my own mind what I’m willing to pay for it.

    I almost went back to play for the other team for a second there, but each argument in their favor I decided was covered by point 2 above. A well written review should take care of the problem on its own, therefore, “Team Bill & Todd forever!”, or at least until the next argument. And each time I type Bill & Todd I’m thinking of silly time travel movies. Thanks. Next time Todd gets top billing.

  9. It’s all a matter of properly explaining the context of the game. If the reviewer as done is job well there is no need to comment on the price we can make the decision how much we are willing to pay for the game or even if that payment is in time and/or money.

  10. Your first point is largely irrelevant. Reviews are, inevitably, opinion pieces in every regard, not just price. The benefit we as consumers derive from opinion pieces, whether presented as reviews or not, comes from how we relate the author’s opinions to our own – not necessarily from whether we agree with them, but from whether we can interpret how we might feel about something from the author’s findings. That’s just as true for value as it is for any other subjective element, such as fun.

  11. I think Bill is confused about what a review is. He’s right that price shouldn’t factor into *criticism*, but while they should ideally contain criticism, that’s not the only thing a review is about. Reviews are primarily a buyer’s guide. If a reviews fails to tell the audience whether a game is worth the money, it’s a failure as a *review* no matter how eloquently it dissects the mechanics. And price is absolutely a factor there.

    Now, with standard prices, that’s largely implicit. When we know at what price point the latest AAA games are released at, discussing the price is a waste of word count. Just tell us about the game already. But if one were to come out a twice or triple its expected price point while offering nothing its competition doesn’t, it would be entirely fair to bring up that fact and adjust the score accordingly.

  12. ‘Reviews are primarily a buyer’s guide.’

    I have no problem yelling at my friends, but strangers I try to be a bit more reserved when it comes to disagreements.

    So let’s just say I don’t agree with that.

    At all.

  13. A couple of weeks ago, Brandon gave a pretty good overview of the Captain America game. As he was finishing up, I was thinking that it sounded like a pretty cool game, but that it definitely would be worth waiting for to hit $20 or so. Then, as Brandon concluded, he mentioned it probably not being worth $60. His review had already made that pretty clear.

    Now, if I was a major CA fan, and just could not wait, his review would have told me to o ahead and drop $60, because I would have a great time. That’s where subjectivity comes in. Maybe just signed a contract with the New york Yankees, and I will drop whatever a game costs, becasue the difference between $60 and $20 is the same as $6 and $2. But his review still told me whether I might have fun with the game.

    Like Todd, I can’t drop $60 on every game coming out. But we are headed into a serious stretch of $60 games for me. Deus Ex, Batman: AC, The Witcher 2 (360), and NHL 10 are all coming down the pike, and all are day one purchases for me. And you might add Madden to the list, although NCAA 12, another day one purchase for me, is probably as much football as I need.

    But that is going to leave game like Gears 3, and a host of other quality games, as budget buys next year. And I think publishers know this. Reading the forums at GWJ, I see a ton of other games people think are day one purchases in the upcoming month, but DX and Batman are not on their list. Publishers don’t think we will buy every game. But they do hope to grab their share of the market.

    I would love to hear a more thorough analysis of how publishers make their money. I know movie studios get a much higher % of the take in week one, and that drops over time. This makes more cerebral movies a tough sell, according to a story I heard n NPR. Thinking people tend to avoid opening week in the theaters. They will come, but they are showing up when the % take is down. I know game publishers don;t have this restriction, but i would imagine they still have windows of opportunity they are trying to hit.

    They have to know that by month 3 they cannot count on $60 sales any more. Different games have different tails, though. How does digital download factor in? Games hit XBL Marketplace sooner and sooner, so that has to be part of the sales plan.

  14. And prices change. As such, I need no reviewer, nor a critic to bring them up in a review. You need not tell me the price because I can know it easily by attempting to purchase the game. I can’t know how well the story holds together, how enjoyable it is to engage with the AI, or what the matchmaking is like. That is the non-public information I must read reviews to learn.

    Yes, value is a part of a buying decision, and so might be an appropriate criteria in a buyer’s review. But the price for games is highly variable over time, and so Mr. Abner’s admonition to avoid mind reading matters in two ways. First, you cannot know how I value $10, or $60, or $400. Second, you cannot know whether I’m paying $60, or $3.99, or $400, because you don’t know when I’m buying the game. Games journalists necessarily have a highly skewed idea of what constitutes an old game, reinforced by chattering of the “what’s new” infovores reading and commenting on their work. I sympathize, but encourage them to revise with timelessness in mind.

    I would invite comment on two sets of outliers. The first would be a game where the price of the game was a part of its art, or message. Imagine an indy project where the price of the game rose as more people played it, or one that was specifically luxury-priced ($5,000 in 2011 dollars, for instance) strictly to be a signal of how rich you are. Mr. Cackowski-Schnell could play that on tag, and we’d all know he’d finally perfected his pie-making empire, and was rolling in the dough. You are invited to substitute your own fantasy scenarios in the case of the other Shark regulars.

    The second case is one Mr. Abner threw out at Mr. Cackowski-Schnell and Ms. Riendeau and I believe it actually weakens his point. It is the matter of free-to-play games. Because these games tend to gate gameplay or time in exchange for money, it may be a significant matter to know how much I can play before I must play. That information is not expressly public. Certainly, the cost of experimentation on my part is low from a dollar standpoint, but as copiously recognized by all during the discussion, my time is more important. A reviewer who warns me that I need 13-year-old-on-summer-vacation levels of grinding to play for free once a promotion expires may be doing me a real service. I don’t feel on especially solid ground here, as my tastes haven’t run to the monetized free-to-play games.

  15. The game simply is not better or worse based on the price. The game is what it is. Reviews of a game’s content are subjective, but they start from a basis in facts. The game has feature yyy and it’s good or bad because of xxx. There is no way for a reviewer to establish what value is for the reader. The best they can say is, “I would or wouldn’t pay xx dollars for this,” an idea that’s meaningless to anyone that doesn’t have the same criteria evaluating value and if my time in forums has taught me anything it’s that nobody has the same criteria for establishing value. The price is not hidden information. The reader can use the review to determine for themselves what they’re willing to pay.

    I suppose if something is well outside the norm in terms of pricing it’s relevant to bring it up, “Hey, this is great, but be warned it’s priced above the $60 standard,” but even that gets dicey when prices change with the tides. A game that was $60 when the review was written can often be had for $40 a few weeks or months later. At that point criticism based on price/value is upended.

  16. I like it, but I refuse to time travel in anything that’s not a phone booth brought to me by George Carlin.

  17. I made a broader point farther up that I don’t want to retype since I’d be saying the same thing over again. I’ll just re-sum up here. Prices are fluid and the game does not get better or worse based on the price. A good game is a good game. That doesn’t mean you’re willing to pay whatever price it asks, but my opinion of a game’s price is irrelevant. If the review does it’s job evaluating the game you’ll have no trouble determining for yourself what you’re willing to pay, based on your own unique budget and priorities.

  18. I listened to the podcast on my way in to work this morning and I tend to agree with Bill. I think the critic should render his judgement on a game without taking the price into account. It is then up to the consumer to put a value on the game given his particular financial circumstances. War in The East was given a B by Rob Zachney, who I have great respect for as a strategy game reviewer. But no-where in his review does he mention that the game costs $90. I think it’s up to me to decide if the text of his review, and less importantly the B letter grade warrants a $90 price tag when I go to purchase the game. I do think it’s OK for the reviewer to mention that a game is being sold as a budget title, or is free to play. But that should just be as information to the reader. It should not factor into the reviewer’s opinion or score.

  19. I agree with almost all of that, apart from “my opinion of a game’s price is irrelevant.” If I’m reading your reviews it’s purely because I think your opinions on what you’re writing about are relevant, and price falls within that remit. I don’t have to share your opinions, I don’t even have to have ever agreed with them in the past, I just want them to consider as part of a wider picture.

    Edit: This is not to say that I insist that price should be included in a review. Indeed I’m not particularly committed to formalized reviews at all – I have nothing against them, but I’m just as happy with an informal opinion piece. I just don’t think that price should necessarily be excluded on principle.

  20. Forget that noise. It’s pistols at dawn. Be there. My son will be championing in my stead. He’s quite wily. And short. Harder to hit.

  21. I beg your understanding, Mr. Abner, as my jazz-age ass is not ready for your rock-n’-roll lifestyle.

  22. I’m British, we’re not allowed pistols. Even for important things like competitive sport or duels.

    Also, your son. Is he larger than a grouse?

  23. It’s odd that Bill is basically saying in this that he wants games to reviewed like art (eg movies, music and tv) where only the quality of the product matters and the value is not really important as he doesn’t feel he is making a recommendation to buy a game, but then in the art episode he said no game yet could be considered art. IMO this particular podcast was a bit of a shemozzle because Brandon poorly explained his point, Dannielle then tried to agree with him but I don’t think any of the others fully understood what he was getting at. Brandon obviously reviews games as a product rather than art wherein quality is important but value is also crucial as the end result is you recommending someone buy a game (and price should obviously influence this).

    The Podcast was an argument between 2 people who barely understood what each other meant. Bill reviews games with the intention to answer the question “Is this a good game?” (obviously price is not important here) whereas Brandon reviews games with the intention to answer “Should You buy this game?” (where price is important).

    Love the podcast but I hate it when you guys argue as it usually devolves into Bill and Todd not really understanding what Dannielle and Brandon are getting at so it just becomes Brandon reiterating the same point over and over.

  24. I don’t mind people yelling at me in the least, go right ahead.

    Maybe primarily was a poor choice of words — certainly you can argue that most review traffic is from people reading them after the fact for the entertainment value of arguing with something a complete stranger wrote — but I’d still maintain a review that does not inform the consumer about whether they should buy the game or not is an utter failure as a review. Price is a part of a buying decision, and a product being released at a non-standard price point is useful information to have.

    You might decide that your audience is savvy enough consumers that they’d be better served by words on other things, instead of explicitly calling attention to it. Which is fair enough. Know your audience and all that. But I really can’t see why’d you be in such despair that Danielle and Brandon would take price into consideration when reviewing games.

  25. I like reading reviews. Sometimes I read a review to decide whether I’m going to buy a game. Sometimes I read reviews to compare two similar products. Sometimes I read them to educate myself about a product I intend to purchase.

    My experience is that there is no consistent standard when it comes to mentioning price. In some cases, you’ll always see price. This usually occurs when a number of products seek to accomplish the same task (ovens, cars, supplements, etc.). Sometimes the price is rarely ever mentioned (video games, movies).

    I don’t think the price is something that SHOULDN’T be in a review. In some cases, it’s a necessity. When I’m buying a new motorcycle it’s important to know that while the Ducati has a slight edge in performance, it’s $4k more expensive than the Honda, which comes in a close second. In that case the relative cost is a critical piece of information in value assessment.

    Bill asserts that cost is a personal value judgement. While that is true, I feel that this is not the reason cost isn’t usually mentioned in reviews. Game prices are very standardized. New console titles: $60, new PC titles: $50, new handheld titles $40. When a game does stray from this cost standard it’s almost always mentioned in the majority of the reviews. I would argue that price isn’t discussed because it’s subjective, but because it is standardized.

    I appreciate Bill’s noble stance on this, but it is quixotic. Reviews don’t exist simply as a critique. They are, at their heart, buying guides. Regardless of whether the price is mentioned, it is an implicit suggestion that the game is or is not worth the valuation placed on it by the publisher.

  26. A game doesn’t change depending on what’s charged for it, but it’s a product competing with other products, and what’s charged for it compared to its competition isn’t exactly irrelevant. It’s about expectations and putting things in context. You don’t need to yammer about prices when it’s released at a standard price point, people already know where their full price/bargain/rental/skip thresholds are.

    (Incidentally, that’s why no movie reviewer talks prices unless it’s to decry the abomination that is 3D. Going to the cinema costs the same whether it’s for a blockbuster or a quirky indie picture.)

    However, if a game is good but ludicrously overpriced compared to its equally good competition, that’s pertinent information that might be worth bringing up. Conversely, if a game delivers AAA production values and polish at a budget price, that’s also worth noting. You can make the argument that it’s unecessary because your audience is savvy enough to find that out for themselves, but then you’re leaving it out because of who you’re talking to, not because it’s somehow verboten to bring it up in the context of a review.

    And sure, prices change, but so do *games*. Bugs you ding the game for might be gone with the next patch. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect reviews to be more than a snapshot instead of a definitive statement.

  27. I think I generally agree with Bill, but my question is, is it okay for a reviewer to say whether or not a game is worth your time? If so, why? Isn’t that equally subjective? A reader with a spouse and children and maybe 45 minutes game time per day is going to have a very different idea of what’s worth their time than a slacker college student who plays from sunup to sundown (or more likely, sundown to sunup). So is there a real difference there?

  28. First, I agree with all the other listeners who found this podcast great !

    Regarding the heated debate, I feel like it all comes down to the always relevant question of the nature of a videogame : If you consider it mainly as a piece of art, the result and expression of a creative team driven by the purpose of entertaining its audience, then the issue of price makes no sense ; I mean, I can’t see how an art critic specialized on paintings, for example, would consider and weight the price of a specific painting in order to build his own opinion of its quality, and that is how I understand Bill’s position. A good gameplay has no price, it is simply a good gameplay !

    But at the same time, a videogame is not an isolated piece of art, it is also a product massively published, distributed and consumed. And from a consumer point of view, the price tag represent a statement, especialy the 60 $/€ one ; a publisher that put a 60 $/€ price on release simply claims his game is worth being considered as a high production-value AAA quality game. The question of whether this claim is verified is, in my mind, a decent one, certainly worth of being answered by a reviewer. For example, a journalist working for a magazine specialized in cars would certainly pay attention to the price of a new model, and have different perspectives and references for cars that are sold 6000 € or 300 000 € ; you simply don’t have the same level of expectation.

    Going back to video-games, I agree with Bill in that prices should’nt influence your judgment on the gameplay and the global playing experience that is the very root of what is gaming, but I certainly feel like it schould weight in your expectation of the production value in itself. Bill, you mentionned only one complaint regarding Din’s Curse, and that was the graphics. It certainly doesn’t prevent it from being an excellent game ; simply, and maybe I’m talking for myself here, but I think the graphics would have pissed slightly more if this game had the pretention to be sold at 60 $/€ (which it did’nt). It would’nt have ruined the experience, yet it would simply have dissapointed a little more those customers that seek some technical oomph in their gaming and are ready to pay for it …

  29. It’s obvious, you’re failing to include dodgy links purporting to sell Tiffany jewellery. If in doubt include said links and the spam filter will give you a free pass!

  30. Mr. Grisold:
    How then, do we reconcile the value one receives when not purchasing a AAA game?

    Consider organic citrus. The organic oranges I see at market are smaller, greener, and more blemished than the conventional oranges. Organic oranges fail to have AAA graphics, taste the same, and pesticide contamination concerns are mitigated by the thick peel. And yet, organic oranges will support a higher price in the marketplace. Yes, there is some added utility if I’m expressing the peel into an old fashioned, and I may find utility in overarching environmental concerns. I extract utility from the signalling associated with the orange with serviceable graphics.

    Now, when I purchase Din’s Curse, I get great gameplay, fresh ideas on a classic genre, and the benefit of being the guy playing Din’s Curse and not another AAA title – even a well respected AAA title. Portal 2 might well be an awesome game, but it is also plastered on hoardings and buses, and my playing it never signals anything about my discerning taste. I read great gaming blogs, I take consul of the leading lights of game criticism, and, when I judge it appropriate, I “overpay” for the status of an inferior good. I am signalling, as we all are when we purchase first day or at full price.

    It helps that I am the owner of a successful collection of optometry shops, as well as one of the leading symbols of American literature, but surely you know others like me.

  31. what if the reader doesn’t have the experience of rogue likes and doesn’t know what they should be paying? My point is that price provides context. If Dredmor is $60 is it not worth mentioning that there are $10-$15 rogue likes that are of quality.

  32. I had not yet gotten to the point of contention in the podcast. It was fun to hear some Bill rage.

    I think what Brandon and Danielle failed to convey was that the price matters because we have a huge amount of content to compare it to. The reason Captain America might not be worth $60 is that Batman: Arkham Asylum simply delivers a much better experience for that same $60. But understanding the industry, we know the CA will be easy to be had for $20 or $30 later.

    For $2-$3, you can review and recommend Angry Birds. If it comes to the Xbox for $60, you are not telling someone how much the game is worth, just that they can simply do better for less. Price matters because it dictates what kind of experience you are comparing it to.

    This does suppose that Joe Blow is a gamer, and is looking to spend his money on something. Yu cannot quantify how much it is worth alone.

    And the comparison to other games in the same genre market can be inferred. the Orange Box was a fantastic deal, not because $60 is a great price for three games, but that you would have to spend more to find three other comparable experiences.

    I read some discussion of Age of Empires Online. One of the things that struck me was that in the way the game is being pieced out, you can easily spend $100 for what easily could have been a $50 game if sold as one cohesive unit. I think it is imperative for a reviewer to mention how the game is being monetized, and what the real costs are.

    In the end, Danielle and Brandon were right, but they did a really poor job of explaining themselves. they were getting tripped up over what they knew intuitively.

  33. Well if you are not looking for a AAA experience and are only interested in a good entertaining experience that specificaly appeal to your taste, the answer is easy : you don’t have to pay any attention to the price. Your comparison with organic oranges is certainly relevant, and somehow, I perfectly understand someone could find personnal motivation in buying a higher price for a worse looking product, this motivation not necessarily involving snobism in any form ; I mean, Matrix Games publishes some – let’s say “horrible looking” ? – wargames for 80 $ and somehow, it does not seem to bother a majority of its audience, because they have a very specific expectation that they can hardly find elsewhere, whatever the price, and this expectation is clearly not high quality graphics. Thus it would not be very informative for a reviewer of those kind of niche games to take price into account for forging its opinion on the production value.

    But outside of these specific niches, my point remains that a high price tag is first and foremost a marketing statement by a publisher, that can be worth commenting when the relative production value does not correspond to the statement.

  34. All I want from a review of a game is to know if the game is good or not. Give me an idea of what the experience is like. Is it well made and fun to play? How long is it an does it have any replay value? Let me decide what I am willing to spend.

    I understand that the gaming landscape is changing. More tiers of pricing have emerged. That is fine with me. However, a lot of that is tied to the platform on which a game is offered and the genre of the game. So, if I am looking for a good iPad game, a good PC game on a Steam sale, a good new release PC game, a good 360/PS3 game (either a downloaded arcade-style title or a regular title), or even a good Wii game (gasp!) that is really what is driving the price consideration for me.

    I am aware of what the platforms have to offer and have an idea of the context of price regarding available games on said platforms. I even have an idea of the type of game I might be interested in and usually have a specific title in mind.

    What I really want to know goes back to what something Todd said regarding not having to just rely on the box art. Flying blind in the days of the Atari 2600 and NES could be precarious.

    Assure me that my preconceptions of a game are not mistaken and prevent me from buying a lemon and I am happy.

    If you can routinely even adequately describe games to the extent that you occasionally turn me on to an unknown title or new franchise that would be something I would enjoy playing … well, that it is just gravy.

  35. it’s way way after this podcast, and not sure if anybody will read or see this
    i’m just putting it here to put my own two cents and also cause i was too lazy to post it back in the day.

    the only reason i have a problem with price being a factor, is that i were to judge whether or not to play a game a few months after it come out (when everything is bargain bin prices), using that “grading scale” would mean that everything is a must play

    if we were to believe that everything was the same price (in the long run), then you have to judge on something more than the price basis. a good game is a good game regardless of price, and a bad game can’t become a good game because of price. but it can become “tolerable” because of price. as bill said in the podcast “you can’t make that decision for other people”

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