In recent months we’ve been looking at how using game design can influence player decisions through balance game decisions and how a game can be played more often by adjusting complexity, player count and game length.
This month we are looking at the consumer side of the tabletop industry and review how players evaluate games. This week we are asking how players frame their purchasing decisions to extract the most from the monetary value of games. We’ll be looking at how replay value can influence the perceived purchase price of a game.
This wouldn’t be a question worth asking unless we implement a constraint and one that affects us all: a budget. If given $100 to spend on games, how do you decide?
How to we value games?
One strength of boardgames is that it can be a comparatively inexpensive hobby when broken down by cost-per-hour of entertainment. As movie ticket prices have continued to increase in some areas to $12 and beyond, the cost of a $40 board game looks quite reasonable. While the cinema offers a two hour engagement, a boardgame can break down to be far more cost effective for groups and families.
The video game industry has spent many years adopting a $60 pricing model on a game which can provide 20-40+ hours of gameplay content. Consumers have grown to accept this pricing model as games can provide a good value per hour of entertainment.
The pricing of a tabletop industry is often closely tied to manufacturing costs which is driven in part by the game components. As a result, a decision can emerge between weighing the purchase of a $60 dollar game and a $30 game. Is the $60 game at least twice as enjoyable as the $30 game? This is largely a subjective question for anyone to answer but how do you determine how much fun a game is?
An extension of this idea is how are games rated relative to their price. An inexpensive game will have a wider potential audience willing to buy it. Buyers impressed by the quality of the gameplay might say “Hey, this is a great $5 game” while gamers who didn’t like it may simply move on or write it off, “Well, it was only $5, I guess I couldn’t have expected much.”
The same level of forgiveness doesn’t seem to carry over to more expensive purchases. An $80 game will naturally have higher expectations for its price point and if it is met with disappointment there can be significant buyer’s remorse. Thankfully boardgames are only one trade away from something we might like better.
A great deal of value in boardgames comes through their replay value. As opposed to puzzles which are commonly solved just once, games can potentially present a different playing experience each time. When evaluating monetary value boardgames can be broken down by cost per play over the long-term to demonstrate the value of an investment in a game.
Replay value can be determined from several criteria:
- Variability – Is it repetitive or solvable? Are there dominant strategies present that reduce the intrigue of the game?
- Player retention – Do players feel the need to play again? Is there emergent gameplay or interesting strategy that may present itself over the course of multiple sessions?
- Flexibility – How restrictive are the conditions in which players can play the game? Does a game offer enough utility so that it doesn’t require a three hour commitment from at least five players?
- How do you value games?
- What other methods might you use to make purchase decisions?
- Do you value expansions differently?
- How closely price be tied to the length or complexity of a game?
- Do publishers avoid short and expensive games because of how they can be perceived?
- Would you spend $50 on a filler game that plays 30 minutes or less that you enjoy?
Let us hear your thoughts in the comments section below.
Nice article and some interesting observations. I definitely think about expansions differently. I’ve spent more money on X-Wing Miniatures in the past year than any other game, but I’ve also got the most value and playtime out of it. Giving players an expandable system can give more value for money in the long run and more return for the initial time investment in rules learning.
There’s definitely a correlation between value and play-length, as there is between play-length and the possibility of getting it to the table. Ironically, a bigger game is generally both more expensive and longer, meaning that it’s less value as it gets to the table less often. Game of Thrones is the game that I’ve got the least value out of, as it’s only got to the table once.
I think after the initial purchase, a game’s only valuable according to its utility and actual table time. I think the key question is how can we improve a game’s value? The legacy concept is one answer. I’d point out that it’s not a one and done scenario, but rather a 15 and done, which for me is great value for money. Expansions and ongoing support are another answer.
Excellent thoughts Jason, I’m looking forward to seeing more legacy style games in the future – you’re absolutely right that it is a great way to improve value.
I’ve always disliked the comparison to movies, however, because you are not purchasing an item. A more accurate comparison would be to a DVD. Like a board game, you have a physical object that can be enjoyed more than once. Of course, here the money/time ration favors the DVD.
It interests me that many video gamers embrace the “one and done” philosophy, where they do not really expect to go through the game multiple times. I sometimes feel this attitude is creeping into some board gamers. Risk: Legacy is the obvious example, where many players feel as though there is no reason to play again once all of the packets/secrets have been revealed.
Really great points Greg,
I’ve never been fond of the movie ticket comparison either for several reasons but the DVD comparison is much more appropriate with a tangible relationship.
I can think of a few factors that likely contribute to the “one and done” philosophy surrounding video games. While board games are often of a shorter time investment, the vast majority fewer than a couple hours, video games can frequently be 10-30 hour experiences just in a single player mode. Unless a new play through provides a sufficiently alternative experience I know I prefer to try the next thing on my list. Once I’ve enjoyed the features, challenges and story I feel like I’ve accomplished the initial goal and a second play through would present severely diminished returns.
Board games seem closer to the multiplayer mode of a video game, driven by the actions of other players with an unpredictable challenge. I can’t quite extract a decisive outcome from a multiplayer game as it usually can’t be solved, only optimized.
Risk: Legacy is a great observation, part of this “completed” attitude probably comes from the narrative benefit of making a great story in the years to come with no need for a sequel. Potentially knowing the outcomes could impact the enjoyable uncertainty presented as it is unlocked over a series of games. Most likely is that Risk:Legacy really would need a new copy to play again, which would probably provide diminished returns for players over a similarly-priced new game they can try.
Great points, thanks for bringing them up, Greg.
This is something I think a lot about, especially as my budget for board games has shrunk. I judge game value based on opportunity. If a game plays in an hour or less, I have a much greater opportunity to play (I play lunch games at work a lot). Does it play well with two? Then it might fit as a game to play with my wife. If a game lasts longer than an hour, it has to be excellent in order for me to get it, as opportunities to play games longer than an hour are scarce.
The second criterion I use is resale value. If I invest in a game, what is the potential for me to get most of my money back if I misjudge opportunity? I write game reviews, so it’s not a big deal to play a game several times and send it on its way as long as I can get the value I invested back out of it.
Nice post! I wrote something like this a while back, and I plan to look at this topic more comprehensively in the future. I’ll be sure to link this post when I do.
Thanks for the feedback! We talked a bit about time value of games back in February and will be returning to the topic later this month.
Resale value is an interesting angle to consider for monetary value. I suspect the importance of resale value varies greatly from person to person, as there are some gamers (like myself) who are basically hoarders and don’t often divest our collections, while others are more reasonable about it.
Another great piece – keep up the great work. You deserve a large following!
Thanks Luke, we appreciate your support!