Recently in games media we’ve seen a polar reaction to Sega's Alien: Isolation.
Some reviewers, such as our own Alex Taylor, are of a mind that Isolation does everything right that Colonial Marines did wrong. However another side to these reviews claim the games quality lacks as a result of its length.
Ryan McCaffery said in his review of the game: “It may seem strange to complain that a game’s too long, but when the genuine scares of being hunted by an unstoppable predator are so diluted by repetition and padding, Isolation’s epic length really does work against it.”
Kevin VanOrd gave a similar statement. “It's the endless meandering in between that proves troublesome, much of it intended to build tension, but most of it falling victim to a never-ending sameness.”
These reviews echo a long standing problem the industry holds, a problem rooted in the same desire that many industry problems arise out of, from on-disc DLC to DRM to many other concerns. The issue that developers and production companies, in a strive for making money, would rather see the quality of a game suffer, than lower the price of their product. It’s for this reason that so many games in recent years were given needless multiplayer modes (Dead Space 2, Batman: Arkham Origins, etc.)
These companies would much rather expand the game, stretching out as much as possible and filling it with tacked on, humdrum gameplay so as to give the impression of a large game. This is could very well be the case with Alien: Isolation. Gamemakers are obsessed with selling a game at the coveted $60 price point. To them, any other price would either scream a game of lesser quality, or more importantly, might lead to lesser returns.
In this industry of bloated budgets, where Tomb Raider making $3.4 million its first month is considered a disappointment, we see only two options: The AAA and the indie, beyond this, the options become exceedingly small, with only the rare $15 digital game on Steam or PSN or otherwise. Gamers look at this price point and a common misconception is that it simply isn’t worth their time. The only available price points are free, $1-$5, or $60. $20 is reserved for forgotten games of yesteryear to scrounge for a few more sales before fading into obscurity as the new guard takes its place in the public eye.
In a way it's mystifying that publishers wouldn’t be clawing for a lower risk game to sell at a $20 price point. Many of these theoretical games would require less man hours and content expectations than the typical $60 release. I’m surprised I’m not instead talking about how the industry treats the $20 price point as a dumping ground for the ideas that didn’t make it into the big AAA games like Assassin’s Creed or Mass Effect, choosing instead to turn those discarded features into smaller games in their own right. Treating game concepts like they were skinning a buffalo and making sure none of it goes to waste.
Especially after the amazing success of Minecraft, a game that since day 1 has sold for $20. After all the knock off clones you can find all over the Google Play store, and Minecraft becoming the 3rd highest selling game in history, I’m rather surprised we didn’t see a rise of the $20 game.
Of course none of this matters if consumers are not willing to buy games at the $20, $30, $40 range. Imagine walking through Gamestop or Best Buy (or GAME for our European readers) and you saw a game you knew nothing about, but noticed it was in the new game section with a price tag for $50, what would your assumption be? Most likely, your assumption would be that the game is subpar and the publishers took the $10 price cut to appeal to Grandmas who don’t know what the internet is. In your Grandmothers mind, they look at the cheaper price point and think “hey that’s not a bad deal!”.
If we are to get publishers to embrace a wider range of price options, gamers will have to take the lead. Moving to a more varied range of prices would allow publishers to be more risk taking with the smaller games, without the game itself needing to feel niche or underdeveloped the way many games on the Appstore and Google Play Store look and feel.
Choosing to stretch these games out when they were clearly better suited, or even designed for, a more compendious narrative, takes away the substance in favor of size. The practice is much akin to taking a perfectly good espresso, throwing in a few new spices, along with plenty more water and milk, and passing it off as a large coffee so you can sell it for $4 instead of $2. This expanding of the product has been seen before in entertainment. Anime viewers are familiar with the dreaded "filler arc".
These games are being made to match a price point, when the price point should be made to match the game. Perhaps as the indie seen continues to grow and become a more tenacious force in this industry, the price ranges will begin to shift. Shovel Knight was well reviewed by TechRaptor's Seth Kellen, and much of the industry would agree with him. If this area of gaming were more embraced, we could see more games in the vain of Shovel Knight, Minecraft, etc. Games that are smaller, more focused, and designed with a tighter narrative in mind.