How Much Gaming Should $1 Get You?

I recently did a review of a series of $1 iPhone Apps, and in that article I struggled a bit with assessing the value proposition of those games. After all, over the last decade iTunes has successfully trained us that $1 is pretty much a throw-away in terms of value. You are lucky to find a song for that much at iTunes or Amazon, most stuff in the vending machines at my work costs more, and forget about getting a cup of even basic coffee for $1 anymore!

But still I was concerned … just what is fair to expect from a $1 game? As I hinted in that review, I break it down into a few categories:

Over-achievers
Games like Angry Birds are an example. Here is a game you learn in seconds but can play for hours. This sort of game doesn’t even register in the consideration of the scope of this article. Suffice to say, if you are contemplating the word ‘hours’ in describing your gameplay for something … you have gotten your $1 worth.

Crap
Honestly, a huge amount of the app store falls into this category! I highlighted Pocket Devil – Hell Yeah! as a game definitely not worth $1, but there are plenty of others! These are games that are either so poorly made or derivative that you are insulted as you play, thinking they would be a lousy value even if they were FREE! Again, these games aren’t what I’m thinking about here.

Tough Calls
The games Tiki Toss 3D and mScribble fall in this category – and are pretty much the reason I started writing this! Each of these games was good for at least a few minutes of decent fun, but in not way did my play time cross even the fifteen minute mark, let alone hours! So the question is: does 5-15 minutes of gameplay justify a $1 game?

The first instinct is to do a typical ‘cost/time’ analysis based on other forms of entertainment.

Looking at a movie in a theater, if you assume you pay $10 for a ticket to a 2 hour movie, that is ~12 minutes per $1. Which actually falls in line pretty well with the ratio for something like Tiki Toss.

But if I look at the last big game I finished, ArcaniA, I spent about 60 hours playing through the game. That is approximately 72 minutes (1.25 hours) per $1 of gaming time.

That sort of figure – $1 per hour – has been used as a reasonable figure of merit for video games in the past. Games like Medal of Honor that offer a ~6-8 hour single player campaign depend on players digging in to the multiplayer experience to get the full value of the experience.

For most Modern Warfare 2 players, the ultra-short campaign (which took me ~4 hours) was more than offset by the dozens if not hundreds of multiplayer hours they have enjoyed. Alas for many $1 App Store games there is no multiplayer option.

Does that mean we should expect that we’ll get an hour of gameplay from a $1 App Store game?

Why Does It Matter?
The other thing that got me thinking about this recently was when I was syncing up my new iPod Touch and I realized that even with only having certain apps on the Touch I was still using up >10GB for more than 150 apps! Not all are games, but the bulk of the space is taken up by games!

But Mike, I can hear you asking already, aren’t those huge apps mostly the more expensive stuff like GTA: ChinaTown Wars and other action/strategy/RPG games that cost well over $1 (at least regularly)? That is true, but there are also plenty of $1 apps that take up 50 – 100MB, so I don’t immediately dismiss the storage space concern – but admit it is less of an issue than for more expensive games with larger scope.

Another thing with considering $1 as disposable is that it quickly becomes $10, $25 or even $100, at which point it is real money!

The other things are time and ‘mind share’. The time spent looking at all of these $1 games is irreplaceable, even if you don’t concern yourself with the money. In many cases you could spend more time searching, buying, downloading and syncing the apps than actually playing them!

Mind share is a bit more nebulous, but let me explain: I have more than 500 apps in my library, the vast majority of them are games. With that many items, even using iTunes to scroll around it is hard to know what I have in my library. The problem? Of more than 400 games, there are fewer than 200 that I actually care about in any form – things like Plants vs. Zombies, GTA Chinatown Wars, Tradewinds 2, and so on. Which means there are more than 200 that are ‘filler’ – or more appropriately, NOISE. My new iPod Touch has way too many crapware games on it, way too many little trivial $1 games I will never play again, and so on – and I tend to have OCD about maintaining my systems! Suddenly when you are looking for a game to play it is hard to find the one you want, to know what to play, and to figure out what simply needs to get deleted!

Conclusions
Obviously there is no single answer – because the most obvious one is that a $1 game is a good purchase if after playing it you don’t regret having spent money to buy it. So if you find a game that looks great – by all means go for it.

But at the same time … LEARN. If something looks innocuous, but ends up being CRAP – review it poorly on iTunes, and figure out WHY you bought it in the first place, and use that knowledge to help you make a more informed choice the next time.

I have posited this before, but the ‘ok, so you have 300,000 apps but how many GOOD ones?’ debate really matters. With that many apps it gets harder and harder to find ANYTHING in the App Store. And if we reward too many lousy apps it keeps them on sales charts which perpetuates people buying them simply because they are ‘popular’ .. which tells developers to model their next project on that … and on and on and on.

My final thought: Caveat Emptor. It may only be $1, but that dollar is YOURS!

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About the Author

Michael Anderson
I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!