It’s that time of the year again. Christmas is still far away, and despite that, just like every year, Valve goes into the maddening overdrive of handing out mid-summer presents to its fan base. Pardon, consumers. Which eventually sets a high percentage of PC gamers back a few bucks and puts a lot of games into circulation.
It’s also that time of the year where I end up asking myself: “Do I really, REALLY need that game? Even if it’s just 3€?” It’s one of the big problems prolific gamers like myself face, and not only when Valve rolls out the cheap prices, but basically whenever games become available for small change. Spending that kind of money is easily justified. Usually the customer gets hours and hours of entertainment for less than, say, 15 bucks, be it € or $.
But do we actually play these cheaply acquired titles? I for one cannot really name a single game that I got through a Steam sale that I actually finished. Mostly I just try it out for a bit — some games longer than others — and then move on to the next game, especially with new titles coming out that interest me more. When I buy a game on sale it usually means that it didn’t interest me enough to buy it when it was new.
And that is just the problem. At the end of the sale, people with spending habits like mine end up owning 5-15 new games they never would have bought for the full retail price. It’s okay, we tell ourselves, we have time, the next big release is at least a month away. But with the sheer amount of cheap, hoarded titles, chances are we will never ever find the time to play those games, even to a small extent. Even now — a year later — I have some untouched titles sitting on my Steam list and the list is growing again.
Common sense should tell me to stop and work off the pillar of shame I have built of games. But I don’t. I don’t have the time to play the games I buy. If I get time to play some games, that time is reserved for the titles I bought for the full price. Consciously this has less to do with the price, but more with the general interest I have in the title. I wouldn’t have paid the full price for whatever title had I not been interested in it after all.
The question is, if a game isn’t worth the full price, is it worth ANY price? Usually the argument for games on sale is “I wouldn’t spend $60 on it, but for $15, it’s okay.” But is it really?
The thing is, yes, we do get more bang for the buck: just look at the Humble Indie Bundles that offer countless hours of prime entertainment for as much as $1. But with games (as with books), we don’t just invest money, we invest time. And if 15 hours of entertainment aren’t worth $60 to us, is spending less money on that time justified? Is it justified in an environment where we can always find some title of 15+ hours that in fact is worth that amount of cash to us? Do I actually save big by spending money on discount games that I didn’t buy the first time around? Because if I spend money, even a little, on a game that I eventually will not play for more than an hour or cherish enough to see it through till the end, then that money is essentially wasted.
I did come up with the simple formula: “don’t buy something that you wouldn’t pay a higher price for”. It works, but only so far. The next round of new AAA releases is always just a month away, and the games that pile up atop the Pillar of Shame won’t go away. The Pillar grows and grows. It beckons. It will never be toppled down, unless… well unless I go bankrupt and for the life of me cannot afford buying more games. And I sure hope it never comes to that.