The Price You Pay and Gone Home

I purchased, played and finished Gone Home. There’s a lot of interesting things to talk about with that game, but it doesn't matter. When I finished that game I wasn't thinking about the story, the design or all the ways that developers could learn from the game. Instead I was overwhelmed with one thought: I can’t believe I paid $20 dollars for this. That is to say that Gone Home is the biggest rip off in terms of the price to value ratio that I can remember. I would mention this game along with other dubious examples such as Oblivion’s Horse Armor.

There’s always a persistent back and forth on how important a price is to a game’s value. There’s never a definitive answer on the topic but I’m mentioning it now because this is the first time that I can remember where the price of a game was so absurd. I have to stress that the reason why I’m so upset about this particular game and its price is because it disables me from talking about the game itself. I would like to talk about the environmental story telling. I would like to talk about how the game is a good example of how stories can have a small focus but a huge impact. I would like to talk about how, when done well, a story can keep a player interested just as well as any mechanic.

But I can and I’m not going to talk about those things because when I finished the game my only thought was anger from paying so much for so little. Now when people ask me “How is Gone Home? Should I play it?” The answer is “No, it’s overpriced.” That’s all I can say.

On the surface it would seem that saying Gone Home is overpriced implies that all games of small scope are overpriced. In the few times I've brought this up I’m immediately attacked with an assault of other examples of similar price and time spent. The most common of these is the comparison to a $20 dollar DVD. This is ignoring the fact that DVDs don’t cost $20 dollars anymore. This comparison doesn't hold up for a few reasons starting with why you’re buying the product in the first place. In the case of a DVD, I have never heard of anyone buying a DVD on a whim. It’s always with the intent of holding on to something that you already like so you have the luxury to view it whenever you want. A $20 dollar DVD has the confirmation that you already like what you are buying. If you were unsure that you’d like it, you’d sooner wait for it on TV, borrow it, rent it or maybe see it in the theaters. There’s a bunch of different variables but the point is it’s a stupid comparison because you’re not buying a DVD to watch it once and never again.

And before anyone brings up the fact that IMAX 3D movie tickets cost $21 dollars… those are also overpriced and I wouldn’t pay for that either.

It would make sense to compare Gone Home to other games of similar value or price. In both variables Gone Home isn’t winning any arguments. In terms of value I can easily compare Gone Home to something like Dear Esther or The Stanley Parable. What’s interesting about these two examples is that they were at one point, both free. They were mods to existing engines. This may be a chicken before the egg type of deal but it may be that since those previous games were free and Gone Home is comparable to those types of games, there’s a psychological link that this type of experience should not cost much. That being said, I’m sure if the creators of those mods had the option to charge they would have. This is mostly shown by the fact that you can buy Dear Esther now, although I should note that it costs $10 dollars which is 50% cheaper than Gone Home.

In terms of price comparison, it shares some steep company. Gone Home may have merits in its design, but a lot of the psychology behind value is identifying where your money is going. In Gone Home, there are two voice actors, some original music, some licensed music, the environment of the house itself, the objects inside the house and of course the writing and programming. These obviously took time to create or money to hire a voice actor, but the perceived cost is very low, especially when similar games in cost have ten times the amount of production value or assets. Take a moment to recognize that games like Journey, Bastion, The Swapper, Hotline Miami and Papers, Please all cost less than Gone Home, but seemingly have far more to show for it. Those games all had teams of five people or less and some of them had licensed music, original soundtracks, eight different environments or just the same two or three screens. In those games it’s easy to recognize where the costs are going and what you’re paying for.

When something is overpriced and a customer feels that their purchase was overpriced, it’s the feeling of being taken advantage of. There’s no “well that’s too bad but...” because the entire relationship with the purchased good is now soured. I don’t think “they screwed up with the price and that’s unfortunate,” instead I think “they chose to squeeze as much out of me as they think I would stand.” I don’t feel as if I’ve connected with a developer’s vision, I feel taken advantage of for being interested in their game.

And what’s even worse is by bringing up this issue, you’re immediately ostracized as “the guy who hates the game because he doesn’t have $20 dollars.” I understand that a lot of people like this game and they want to share what they like with the rest of the gaming world, but I find these blanket excusals insulting. Just because the game is good we’re going to ignore a potential issue? In fact we’re going to publicly demean and discredit those who may think the discussion of price versus value is worth having? That turns my disappointment in the price into resentment of other gamers.

If you still want to know what I think about the game itself, maybe we’ll talk about that some other time. For now, at $20 dollars, all I can say is it’s not worth it.