Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Path of Exile - 20/20 hours

So far, I've played three free-to-play games for my blog, and I have to say, Path of Exile is by far my favorite. I think it's because it cleaves closely to a proven formula and doesn't deliberately screw it up for the sake of revenue.

Which is a bold choice, come to think of it. I never expected to have what is, in essence, a complete game, for free. I feel like I should definitely give them some money, purely to encourage this sort of behavior in the future. The only problem I have with that is that there's not much in their cash shop that I'm interested in purchasing. Or, at least, nothing that I'm willing to purchase at the price they're charging for it.

It's weird. If I had paid, say, ten dollars for Path of Exile, I'd have counted that purchase a good one. It's just a genuinely fun game that I could easily play for a hundred hours or more. Yet, if I dropped 10 bucks into their cash shop for 100 store points, and then spent 70 of those points on a hat, I'd feel like I was throwing my money away. Seven dollars for a digital hat! It's nothing but a scrap of code, maybe a megabyte or two worth of data, and infinitely replicable at basically no cost. There's just a stodgy, old-fashioned part of me that rebels at the very notion.

I think what I'll do is, if my friend is amenable, keep playing the game for a couple of hours each weekend, mostly as a way of hanging out and keeping in touch, but also because the loot-and-grind is so satisfying. Then, when I finally run out of stash space, I'll drop a few bucks for more. On some level, it's just as objectionable as buying a hat, but at least I'll have something functional to show for it. It's an absurd distinction, but there it is.

Part of me worries that I may be ungrateful towards Path of Exile, and that I should just buy the damned hat to demonstrate reciprocity. They gave me a fun game experience, and so I gave them some money. It's only fair.  I know that it's fair.

It's just that I'm not sure whether fairness has any coherent meaning in my personal gaming landscape. To illustrate what I mean, consider the game Secret of the Magic Crystals. I played that game for 26 hours. Compared to 20 with this game, or Sentinels of the Multiverse or Endless Space. Which is bonkers, because while I don't especially hate Secret of the Magic Crystals, the amount of enjoyment I got out of it wasn't even in the same class as those other games. So what is my time worth?

Similarly, I got both Secret of the Magic Crystals and Path of Exile for free, and I paid a similar amount of money for both The Last Remnant and LEGO Marvel Superheroes, and I've found in each case that the amount of money spend did not noticeably correlate to my enjoyment either way. And that's not even counting the hundred or so games I've bought but not yet played, and thus gotten no enjoyment from whatsoever. So what is my money worth?

It all just seems so disordered and arbitrary. Whether I spend money on a game and how much depends entirely on superfluous things like my mood and financial situation at the time of purchase, the effectiveness of the game's advertising and Steam Store pitch, and whether or not my friends and online acquaintances have expressed interest in the game to such a degree that I feel I must play it simply to be well-informed.

To be able to pay for a game after I've gotten enjoyment out of it is exceedingly reasonable. It means I can decide to withhold money from a bad gaming experience, and I can make my reward for a good experience proportional to the enjoyment I derived from it.

Yet, the after is a sticking point, isn't it? I've already had the bulk of the enjoyment that I'm going to get out of the game, and declining to pay can't retroactively take that away, so what's the point? What do I get out of it? Is this not just karmic payback for having spent more money on games I've enjoyed less?

These are not worthy thoughts, but the mind is treacherous. I can't help thinking them. Yet, now that I have them out in the open, I can see what I'll have to do to counter them.

For fairness' sake, I'll have to buy the damned hat.

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