The Devaluing of Puzzle Games

Once upon a time, Tetris on the NES was sold as a full-priced game. Even back then, its feature set was lacking, as it didn’t have local multiplayer. All you could do was chase for a high score. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop the world from buying it in the millions.

Imagine asking players to spend full price on a Tetris game now? No way! Even with the VR support and numerous gameplay modes that it offers, Tetris Effect didn’t launch as a full-priced game. That still didn’t stop many from being critical of its value proposition, specifically its distinct lack of multiplayer. Tetris 99 isn’t full-priced if you buy the standalone edition, nor is Puyo Puyo Tetris, which is essentially two full puzzle games in one. Even I complained about Treasure Stack, a game that I bought on sale for $5 CAD, because its value proposition felt thin.

Taking a step back, it’s been interesting to see how one of my favourite genres has been devalued over time.

In the early days of the medium, most games were didn’t offer much in the way of scale or breadth of features. You could experience most of what a game had to offer in a couple of hours at most. The value proposition between something like Super Mario Bros. and Tetris wasn’t that different, even if the former had some semblance of progression.

As gaming technology allowed for games on a grander scale to be created, the value proposition of a puzzle game changed. At its core, many puzzle games are still small in scale and lack any meaningful progression. Meanwhile, games in other genres benefitted greatly from improved graphics, new gameplay possibilities, and overall experiences that lasted way longer than many rounds of Tetris. Some games would add campaigns or competitive multiplayer to somewhat balance the scales, such as Tetris Attack. Later on, that wouldn’t be enough to maintain its full-price status.

The rise of mobile gaming completely upended the premium prices for puzzle games. Why would you spend full price on a puzzle game when you can an equivalent for free on your phone? Sure, Tetris in its standard form is horrible to play on a mobile device, but many other puzzle games worked incredibly well as on-the-go experiences. Between that and a marketplace that raced to the bottom, the monetary value of puzzle games fell with it.

Am I complaining that I can get games within a genre I love for cheaper than before? No. But it is a fascinating shift in the marketplace where games of this style can’t be sold for full price. That said, it’s also meant that most puzzle offerings these days are on the phone. I do play mobile games from time-to-time, but I generally take issue with the controls and predatory business practices. I’m not sure if there’s a way for the classic style of puzzle game to earn its way back to a premium price, but I’d be curious to see if someone could actually make that work.

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2 thoughts on “The Devaluing of Puzzle Games

  1. Pete Davison June 10, 2020 / 8:52 AM

    I make a point of buying a lot of puzzle games in physical form when they appear, because they’re very much a dying breed! I have the PS4 and Switch versions of Puyo Puyo Tetris, plus Soldam for Switch; there haven’t been that many others for current platforms, sadly.

    Mobile gaming is mostly to blame here; that took the puzzle game genre, squeezed it dry with free-to-play mechanics so the expectation became that this sort of game was free (with caveats) and thus a lot of people ended up thinking they weren’t “worth” paying up front for.

    The same has happened with other arcade-style games to a certain extent; shoot ’em ups are very much a niche interest thing now, whereas they were mainstream releases in the 16- and 32-bit eras. At least they haven’t gone the way of free-to-play, thankfully, and shoot ’em up publishers know that their market tends to want to own their games physically, too, so I’m more than happy to support that thinking!

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