Here's A Stat That Distorts The Value Of A Game 

From Metacritic scores to How Long To Beat completion times, there are plenty of numbers that players reference when deciding to buy a game. Gaming storefront Green Man Gaming has another metric: Average Cost Per Hour. 2015's Doom is said to cost $US1.24 ($2) per hour. Frostpunk is $US4.57 ($6) an hour. These are strange numbers that reveals the pitfall of breaking games down into pretty little numbers.

Green Man Gaming functions as an alternative to mainstream PC gaming storefronts like Steam or first party stores like the Xbox Marketplace, offerings occasional deals on popular games. Most games sold on their website have a statistics and facts pages that outlines things such as the average playtime and percentage of players who complete the game.

At the top of their list is a metric called Average Cost Per Hour, which is simply the game's total cost divided by the average playtime. The playtime is based on data collected from the site's users. I reached out to Green Man Gaming for more details about how this data is gather but did not receive response in time for publication.

The cost per hour stat has raised questions since it debuted on the site last year and even again this week when Mike Rose, founder of the publisher No More Robot tweeted: "Oh good, the Green Man Gaming store now shows "Average Cost Per Hour" for games, helping to perpetuate the massively dangerous idea that the price of a game should be based around how many hours you get out of it."

As someone who buys, plays and thinks a lot about games, I find the metric confusing and counterproductive.

The cost per hour stat is featured prominently for each game and is showcased as an important number. Aside from the game's name, it is the first thing potential buyers are told about the game. Do you want to play Skyrim? Well, you should know that you'll be spending 43 cents ($0.57) for every hour you play.

Perhaps it means something to know that you're saving more hypothetical money per hour on Skyrim compared to the $US2.39 ($3) you'd apparently be spending with Forgotten Anne. That obviously speaks nothing to the quality of an experience. There have been excellent short games and terrible long ones.

In an interview this week with PC Games Insider, Green Man Gaming CEO Paul Sulyok said they offer these numbers because players asked for them. "The stat was introduced in response to demand from our community who were looking for different ways of deciding how to spend their money and is not linked in any way to the value or experience of the game," he said.

Cost per hour isn't the same thing as value per hour, but I worry that players won't make that distinction.

Let's take an example from my gaming experience. The two hours I played of Gone Home enriched me more as a person than the 300-plus I have spent in Team Fortress 2. Does that mean Gone Home is the better game? That's hard for me to say. One made me a better person but another is more fun. In terms of cost per hours, TF2 wins, but so what? I'm hard-pressed to say which has more value.

Team Fortress 2 went free to play in 2011; for some players, this is definitely the better deal. In the minds of some people, that too may make it the superior title. But these are incomplete means of looking at a game.

I am sympathetic to the desire for more information about a game before purchase. One of video games' biggest accessibility hurdles is the fact that it is a costly hobby. New systems or mid-generation upgrades are expensive, and AAA titles cost more than four times the cost of a movie ticket in New York City. Games also take up a lot of time. It's one thing to ask for $US12 ($16) to watch the new Avengers movie; it's another to ask for a $US60 ($80) dollar gamble that Rage 2 will actually be good.

The more information available, the better chance someone has of making an informed purchasing decision. But a focus on money or on games as potential products to purchase can squelch discussion of games as valuable works of art.

The tension between gaming's artistic aspirations and their undeniable function as consumer goods makes it really difficult to talk about games. When I recently tweeted about Green Man Gaming's cost per hour, I said it was "indicative of how the medium's commercial priorities stifle the audience's critical literacy" and I stick by that.

How do you talk about Sea of Thieves' ability to create compelling player narratives if someone might suggest the 4.0 user rating on Metacritic means it is garbage? How do you kick off a discussion about Grand Theft Auto V's narrative issues when people in the comments point to its "record breaking sales" as a way to dismiss it?

The effort to find more objective ways to calculate if a game is worth playing muddies our conversations. Individual circumstances like income change how we look at cost, while personal experiences make it impossible to quantify artistic value. It's tempting to slap numbers on games but at the end of the day, games — like any artform — are far too personal for those numbers to reveal the true worth of a game.


Comments

    Game lifespan (and the value that is derived from it) matters - what people do with the info is up to them, but it is useful for people who want the data to have it. Same as how you'd like to know the fuel efficiency of a car before you buy, regardless of how nice it looks or how fun it is to drive.

    Good point. The overall experience is key.
    However, in many cases I try to go for the dollar per hour maxim for multiplayer games like Destiny 2, For Honor, Battlefield One etc. I usually get 100 hours at least with those and feel I have my money's worth. RPGs might go 2 dollar per hour like Fallout 4, The Witcher 3 and Mass Effect 2. If I get 40-50 hours I am usually happy.
    Story driven single player games or shorter experience games I throw the dollar equation out of the window. The personal experience is all that matters. Journey, Abzu, Heavy Rain, Uncharted 2, Bloodborne, The Witness & Everybody's Gone to the Rapture.
    Experiences that transcend and leave an emotional impact are priceless.

    Like you said - it's another easy to see statistic that players can use when making their purchasing decisions. If it's the sole metric they use when making a purchase - that's on them. GMG are just helping customers with information that the customers themselves asked for, and as you state in your article, games are expensive.

    Gamers can't make a distinction between cost per hour and value per hour? Gamers are people, regular human beings, they make those decisions on a daily basis in every facet of life - down to buying a load of bread from the grocery store, "will I pay more for possibly a better loaf"? You yourself as a gamer are making that distinction and writing an article about it, are you superior to other gamers? If anything you're perpetuating the mainstream media portrayal of people who play games, infants with zero intellect.

    The fact is, some games off more hours of gameplay than others, sometimes that is a plus, other times it's actually to their detriment. Knowledge is power, and the stats give a window into what you're getting for your money. Short games still sell, otherwise they wouldn't still make them.

      Yeah, this. All the author seems to be arguing for isgp that their metric is more important because otherwise their favoured titles wouldn’t compare well.

      The other issue is that there’s a glut of games - especially indie titles, and titles like Gone Home (which I hesitate to call a game) which are light on gameplay time but aim for interactive storytelling instead. Combined with regular sales, there’s little incentive to pay so much for titles that are short or light on gameplay. I’m not going to pay full price for a title that’s light on content (and gameplay hours can be a useful indicator of content) if it’ll go on sale in one of the endless Steam sales.

      I agree totally. Looking at the screenshot in the article that's really useful. I love the fact you can look at it and see average play time to complete (TTC) and the percentage of players who've completed it as well. When I look at a game with a TTC of 15 hours and see only 25% of people have completed it I have to wonder how good a game it is.

      If you then factor in the cost per hour (CPH) it might help a buying decision. And while you can say a short game might be more "valuable" or worth more somehow as an experience I think if I was looking at two say, FPS games and saw the "CPH" of one was $1 while the CPH of the other was $20 I'd likely buy the first regardless of experiential value.

    I used to play a game called “Flipping burgers at Maccas” where they used to pay YOU to play. By that metric I guess it was a superior experience?

    "[Gone Home] made me a better person"
    Uh-huh. That seems pretty rich.
    Tell me this, person reading this now: Did Gone Home make you a better person? Has any (single player) game made you a better person?

    I guess I could see that, if you were one of the people who went in to Gone Home thinking it was some sort of spooky horror game, it would make you a better person so far as waiting to see what a game/movie is about before buying/paying to see it.

    I guess Spore, Duke Nukem Forever and AVP2010 made me a better in that they taught me not to spend egregious amounts of money on bad* games. Although, I do still buy some Collector's Editions so I guess I haven't learned shit.

    *Actually I would defend AVP from being a bad game because despite its short campaign length of 6 hours or so, the multiplayer was fun as fuck and it was only a combination of unfortunate variables that lead to it not being worth the money I spent on it.

      Gone home, no (haven't played it...). Other games, yes. Definitely - rando examples off the top of my head: Spec Ops: the Line and The Beginner's Guide.

        Might I ask how? I'm unfamiliar with TBG but I played SO:TL and while it was a pretty wild ride I wouldn't say I was change by it.

          Different people have different experiences. I'm not sure I was changed by SO:TL, but it's definitely affected me and the way I think about video games in general. Mainly about the relationship of the player to the violence within the game and to a lesser extent, the protagonist.
          Of course, this change was not solely because of that game either but compounded by others with similar messages like Undertale, and the general shift of games from silent protagonists to protagonists with their own personalities and voice.

          No one game has made me a better person, but I can point to a range of games and say that they may have directly contributed. SO:TL is on that list, as is TBG and Gone Home.

          Yeah of course, no worries (I probs should have included more detail in my initial post to be honest...)

          In both instances I'd say I was genuinely surprised and affected by the endings. For me they're excellent examples (albeit fictional ones) of how the best of intentions can have seriously negative unintended consequences.

          To be fair though, it's not that like they're the best or even the first examples of that for me. But yeah, might have not been an enormous change, but insofar as they made me think about things in a way I hadn't before, they nudged me towards being a better person.

      I was more thinking “Is Gone Home a game?”

      I really dug the, albeit limited, content in AVP 2010. It was a short game, but all the ingredients were there.
      It was a stark education in how brutal game production companies are about games launching and being received well. Rebellion did a lot of competent things with AVP2010 only to have SEGA totally cut them off not even ‘one quarter’ after launch.
      (Remembers the horrid match making service the game launched with, and the part where Rebellion wanted to hold off to complete the server browser).

      Basically I don’t recall getting a chance to enjoy the MP aspects of the game. MP was basically stillborn courtesy of that and Sega saw to ending any support for the game because of some mild criticisms from that.

      It’s a shame that Gearbox paid absolutely no attention to any of this whilst they spewed out A:CM.

        The multiplayer was a lot of fun... when you could get a game. I didn't get it until 6 weeks after release, and coupled with poor internet and a nasty port forwarding problem, I missed out on the prime time for multiplayer. Shame to hear Sega did not let Rebellion fix it.

      Has any (single player) game made you a better person?Maybe not a better person, but lots of games have made me a better driver and a better marksman. Probably.

    I think to a degree this can be helpful. I remember Homefront coming out and I thought "Awesome, new game to play!". Got it home, installed, later that day I was seriously questioning whether I should take it back for a refund when I blew through the single player campaign in 4 hours. Turned out they had seriously exaggerated the singleplayer campaign aspect of the game. This was something I would have known had information like this been available back then. If the average playtime is fairly low (high $/hr) then it's a warning to people that there is something amiss with the game that may not necessarily be reflected in the information I already have. Likewise, if there is a low $/hr (high average playtime), it's a warning that it's possible the gameplay may become a bit of a grind, and I need to look into the game a bit more before considering whether I get it or not. This figure in the article is definitely not something I would base a buy/no buy decision on, but it can help alert that there may be information out there that can better inform that decision.

    It's a useful stat, amongst a bunch of other stats.

    More interesting to me is the % average completed stat. Looking at that Shadow of Modor example, I'd be more concerned with the 25% figure.

    Last edited 20/05/18 1:09 pm

    I for one tend to think about it more for higher priced games. IF I can see my self playing a game for more hours than the game costs, then I have no problem dropping 70-80 on the game. The problem with GMG stats is that you need to also factor in 2 other bits of info. The average playtime and the completion percentage.

    It’s a useful metric that many people, including myself, use to make decision about games. I doubt anyone is shortsighted enough to use it as the sole metric, though the author seems to think that people would do that.

    Last edited 20/05/18 8:42 pm

    Definitely an element of, “This is bad for indies, therefore this is bad,” in this article.

    I can sympathize with the idea that the act of observing something changes that which is oberved... if you measure game length as an important metric, devs/publishers will want that metric to be measured favorably, and draw out their game’s length with padding busywork that has no respect for your time, resulting in flabbier, bloated games chasing a metric... (And ignoring the fact that bloated generally equals boring, which would drag down the game’s other ratings).

    But that assumption is based on a fundamental lack of respect for players’ decision-making abilities and priorities, regarding players as idiot sheeple consumers to be herded into morally-desirable purchasing by carefully obscuring data.

    The entire fucking premise of this article is that players are idiots and if you show them potentially useful data they will misuse and misunderstand it, or that if there is a market out there who do want the longer/cheaper experiences, that their priorities are somehow wrong. That metrics should be obscured to better manipulate people into metaphorically ‘eating their vegetables’ for their own good and to prop up the commercial viability of lower-playtime artistic experiences for those who actually want them.

    It’s pretty hard to sympathize with ANY argument that says consumers should be making less-informed decisions.

    The industry including media is scared of losing control of propaganda. Any additional info for gamers is a good thing for us.

    How do you talk about Sea of Thieves' ability to create compelling player narratives

    You can't see me right now, but my eyebrow is firmly raised.

      Havent played it, but that's pretty much the one thing they got right wasn't it? Oh, and water.

        Correct. They forced players to 'create compelling narratives' by failing to put any sort of narrative in the game.

        Sadly, their idea of compelling narrative and mine are very, very different.

          I was eager for SoT, but as soon as they started repeating that the players would 'create compelling narratives' my spidey senses kicked in and I waited. Most glad that I did.

          To be fair, they did provide an environment that let players that immersed themselves into the game make some pretty fun adventures. Doesn't make up for the amazing lack of anything else to do but those 5 minutes would have been magical.

    It's a useful metric, and one I've calculated myself more than once... usually placing the word "Fuck!!" in front of the number, as in "Fuck!! I just paid $90 for 3 hours of gameplay. That's $30 an hour!!".

    On the flipside, $0.17/hr for Fallout 4, $0.13/hr for Skyrim and $0.36/hr for Witcher 3 all seem like pretty good deals.

    I can see how this metric might be useful for short games where you can play through the main story in under say, 15 hours. Then it's worth deciding up front if you're prepared to spend $40+ on what might only last you a few days.
    Anything that you can play for longer than that is almost certainly going to offer value for money when compared to a movie or a loaf of bread, and the figure becomes a bit meaningless.

    Funny you mention Gone Home I played it recently as it was free on GWG and raced through it like it was Fallout, gathering all the clues then all of a sudden the credits came up after like, an hour! I find stats like hours to completion pretty handy, if I'd known it was a short game beforehand I might have played it slower and enjoyed it more!

    I think I agree with the article and comments, I'd rather see something like "75% of people like this game, they play it for 30 hours on average, and 80% of people have completed this game".

    That's more useful than $/hr which you can easily work out yourself if it says the average playtime!

    I often leave a game paused and walk off for hours at a time. As the game is still running steam tracks it as usage until the game is exited.
    I've got some indie games that are 4 hours long and steam says I've played them for 10+

      Steam says I've never played games that I've finished, while yeah, having hundreds of idle hours on something I just left running because it wasn't in a great save state and I didn't get back to it for a week. Shrug.

      On average, though, you've gotta figure the hours played of Skyrim compared to hours played of Limbo are gonna be a pretty good rough indicator of game length.

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