Judging Games by 'Cost Per Hour'


Thought this piece from Motherboard was pretty interesting and wanted to share it with the forum.

Personally, while I completely agree with the sentiments of the headline, I still find myself thoughtlessly resorting to something akin to this metric… and I hate it. I am currently in graduate school with limited funds so, when I spend money on a game, I try very hard to “get my money’s worth” and this sometimes means a sort of cost/time analysis creeps in to general research and opinion forming about the game. That is not to suggest I am buying +60 hour JRPGs because of how long they are–I do have limited time to devote to gaming after all–but it does mean I find myself feeling a little limited in a lot of the great indie titles I read about because it “feels” harder for me to justify multiple $10-$20 purchases for “shorter” products.

I am curious how other people navigate this issue. I have to reiterate that I think “cost per hour” is generally a bad way to judge a game but when you are stuck with limited time and funds it definitely feels like it creeps in. Regardless, the final paragraph from the Motherboard piece is worth quoting:

Buy games that look cool to you. Don’t worry too much about what your value per hour is. It sucks to spend $60 for a bad game, but cost per hour won’t stop that from happening. No matter the cost, one hour of something special is better than 100 hours of garbage.


me, several hundred pounds in my overdraft: huh this game looks cool… £7 though…

developer of said game, sitting a couple of tables away in a pub in london, watching me buy my third pint: looks into the camera


I understand cost per hour as a metric for someone on limited funds who doesn’t want to buy a game for just one afternoon. That’s a fine way to judge things a person’s circumstances. It just immediately becomes toxic when it’s a value judgement of a game being qualitatively bad (or worse, a “rip off”).


I feel this sort of cost per hour judgment values come from the platforms we use? Steam puts hour count directly below a games name. GOG recently had a profile update for their platforms that gives you a timeline that announces when you hit hour milestones with certain games. In a culture unhealthily fixated on proving ones dedication to a hobby, hours is one of the only currencies people have in this regard. So I think these things sort of misaligned the way we judge enjoyment of a game.

As for how I navigate this issue, I suppose my taste in games does that for me? Lots of the game’s I play regularly are more systemic or run based in some regard. That’s not to say I don’t play traditional story-based game either, just my tastes recently have leaned towards games that are shorter experiences or games that are heavily systems based and that depth leads to longer play time without necessarily a content bloat.


The problem with a “cost per hour” metric really is that doesn’t make (and also can’t make) any evaluation of the quality of time you’re going to have, because this part is really subjective.

I don’t have a lot of money and I don’t buy a lot of games because of it. I still don’t make my purchasing decisions based on the general length of a title, because I remember the times I did this and it always ended with me getting really bored from those titles. A lot of really long games are long because they’re full of busywork. That can be nice if said busywork is interesting, but most of the time it’s just a waste of space.

It’s also interesting that a low “cost per hour” value is desired here, because a higher mark might also indicate
that the experience is short, but probably much more intense then a game that takes hundreds of hours to complete.

In the end it for me it often comes down to what I want from a game at one particular point in time. Sometimes I want to spend a few hours with something and be done with it, but sometimes I want to play something that I can use to relax (and that keeps me busy while I listen to podcasts).

Then there are weird outlierst like Dragon’s Dogma or Dishonered 2, which for some reason I can’t stop playing even though I’ve finished both games several times over.


Game length is a useful metric for measuring your own opportunity cost of sinking your time into a single-player campaign, but applying it to the sale price is just silly.


Here’s the thing: when it really comes down to it, the metric we use isn’t the ratio of time / money, but something more akin to (time x quality) / money - and even then, it would be an oversimplification, but for the sake of this argument, we’ll go with that.

Would I pay 60$ for a 5-hour game that’s kinda OK? Probably not. Would I pay 60$ for a 5-hour game that’s one of the best games I’ve played in my life? Probably.

Even then, “time” in the equation is often equated with “time of a single playthrough”, which heavily biases it towards a certain subset of AAA games. Far Cry 5 clocks in at just under 30 hours, but I can’t imagine myself playing it a second time (honestly, even getting to the end of the first one seems like a bit much at this point). On the other hand, Doom lasts about 16 hours, but I know I’ll play it again and again, and that’s even putting aside the multiplayer.

Bottom line, time is a completely legitimate factor in purchasing decisions, especially if you can’t spend that much money on games. But it’s not a linear “longer is better” factoring, at least not if you care about your actual enjoyment.


I can understand the hesidrance and calculation. Things like our perception of “cost per bour” can be a good way to make decisions, and I known ife done that to simplify a decision. I also think the length and replay ability of a game can be a major factor, I know Ipartiallt bought TF2 in high school and Overwatch more recently because I could play them for long stretches over and over.

But over the past 9 years or so I’ve moved more to knowing I’m paying for something good. I remember Gone Home was $20 and gained flak for being that price with its “length” but despire finishing it in a (rapt) day, I thought about it for a long time, and it had a big influence on me and I spent forever thinking about it. For me, the price of smaller games, which I know I’ll more likely love, are worth the risk of getting something which might not even last me an afternoon.


Love this ongoing trend of calculating useless “metrics” on every gd thing just because we have the data.


What’s funny about a cost per hour metric being used by a digital storefront is that you can’t beat free. A free to play game with all the grindy trappings will always win, and if you pay to win, the storefront probably won’t a cut.

This is the kind of metric you start if you look at the mobile game market and conclude “yes, that is a totally healthy ecosystem we would like to emulate”. It is hilariously self-destructive.

(Note that I’m not saying that cost vs subjective “worth” isn’t a legitimate factor in purchasing a game. I’m just saying it’s not something so easily measured, if at all. Every one has their own internal metrics for clicking on the “Buy” button.)


But how do I know when I’m satisfied?


I’m all for people using whatever criteria they wish when making purchase decisions about a game but $/hr seems like a terrible way to judge a game. I think the problem with this statistic is that it encourages people to draw distinctions that don’t carry any meaning and the stat doesn’t add any new information to the analysis.

There’s a false certainty that can come from comparing game X at $1.72/hr to game Y at $3.23/hr that you don’t get from saying game X is $60, but long and game Y is $15, but short. That certainty can be hard for your brain to ignore but it isn’t earned, especially not at that level of specificity. And there are already many reliable sources for determining the general length and cost of a game; if you want a game you can really sink into for a month you can do that without needing to determine that it will cost you exactly 1 penny per minute. And that’s before you get into all the weird assumptions that must be made to support a lower $/hr = better game argument, like every game would be improved by adding a meaningless fetch quest, or that grinding is unambiguously good, or that a single player game is improved by adding a poor multiplayer mode that most people only play for a couple of hours before quitting it.


I would rather buy a 3-hour game that I think I’m going to really like for $30 than buy a 30-hour game I’m going to be half-asleep through for $3.



“The closer I am to the grave when I’m done with a game, the better a game it was.”


Seeing the cost per-hour is something that my child self would have desperately wanted to see, clutching an allowance and looking for something I could distract myself with for the next two weeks. I imagine child-me also would’ve found it unbearably boring to look up charts and metrics to figure it out, so who knows.

I think this is in general a reductive way of talking about games that ignores a lot of variables, but I’m hesitant to call it completely useless data. For me personally, and for some of my peers, when we want a time sink to dig into, we really just don’t care as much about quality. There’s plenty of things I wouldn’t describe as good that I shamelessly put tons of hours into just because the content was there and it was on sale (looking at you Fallout 4). Multiplayer stuff is often fun to play with people you like regardless of how dull and janky it might be, so sometimes grabbing a 5 dollar game on a steam sale that your friends can all just chat and play together casually for large amounts of time seems like a good idea, and something like this metric (supplemented with at least a little more research on the game of course) has some value in certain instances.


While I do agree with mostly everybody in that cost per hour is not a very good way to measure quality, I am going to say that I always feel a little bit weird about arguments that sometimes pop out surrounding that position, such as “a great experience should leave you wanting more”, “you have a great work of art not when there’s nothing more to add, but when there’s nothing more to cut”. I think there are instances when quality is undermined by a kind of length (which we call bloat), but by no means the two are necessarily at odds, and I’ve definitely seen my share of stories that end just as they were getting to their most interesting points.

This is more or less just a technical quibble, especially because the games industry more often than not struggles with the opposite sort of problem, but it’s just been on my mind ever since Patrick’s article about Minit. I’ve never been upset about playing more of a game that was good and stayed good after the point it “was supposed to” end. Brevity is not necessarily the soul of wit.


me as a game reviewer


I just want to live in the reality where anyone actually did use length of content as the primary purchasing decision factor. It sounds like such a weirdness and also so unlike the actual reality we live in that it would be really fun to visit.

Like, no one ever even looks at a story shooter before completely exhausting every JRPG etc which have 80 hour campaigns. Rogue’s release was amazing because it was the last game ever made after everyone just played it forever. HowLongToBeat is used as the primary purchasing toolkit for people, cross-referencing it against prices without a single glance towards MetaCritic etc.

If you’re looking for a world to get lost in for 40+ hours, whatever you do pick then I’m going to guess something you’ve completely exhausted in an hour is probably not going to cut it. So clearly there’s a factor here about what sort of experience you’re looking for and what jumps out as good matches. But I’ve simply not met the person who evangelises a bad long experience as inherently worthwhile because it was long. I’ve not seen consumer spending trends that treat length as the primary metric for purchases. It seems like an invented worry - that everyone is secretly doing this and it’ll ruin everything and because length of experience is one factor people wish to know then this is a realistic fear.

We should think up some new metrics to worry about. Dollars until I know I can never be satisfied (ranking for all F2P games with consumable purchases). Hours until the dawning realisation this game is too grindy strips it from a place in my heart.


It’s good to know how long a game is, but it won’t tell you if you like it. If you like a game you might play it again which is times 2 the $/h What value!


Honestly some people have very little time, and actually prefer short games over long games packed with hourly value that make the total cost “worth it” or whatever to some folks. People have different criteria for nearly every dimension of a game, including length (and including lots of things to do vs. a very minimal simple game, those aren’t better or worse than each other just different preferences).

So I don’t get how this $ value per hour even has broad applicability.