Don't Be Fooled, A Game's Cost Per Hour Value is Anti-Consumerist

Green Man Gaming now shows cost per hour value on a game, but is it really worth it?

Feature by Matt Kim, .

Last week Green Man Gaming unveiled a new info tab on a game's store page that breaks down a game's "cost per hour," a new metric that adds approximate monetary value to a game's length. Marketers and analysts have been trying hard to find ways to quantify a game's value, but none have been more successful or dangerous than cost per hour valuations.

As Green Man Gaming's CEO Paul Sulyok explains, the metric is determined by the price of the game at the time someone views it and divides it by the average number of hours the community played the game. That data is gathered from a player's Steam account if they've linked it with their Green Man account.

A cost per hour chart on Green Man Gaming.

The number of hours played isn't a precise measurement of time however. A game could run idle, or crash repeatedly, or any number of issues could drift the hours played metric in whichever direction. When I contacted Green Man Gaming about this concern, they reissued the statement Sulyok gave to

"We believe that playing video games is a very cost effective form of entertainment and the cost per hour stat allows the community to make informed choices so they can decide how they spend their time and money against other activities. 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. This can be done through customer reviews and discussions which are also available on the Green Man Gaming store."

The reason why any of us buy video games are, at its core, subjective. We could be drawn to a game's artwork, or be a fan of the developer's previous games. Hell, we could just like the title of the game. More than that though, the hours someone plays a game just doesn't mean anything for how good the game is.

"If a AAA studio pumps their next game full of fetch quest side missions to bump the total playtime up, does that make for a better game?" said No More Robots founder Mike Rose, who first highlighted Green Man Gaming's new cost per hour chart on Twitter.

How long can Fallout 4 keep you occupied?

As many have pointed out, the metric of hours played is only good for determining how long you'll be sitting in front of your screen playing something. Not necessarily whether or not you'll enjoy it. The hours played metric might only benefit consumers who are solely interested in occupying as many possible hours in front of a game they might not even like.

Rami Ismail of Vlambeer echoes those sentiments in a statement to USgamer, ""Time' is such a subjective measurement, and in many games, completion time varies wildly. An average won't necessarily give you a good understanding of the quality of a game."

Ismail highlights how that data itself could be improperly interpreted: "[There] could be a niche game played for 1000s of hours by a few, or it could be a big game that you'll hate and bounce off of. I have no objection to 'data,' but time is not a very sensible metric for a game unless you have contest for 'time.'"

I can name several games that I think are better, or at least are personally more enjoyable than, for example, The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim. But there's a chance that Skyrim is longer than all of my preferred games combined. The notion that the hour length of a game is related directly to its quality and therefore its desirability as a product is skewed towards an imprecise, and subjective metric. But will it make a difference or impact sales any which way?

"At the end of the day, [Green Man Gaming] is there for its consumers first, and developers second so if they think they are helping their customers make a better consumer decision, then fair enough," Rose admits. Ismail also says he doesn't believe the new metric will make a difference to sales.

Portal 2 clocks in at less than 10 hours.

The time spent on a game metric has been long-adopted by video game consumers and reinforced by the games media. Though I find them less common now, it's not hard to find some reviews make adjustments to a game's review score based on how long or how short it is. It used to be that a game that clocked in at 7-9 hours was deemed too short for a full-priced experience, hence Green Man Gaming's decision to include this metric into a game's store page.

And that won't stop marketers from taking advantage of consumers either. If you recall the Star Wars Battlefront 2 loot box controversy, gamers were mad that at launch Star Wars Battlefront 2 was actually more expensive to fully complete once you take into account the numerous microtransactions that are required to unlock everything in the game.

If you subscribe to the cost per hour metric however, then Battlefront 2 still would have been incredibly cost effective—at least according to KeyBanc Capital Markets analyst Evan Wingren. In a note to worried investors, Wingren wrote:

"If you take a step back and look at the data, an hour of video game content is still one of the cheapest forms of entertainment...Quantitative analysis shows that video game publishers are actually charging gamers at a relatively inexpensive rate, and should probably raise prices"

Star Wars Battlefront 2 will keep you occupied, but is that a good thing?

He explained this by breaking down the $60 base price for a game plus an additional $20 a month for microtransactions, while calculating the price against 2.5 hours played per day for one year. He concluded that it amounted to about 40 cents per hour of entertainment, which is cheaper than, say, his estimation that it costs 60 to 60 cents per hour for television, or the $3 paid per hour for a movie watched in a theater.

"Despite its inconvenience to the popular press narrative, if you like Star Wars and play video games at an average rate, you're far better off skipping [Star Wars The Last Jedi] and playing [Star Wars Battlefront 2] to get the most bang for your buck," said Wingren at the time.

As you can see, the cost per hour measurement can be used in incredibly cynical ways to sell games to consumers. With that metric in mind, bullish marketers are essentially suggesting that games are underpriced at the current market rate. If this trend continues, there's no reason why the next 100+ hour RPG can't be sold to you for $100. It's already cheaper than movies per hour at that rate. By buying into the cost per hour valuations, we risk buying into an imperfect metric more suitable for marketing than for artistic merit.

The idea that a game's value is tied to its length isn't only harmful, but opens gamers up to decidedly anti-consumerist practices. But unfortunately, as Rose, Ismail, and even Green Man Gaming have explained, there appears to be very little stopping consumers from wanting this metric in their purchasing decisions. Consequences be damned.

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Comments 19

  • Avatar for nimzy #1 nimzy 4 months ago
    I think what people are getting at is that their customers are directly comparing video games to other forms of entertainment that are measured in cost per hour. Movies are generally seen as the baseline and have the advantages of having a defined length and a defined cost.

    This extends to things beyond the purchase price, by the way. Movies don't have microtransactions or DLC.
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  • Avatar for usgmatt #2 usgmatt 4 months ago
    @nimzy Movies don't have a defined length. Yes, 90 minutes is considered a baseline, but there are 90-minute movies and 4-hour films. One Russian filmmaker made a 24-hour movie. As for cost, that varies by city and time of day. Or even just Movie Pass.

    And with Netflix and streaming, that distinction is even less so now. It's not called DLC but what if I told you that you could have the first six episodes of a show for free, but need a subscription to see the full series?
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  • Avatar for mobichan #3 mobichan 4 months ago
    When the hell is a movie in a first run theater costing $3 an hour?! Even matinées cost around $12 these days and most movies last about 2 hours. That comes out to $6 an hour by my math.

    Honestly, I would actually be more drawn to a game that is shorter these days because my gaming time is limited. I usually steer clear of grindy MMO style games because they are just time sinks. Give me something I can finish in 8 hours and feel satisfied, please.
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  • Avatar for mobichan #4 mobichan 4 months ago
    @usgmatt I would wait a year or however long it took for the show to be available in its entirety on said streaming service before watching. It isn’t hard with all the other options to watch in the meantime. But if that became the norm, I wouldn’t be watching as much tv.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #5 VotesForCows 4 months ago
    This is a really dumb way to evaluate games, because you have to assume it'll be used out of context. But I suppose there are some people who explicitly seek out lengthy, grind-heavy games. I guess this might help them.
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  • Avatar for pdubb #6 pdubb 4 months ago
    I had a point in time where I would triple box EvE accounts for hours at a time as scouts while I watched movies, or had someone else scout while I listened on team speak for someone to speak up as I did household chores.

    Back when I was hard core, this easily might have been 20+ hours / week / account for months at a time.

    You can't say I got 240+ hours of "enjoyment" per month from EvE. But by this account I would have, despite not actually playing for a vast majority of that time.
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  • Avatar for UnskippableCutscene #7 UnskippableCutscene 4 months ago
    I think this metric is pretty useful for indie games, though, where prices vary and aren't always indicative of a game's type or budget. All the concern seems to be about impacts at the $60 'soft cap'.

    Heck, an indie game might actually be able to charge a little bit more if they can show people got something out of their investment.Edited May 2018 by UnskippableCutscene
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  • Avatar for Maxbeedo #9 Maxbeedo 4 months ago
    I definitely do this type of judgment anyway, but the price varies quite quickly on most games, and the # of hours is extremely subjective based on the person and playstyle, so there's no way any website could quantify this accurately. I'm much more likely to pay full price on launch for an RPG than most other genres, because I can assume the amount of content will justify the price, otherwise I have no problem waiting until the game drops to $40 or $20 as they inevitably do, which is basically the same as waiting for a movie to show up on TV/Cable.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #10 NiceGuyNeon 4 months ago
    $3 an hour for a movie huh? I need to find that theater lol

    Anyway, I agree and dislike the idea. It's one thing to put a game's average completion time down and another to try and break it down per hour.

    Even then this is extremely flawed. They're taking people's logged hours but HLTB for instance asks players of different play styles to log their own times showing a handy breakdown of just the main quest, completionists and in between.

    I have over 50 hours on Sonic Generations. About 5 of those were me. It's a decent game. Pretty fun. The other 45 are cousins, nephews and family kids who keep playing it on my computer because my collection is not exactly 7 year old friendly.

    Related, the damn near 50 hours on Metal Gear Rising were all me. Also related, much like Sonic, it's the 5 hours of that first playthrough most folks care about, not the one where I keep replaying the game with a machete.
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  • Avatar for camchow #12 camchow 4 months ago
    I'll be honest, I've done this kind of math in my own head for games I've bought. Didn't know GMG had something like this built into their store. I have definitely used though, but they go into way more detail.

    For someone with a relatively low income it's a good metric to think about. I mean I've enjoyed my fair share of short games (Firewatch was shorter than I expected but I love it) but for a $60 game I'm buying day one I personally want to expect a minimum amount of gametime. Like MGSV was unfinished and felt rushed but I can't feel too guilty about my $50 purchase because I got just over 100 hours of enjoyment out of that. I don't think that metric means nothing or that it's something you can ignore. Certainly not for a budget restrained gamer.

    Fallout 4 is another great example. According to Steam I have over 400 hours in that game (ok a lot of that is due to mods making new games different and interesting all over again so sorry if you got stuck on one of the other systems that isn't quite as moddable). I loved that game, it's flawed and it's story is kind of dumb but gameplay, exploration, building towns, and moddable content had me coming back to it every few months for a new playthrough or two. I got so much value out of that purchase. Here's the thing though, if that kind of thing isn't for you, you probably aren't forcing yourself to keep playing, so Steam isn't sending out a high number to calculate this average but it's pretty dismissive to say people are just forcing themselves to play a game they aren't enjoying to jack up that number.

    Anyway all that said I get that this is a tricky situation that could (and probably already has) lead to devs bloating their gametime with crap that isn't fun. Mass Effect Andromeda comes to mind with the slow galaxy traversal. I guess at the end of the day we have to hope consumers can use some context when they think about that metric. Cost per hour is going to vary so much even if everyone played 100 hours each considering how wildly sales discounts vary. I guess the best answer would be to throw out the cost per hour metric all together, think about how much you are paying (new game full price?, 20% off pre order, 50% a year later?) and the genre. It's probably pretty dumb to worry about game length for say a platformer like Sonic Mania but I don't think it's unreasonable to be able to use other players past data to see if that open world game you are curious about is going to be a fast clear or a world you can lose yourself in for 40+ hours or whatever.
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  • Avatar for franciscovillarrealh #13 franciscovillarrealh 4 months ago
    @NiceGuyNeon Those last two parragraphs are the dealbreaker for me.

    I bought Super Mario 3D World at launch. Played it 'til some part of the post-game frustrated me, then left it aside for some other thing. That's around 8 hours. 60/8 = $7.50 USD/hr. Too much, right?

    But two years later, going through Mario Maker left me feeling like replaying 3D World again. No post-game, that's another 8 hours of playtime, so now the cost per hour is at $3.75.

    Last Christmas, watching Odyssey playthroughs and not having a Switch brought back the itch. 8 more hours, $2.50.

    I will likely keep doing another playthrough every couple of years, like I do with other platformers. Does that factor into cost/hour? Or just how long the first playthrough took me?
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  • Avatar for Talraen #14 Talraen 4 months ago
    Well this is a silly metric. Every game has the same cost per hour: one hour.

    But seriously, like many gamers my time is much more precious than my $60. I don't like this metric because it encourages padded playing times, which is increasing the main cost I want reduced. Games should take a page from movies and trim the fat rather than adding it, and that isn't going to happen until we as consumers stop asking for more fat.
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  • Avatar for MyNameIsMe #15 MyNameIsMe 4 months ago
    I don't see how this is"dangerous". It's aggregate data that consumers may want, but in the end probably has very little bearing on most gamers purchase decisions. But I do find it dangerous to try to stop the compilation and presentation of data, even if you foresee potential problems arising from the use of that data. For one, I think it's horribly condescending to think consumers are too dumb or lazy to see the potential pitfalls or problems this type of data compilation may present or even question their ability to understand that some data may be inaccurate and interpret statistics accordingly. Most of us manage to maneuver around the horrible statistics of Rotten Tomatoes and still miraculously make a informed decisions about what movies to watch. It's the consumers' responsibility to either ignore useless data, or use that data in a meaningful way. Saying particular data shouldn't be compiled and presented because it may cause undesirable side effects is a dangerous precedent that assumes some of us have the right to be statistical gate keepers.Edited May 2018 by MyNameIsMe
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  • Avatar for Fourfoldroot #16 Fourfoldroot 4 months ago
    The logical conclusion of using this metric is not to by a game. Not buying a game is free after all, and I can not play that game for the rest of my life.
    Surely a simple player rating system is the only metric required. This would already take things like whether the game is too brief, or indeed overstay it's welcome, into account.
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  • Avatar for discokingz #17 discokingz 4 months ago
    $3 to watch a movie in a cinema? In the UK we pay about £13, so aprox £6.50 per hour
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  • Avatar for PlatypusPlatoon #18 PlatypusPlatoon 4 months ago
    @camchow I'm with you - I also use howlongtobeat, and I thought I was the only one! For me, it's not an issue of money, but rather, of time; as an older gamer now with two kids, I really don't have much time anymore to delve into 60+ hour games, sadly, and I'd like to know if a game is going to suck up weeks of my commitment before I start one. Meanwhile, short, 8-12 hour experiences are right up my alley.

    By default, I kind of lean towards the stance that "all data is good - it's how you interpret it that matters", so I'm not sure how I feel about these new metrics. I don't like that the cost is also directly used in the calculations, and would prefer if the graphs just showed average time spent with the game by other users on Steam. People could then make their own value judgments with that info. Maybe for some people, longer games are better - and for others, shorter is a godsend! Tying the cost of the game in there just complicates matters, and kind of already implies a value judgment that "longer equals better", which absolutely isn't true for everyone. Edited May 2018 by PlatypusPlatoon
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  • Avatar for funktron #19 funktron 4 months ago
    Hmm. I quibble about it being "anti-consumerist", because that's subjective. I also think it's essentially useless, because if I really wanted to stretch my gaming dollar to the max, then I'd play nothing but free-to-play games. But it's certainly the sort of metric that could be detrimental to the quality of games.
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  • Avatar for daneilmark #20 daneilmark 4 months ago
    Deleted June 2018 by daneilmark
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