Green Man Gaming courted a bit of controversy this week with a new feature on its digital game storefront - a cost per hour played statistic. GMG’s cost per hour data has actually been publicly available for a few months now, but a few tweets from game developers have caught the community’s attention, and there are now plenty of folks question whether this is valuable data for gamers to know before they make a purchase.
The conversation stemmed from Mike Rose, founder of indie publisher No More Robots, who recently released downhill racing game Descenders. Rose said “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.”
From a developer or publisher’s point of view, this could evidently be a harmful statistic. Once value-for-money is associated with a game’s length, rather than its inherent quality, then short games may be unfairly punished by this metric.
A common thought among many gamers is that a short game shouldn’t cost as much as a long game, simply because they won’t get as many hours of entertainment out of it. While kind of rooted in sound thinking, the fact of the matter is that a short game can cost many times more to develop than a long one, simply because it’s of a higher quality and refuses to repeat content. I’m glad I spent £10 on the two-hour What Became of Edith Finch, but I certainly didn’t feel the same way when I handed over £15 for the awfully repetitive Mad Max.
In essence, a statistic like this is meaningless when taken in isolation. There are plenty of great, short games, and there are probably even more terrible ones. Likewise, there are fantastic games you can play for hundreds of hours, and others that are just needless padding to artificially extend its length, and therefore its perceived ‘value’.
Where things get further complicated are in the economies of scale. A short indie game may be far, far cheaper to make than, say, Destiny 2, but it’s also likely to sell just a fraction of the copies. The less attention a game is likely to get, the higher it needs to be priced in order to break even or, hopefully, turn a profit.
But, when spending cash, value for money is always going to be in the mind of the consumer. Some won’t mind spending £10 on a two-hour game, while others will point to the fact you can almost pick up The Witcher 3 on sale for that price. Depending on how you approach it, gaming is either one of the most cost-effective forms of entertainment, or it can be a huge money sink. Those with fewer funds looking to get the most ‘amount’ of entertainment for their money are clearly going to want a game which is both long and cheap, but for others, playing a game that’s anything other than great, simply because it’s cheap, is time that could be better spent doing something else.
Compared to just about any industry though, gamers have prioritised ‘value-for-money’ and game length like few others. I doubt you see many people going to the cinema and asking what the longest movie is; refusing to read Animal Farm because it’s only 112 pages long, or only listening to a record if it’s at least 20 tracks long. You don’t just do that, because there’s an acceptance in these established mediums that longer doesn’t necessarily mean better. We’re interested in the quality of a product, not its length. And yet gaming is different, for whatever reason, likely because it can become an expensive hobby if you happen to play a lot.
So what are your thoughts on this matter, is cost-per-hour an important metric when it comes to buying games? Do you hate buying short games? Would a buy a longer game, knowing it’s perhaps worse than a short game, but will last much longer? Let us know below!