'Cost Per Hour' Is a Terrible Way to Judge a Video Game

Digital storefront Green Man Gaming is breaking games down by their value per hour.

Matthew Gault

Matthew Gault

Journey. Image: Sony

I’ll confess that before I start playing a video game, I find out how long it takes to beat. Is the role-playing game I’m considering a 50-hour epic that I’ll be playing for the next two months or something I can knock out over a few weekends? It helps set my expectations. Sometimes, I want something short. Sometimes, I want something long.

What I’m not interested in, however, is a breakdown of the worthiness of a game based on its cost divided by the time I’ll likely spend playing it. I don’t need to know how many dollars each hour of content will cost me. Green Man Gaming (GMG)—a digital storefront for video games—thinks players might want to know, though.

As first pointed out by video game publisher No More Robots founder Mike Rose on Twitter, GMG publishes assorted stats and facts about its games. The stats include how many GMG users have purchased the title, the average amount of time people played it, and the average cost for each hour of play. Just Cause 3 costs about $1.68 an hour. Pillars of Eternity clocks in at $2.02 an hour.

Rose wasn’t happy about it and tweeted that GMG was “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.”

Gamers have long used cost per hour as a measurement of the quality of video games. GameSpot used to assign game reviews a "value" score, alongside categories like "graphics" and "gameplay." It is not a completely ridiculous notion. A new video game often costs $60 these days, and I can see why if I could only afford to buy one or two games a year, finding out that I can do everything there is to do in that game in a couple of hours could bum me out. But it's an outdated way to judge what a game is worth.

“It’s super gross,” Rose told me via email. “It’s something a lot of devs have been fighting for a long time—this horrible nothing that a game is only valuable if it gives you X number of hours of gameplay.”

I’ve definitely felt ripped off after paying full price for a short video game. I still haven’t forgiven Square Enix for The Bouncer. But I’ve also played short video games that were wonderful. Firewatch and Journey are both great games that run just a few hours long. Firewatch had to deal with fans who loved their game, but considered returning it because they felt the developer charged too much for too little.

Rose pointed out that other media don’t have the same issue. “Do you see moviegoers saying, ‘I’ll only see the Avengers movie if it’s longer than the last one?’” He said. “Of course you don’t, so why do we have it in video games?”

Image: Green Man Gaming screengrab

According to Rose, this kind of thinking actively hurts developers. “If anything it leads to worse games,” he said. “Developers end up feeling like they have to bloat their games with crap to make them more appealing to gamers—stick another two hours of cutscenes or grinding into your game to make it feel more valuable. It’s just an awful way to view the medium, and we desperately need to move away from it.”

A lot of open world games such as Ghost Recon Wildlands and Far Cry 5 are full of repetitive, grindy tasks that pad out the length but don’t add to the story or enjoyment of the experience. Worse, there’s no good way to actually generate accurate stats that reflect the cost of a game per hour.

It’s not clear what GMG uses. “A previous employee there told me that those stats are extremely loose,” Rose said. “When people connect their Steam profile to GMG, GMG then pulls their hours in each game they buy, and then averages them all out. Clearly, this is absolute rubbish for a ton of reasons.”

Green Man Gaming did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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.