Perceived value can be one of the most fractious topics in video games. I’m sure everyone reading this blog has been exposed to numerous examples where players threaten a boycott (or worse) in response to the perceived game-completion time for a forthcoming release.
And yet, this may bear little relationship to the *actual value* extracted by most players. Indeed, one seemingly perennial thread in gaming forums is one where people list the sheer number of purchased games in their collection that they’ve yet to complete, or have barely even touched (“Still in the wrapping!”), but would like to find the time to play. Finish those games!
With the advent of connectivity and service-led approaches to game creation (including the business models arising therein), it’s now much easier to be dynamically responsive to the actual needs of players, rather than simply the stances of various dialogues surrounding a game’s marketing. But, over the years, when it comes to games purchased upfront, the developers I’ve spoken to have reported that pre-release concern about typical playtimes are rarely representative of resulting usage. Through Steam, there’s been scope to examine game usage on a $-per-hour basis, but for consoles, there’s seemingly less opportunity (although, you could have a go at aligning trophy/achievement completion percentages with likely ASPs, etc).
I’ve decided to use myself as a guinea pig to look at the actual £-per-hr value I’ve gleaned from my Xbox One collection, over the space of two years (Dec-14 to Dec-16). Using the console’s Game Hubs feature (which nearly always tracks time spent playing any given game), and digging through a bucket of receipts, I’ve compiled the £-per-hour for some 128 Xbox One games in my collection. I’ve then attached some metadata to make things a little more interesting, as can be found in the results below. So, warts and all, this is what I’ve been playing on my Xbox One across the span of two years, and how the spend plays out, in terms of straight-up playtime:
Over the space of two years, I spent 747 hours playing Xbox One games. Pretty much an average of one hour per day. Huh. I spent a total of £1,505 on these games, meaning I’ve basically spent £2 per hour of game time. If we remove Games-for-Gold freebies from the game list (a total of 20 titles), then the £-per-hr rises to around £2.12. The cost rises to around £2.50 per hour, if you then also factor in hardware cost, and up to £2.60 including Xbox Live subscription costs.
£2 per hour sounds higher than I was expecting, but, upon reflection, didn’t leave me feeling short-changed. (Note: The list of 128 Xbox One games does *not* include Xbox 360 games provided via backwards compatibility. I’ve decided to omit them, but would guess they’ve added around another 50 hours of play time to the console). The drop off in usage, and hence decrease in value, is pretty severe, however. Only 23 of my games were played for a rate of £2 per hour, or less. Obviously, I'm far from a typical Xbox One owner, but when I look at my game collection in this way, the rise of freemium gaming has a certain sense of gravitational inevitability about it, y'know?
First-party games often receive fierce scrutiny, as they’re expected to not just differentiate the platform, but show it in its most flattering light, even if they do so as loss-leaders. Does this culture of expectation translate to higher value, in terms of the games that I buy? Seems like it does in this example, and it’s mostly the fault of Forza Horizon:
Digital-only games tend to be cheaper, “smaller”, and more experimental in nature. They reflect the more independent side of the industry better than games co-released onto the shelves of high-street stores. Turns out, I’m paying a higher price-per-hour for digital-only games, but that makes sense: Many times, such games aren’t very long, or I’m happy to back something that I may not eke much playtime out of, because of the sense of diversity and creative-health that it represents. I have much higher expectations for value gleaned from AAA-games these days, which is why, of course, they seek to find more value from me, through the various complexities of commercialisation beyond the purchase of the base game experience.
These days, my game collection contains a significant number of titles that I acquired for ‘free’, but aren’t freemium per se, because they were made available as part of a platform subscription (Xbox Live Gold, in this instance). Because I didn’t select them directly, does this impact how much time I apportion to them? Yes, unsurprisingly, but it’s far from abandonment:
While I may be wringing relatively low value from games, I have to conclude that that’s my fault, rather than that of the games themselves. Sure, a few of the were a letdown, but ‘disappointment’ is hardly my key reason for not putting more time into them. Gluttony, rather, is. As my grandmother was fond of saying: “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach!”
Despite that, my average spend-per-hour of Xbox One playtime didn’t leave me feeling at all ripped off, to be honest. And that’s part of the wider point to be made: The price-per-hour calculation is great for throwing together a rough guide that helps out people who play games on a budget, while also generating endless fodder for the axe-grinding of online conflict. But it ultimately speaks little of the unpredictable contextual magic for which we end up loving this medium. And I kinda hope there's never a way of measuring that :)
How much do you think you spend, per hour of games that you play, and does it bother you at all?