Everyone who plays video games has their own metrics for how they decide what to buy and when to buy it. Some go based on who produces the game, develops the game, directs the game, is a voice actor/actress within the game, what genre the game is from, the series of games it’s from, etc etc. The point is that there is a massive amount of reasons that people take into account when looking into purchasing video games, from the top in terms of who’s making the game, all the way to the bottom with the little things such as art style, music, voice acting, things like that.
But what about games people have never heard of? How do gamers make decisions when it comes to the plethora of random games that pop up on Steam every hour, let alone every day? Sure, most just turn to the trailers, reviews on the game and things like that, but for some there are other ways that people try to make decisions on whether to purchase a game. And Green Man Gaming sought to give players another metric to help them decide, by bringing in “cost per hour” as a part of their metrics with the game. Essentially, they take the average amount of play time within all the players who’ve bought the game and put a price tag to every hour of that average. So if a game was 60 dollars and the average play time was 30 hours, the cost per hour would be 50 cents. Makes sense, right?
Well many outlets don’t seem to think so, and in this case it was Motherboard (published by Matthew Gault) who caught my attention to this “massive issue”.
The majority of the article is spent calling the act of offering the cost per hour option as disgusting and dangerous. They take quotes from Mike Rose of No More Robots, a small indie developer whose current game, Descenders, which is a procedural generating downhill mountain biking game. His comments along with Gault’s, bother me quite a bit.
It all started from a tweet from Rose where he said 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.”.
First of all, this is an idea that isn’t used by very many as a be all, end all metric. Within my Destiny 2 community, there’s several of us (including myself) who take into account that while yes, Destiny 2 has not been as we hoped, in fact way below expectations, we still got a couple hundred hours worth of play in the game, so we don’t view it as a colossal waste of money. And when we say hundreds of hours worth of play, we don’t just mean we played it and that’s it, we mean we played it and enjoyed it.
This is the major flaw in this argument from the very start. People simply aren’t buying games just because it’s “something long to play”, the idea of cost per hour means we’ll get that much bang for our buck when we pick a game that we sense is also fun to play. It’s not like we’re playing a “cookie clicker” kind of game because it offers 100 hours for let’s say 5 bucks, we pick games like Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Monster Hunter World because those long hours are fun as hell and more than worth our time. If a game is boring, broken and uninspiring, it doesn’t matter how many hours we’ll get out of it, there’s no point in playing a piece of shit game for 100 hours when we can play a much more engaging and entertaining game for 40 hours.
Rose also tries to make the point that movies don’t have this issue, saying “Do you see moviegoers saying, ‘I’ll only see the Avengers movie if it’s longer than the last one? Of course you don’t, so why do we have it in video games?”. Again, what a ridiculous point. Do you think people will say they’ll only play FarCry 5 because it’s 10 hours longer than FarCry 4? No, they want to play FarCry 5 because it’s fucking FarCry 5.
When it comes to indie games however, like the games Rose produces, you will inevitably be under more nitpicking when it comes to gamers making decisions whether to buy your game or not. When you release your game on Day 1 and no one is aware of your game, the first people who see it aren’t seeing your game in the same light they’d see a God of War level game, you’re literally new territory. So what do people do? They start to take apart what your game is, what it represents. The genre, the art style, the gameplay, the music, all these things are taken into account. Cost per hour is just another addition to this list, but it’s not for every gamer. But the idea is there, after all if I’m buying a game I’ve never heard of, from a studio that has no real track record, do I want to pay 30 bucks for a game that may potentially be 3 hours long and on top of that, a broken mess that ends up also being boring and not fun to play? I don’t blame people for thinking this way and there’s nothing wrong with it. That’s the risk you take as a small game developer.
Sure, he also brings up issues like how major games are padding their games out with cutscenes, grinding and all that jazz. But I don’t feel that’s necessarily because of the cost per hour perspective, rather that it’s just lazy development, usually brought on by being severely behind schedule, running out of funds in the budget or by developers who simply believe that their brand, their game series is enough by name alone for people to buy their product, despite the extra time wasted. This is also true for things like microtransactions as well. I’m not denying that cost per hour might be a minor factor in these decisions, but I’m willing to bet it’s not the major reason and especially not the key factor in these games having all this extra time shoved into the game.
Gault’s final quote is what sticks with me the most: “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.”
No shit, Sherlock. When I purchase a game, believe me when I say this, I don’t buy garbage games just because it’ll get me 100 hours. I buy a game because it’ll be a fun game to play AND it’ll get me 100 hours.
I didn’t buy Persona 5 solely because I would get around 100 hours of gameplay. I bought Persona 5 because of the following factors, in order of most important to least important:
- I’ve played Persona 3 and 4, enjoyed both of them a lot
- It’s a JRPG, a genre of games that I’m way into
- The story of the Persona games are especially good with me, as they take some extremely serious themes and make them work so easily within a game world that is mostly spent fighting monsters and hitting on half your friends
- I have an affinity for Japanese games, because they do things so different from all the Western games shoved down our throats
- The art style is unbelievable, far different from most games I normally play. See reason #3
- The music is done by Shoji Meguro, quite possibly my favourite composer today, right up there with Nobuo Uematsu and Yasunori Mitsuda
- This kind of game will get me at the very least 60-80 hours, if not more if I choose to do extra grinding and sidequesting
- I have a history with Atlus’ games, both positive and negative, so at the very least when they make something, I pay attention to what it is
- Finding my new Persona waifu
You’ll notice that the number of hours I’d get in the game, or “cost per hour” was not even in my top 5. It’s a factor in why I purchase a game, but it’s not the make or break level of factor that Gault and Rose seem to think it is.
At the end of the day, we buy games for our own different reasons. Matthew and Mike, take a chill pill. Even if it’s the sole reason for some people when it comes to buying games, it’s none of your business. It’s a personal choice of an individual, leave them alone and don’t criticize them or in this case, GMG for making cost per hour a metric.
Just keep doing what you’re doing Matthew, buy the games you like. We do that too.