Principles: Hours per Dollar (hr/$)
Gameplay time is not the end all be all when it comes to what games to purchase. Some of the greatest experiences gaming has to offer are single-player games that you can beat in less than 10 hours. There are many indie games that you can squeeze out everything they have to offer in a weekend that are absolutely worth experiencing. Likewise there are plenty of bland JRPGs out there with hundreds of hours of content that feel like a chore to grind through. There is a vast multiverse of would-be World of Warcraft killers that lie desolate and barren on the internet with no player base and months’ worth of content. Regardless, the ratio of how many hours of gaming a title offers to its cost is a vital metric for the frugal gamer and can shape the way we pay to play. I like to call this metric the hours per dollar (hr/$) a title offers.
We can use Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zero and Borderlands 2 to illustrate how hr/$ can affect the best way to allocate your gaming budget. Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zero (MGS 5) is notoriously short, often being ridiculed as just being an expensive demo. You can complete the main story in less than 2 hours and probably experience most of what the game has to offer in about 5 hours and 45 minutes. It currently retails for $30 providing the player with 11.5 minutes of entertainment per dollar if the player tries to experience most of what the game has to offer. Borderlands 2 on the other hand can leave the average gamer satisfied after about 50 hours and can even provide the player with hundreds of hours of gameplay if the player gets really involved in multiplayer and finding the best loot. Borderlands 2 retails for $25 and most players will get about 2 hr/$ out of it, or to make it easier to compare to MGS 5, 120 min/hr.
If a gamer can only afford to spend $30 on video games for the next couple of months and is indifferent to genre, choosing to buy Borderlands 2 over MGS 5 makes a lot more sense. Only getting 11.5 min/$ out of MGS 5 might make a gamer wonder if buying MGS 5 would be worth it at all even if he had plenty of money. MGS 5 is still supposed to be really fun though even if it is short and a lot of players wouldn’t want to miss out on the experience, so a lot of players might look at alternative ways to play it. They might wait for the price to drop for example and thus they would get more out of each dollar they spend. However the short play time makes MGS 5 an ideal candidate for one method of getting access to games, renting.
Both of these games are available at your local Red Box currently. MGS 5 being so short makes it the perfect rental experience. You could spend $2 to rent it for the night, beat it in an evening and return it on the way home from work the next day. Suddenly you’re getting 2.88 hr/$ (172.8 min/$) out of MGS 5 which is much more reasonable. By comparison, Borderlands 2 suffers as a rental. As a longer game, Borderlands 2 demands to be experienced in multiple sessions; easily occupying the player for a month and even longer if the gamer gets truly invested in it. Also if the player is invested in the multiplayer aspect of the game and likes to play with friends, finding the time to game with them is often a matter of convenience and simply having the game on hand in case the opportunity arises is very beneficial to the player. If the player rents Borderlands 2 for 30 days to thoroughly enjoy it he’ll wind up spending $60 which amounts to .83 hr/$. The player would be much better off just purchasing the game.
Now there are a lot more factors that go into deciding what games we play and how we decide to pay for them beyond just hr/$. You may choose Call of Duty: Ghosts over Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 even though Black Ops 2 has a higher hr/$ because a lot of the online community has migrated to Ghosts. Some genres with high hr/$ might just not appeal to you, not everyone enjoys 4X strategy games like Civilization for example. Sometimes a shorter game might just have a much higher quality of an experience. You might not have a lot of time for gaming and could easily stretch out a 10 hour game over a matter of weeks because you’re just too busy. Hours per dollar are not the end all be all but when your gaming budget is tight, a little analysis can help you figure out the best way to stretch it as far as possible.