The real cost of gaming

By | September 29, 2009

There’s an article on IncGamers in which the author adds up all the money he and his wife have spent on World of Warcraft over the years, and then complains about how expensive it is.  Now, I’m not a fan of MMOs, but I happen to disagree with his conclusion, for one very important reason: cost per hour.

If we assume he and his wife each play World of Warcraft ten hours per week, then his $1700 over four years and eight months works out to $0.35 per hour of play time.

Let’s compare that to some other games.  You know those $50 games you play once and never look at again?  The ones where the whole game lasts 10 hours if you’re lucky?  Those cost upwards of $5 per hour.

So realizing this got me thinking.  How much have my favorite games really cost me?

Counter-Strike: Source cost me $19.99.  I’ve played countless hours, surely more than 200 hours.  Heck, just in the last two weeks I’ve played 14 hours.  If we pretend that’s accurate over three years, that’s just $0.02 per hour.  In reality, I used to play CS:S a lot more than I do now, so the cost is likely much lower.

I bought the Orange Box (with Half-Life 2: Episode 2, Portal, and TF2) for $49.99.  According to my Steam account stat tracking, I’ve played TF2 a total of 34.7 hours (half of that in the last two weeks).  I only played through Episode 2 once or twice; I’ll call it 10 hours (though it may have been more like 12).  Portal, while entertaining, probably only racked up 8 hours of gameplay.  So the Orange Box has cost me $0.91 per hour, but as I ramp up my TF2 gameplay that cost will slowly go down.

I preordered Left 4 Dead for $44.99 last year.  Steam tells me I have a total playtime of 96.25 hours, putting its cost at $0.47 per hour.

My dad bought StarCraft for me years ago.  I’d guess he paid $49.99, because the game was still fairly new.  That was over a decade ago.  I have played a lot of StarCraft.  During middle and high school, I’m sure I played something like 8 hours a week (more during the summer, less during school).  Looking at those six years, that’s just $0.02 per hour; I’ve played a fair amount since then, too, so the price is lower.  (Seems like more of a bargain now, doesn’t it Dad?)

Obviously, I can’t go over every single game I own; the list is too long.  I’ll also admit to buying some games and never playing them (or only playing through partway).  But overall, it looks like gaming costs between $0.01 and $1.00 per hour, depending on the game – and despite both up-front purchase costs and monthly fees, MMOs are nowhere near the worst offenders.

2 thoughts on “The real cost of gaming

  1. Corinne

    Don’t forget to add to this “real cost” the cost of computer upgrades necessary to play these games, and lost time from doing more productive stuff 😛

  2. Dan

    We may as well include “lost time” and “loss of productivity” in the cost of reading books, or sleeping. The point of entertainment is that it’s relaxing; nobody is expected to be productive all day, every day. All entertainment carries with it those same costs, so when we’re comparing the cost of one form of entertainment with the cost of another form of entertainment, it’s not helpful to include lost time, because that’s the same for all forms of entertainment.

    Yes, I probably could include the cost of my computer in some overall “cost of gaming”. But how do I factor that in? I’m looking at the cost of individual games on an entertainment-per-hour basis. My computer is used for many games, and for much more than gaming. How much of the computer’s cost “belongs” to gaming?

    But really, I’ve been examining the cost of video games; since all PC video games require a computer, it’s not really helpful to try to include that cost in the “cost of gaming”, since it’s (on average) the same for all PC gamers.


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