Gaming My Way

05 Jan

Is Dollars Per Hour the Best Way to Gauge A Video Game’s Value?

Note: This post contains Fable 3 spoilers. You’ve been warned.

These days I hear a lot about dollars per hour, and how this determines a game’s value. A common standard is if you spend a dollar or less per hour, the game is a good value. And in terms of flat out time and money spent, this is a hard standard to argue with. If I get 100 or 200 hours of fun out of a $60 game, that’s pretty solid. Even better if it was a $30 or $15 game.

There are pitfalls to this approach though. How much fun is good enough? Is 100 hours that’s kinda fun better than 10 hours of the most amazing fun you’ve ever had? Are long experiences always the best experiences? Do some short games have better pacing due to cutting out boring grindy elements?

Let’s take Batman: Arkham Asylum as an example. I played it for 13.5 hours according to Steam. But all 13.5 hours were meaty, putting me in the thick of the action, and the game’s linearity served to continue pushing you forward into the good bits, where you could stealth or fight your way through the next sequence without needless grind or getting lost trying to find where to go next. It was well paced, and extending the game with needless exploration or grindiness would arguably make it worse, not better. I appreciated the pacing, and think the shorter length is a feature, not a bug. It’s a complete experience as is, and I’m satisfied with it even if I paid more than a dollar per hour for it.

On the other hand, let’s look at a game like Fable 3. I didn’t play it on Steam and don’t have my hours played, but I probably put in a good 40-50 hours on it. But a huge chunk of that time was spent doing a mindless, boring grind for gold before a major plot event that requires an insane amount of money to do all the best things possible to get the best ending.

For context, there is a creature invading, and the intent is that you are forced into circumstances where you can make life worse for your citizens to gather resources to fight this monster, or make life better for them while being completely unprepared for this invasion. Your brother had been ruler before you, and was being terrible to the citizenry, but he knew about this threat which is why he was acting as he did. You had just successfully deposed him and took his place before learning about this threat yourself.

If you grind for gold before this point, you can just be a great guy and do everything right while having enough money to fight the threat. If you don’t, then you have to make hard choices, much like your brother did. This grind for gold really served no useful purpose to the game, and needlessly added far more time of tedium than truly fun gameplay, just to get the best ending. This grind also removed the impact of understanding your brother’s perspective since you could just buy your way through all of the problems he was dealing with. Fable 3 could be improved in two ways by removing this grind.

The first would be to allow you to make all the best decisions without grinding for insane amounts of gold. In this case, making the choices becomes a roleplaying option allowing you to try out different endings depending on whether you play a hero or villain, like many other rpgs.

The second, and arguably better and more true to the point the game was trying to make at this point, would be to not give you enough gold to do everything you want by simply not allowing you to grind for it, forcing you to make hard choices regarding how to balance caring for your kingdom and citizens while also preparing for the oncoming attack you had just learned about before being pushed into making a bunch of decisions about your kingdom.

Both of these options would take out a needless grind and make the game shorter but more enjoyable and potentially impactful. For option 1, it would allow for more open roleplaying. For option 2, it would create circumstances where you have hard choices that matter and you simply can’t make all the best choices, creating both narrative tension as well as stronger gameplay and story consequences. This is an example of how streamlining an experience and cutting out filler can make a game better even though it might be shorter.

This isn’t to say shorter is always better of course. Baldur’s Gate 2 is a shining example of a game that was long, but the length was due to a quality and lengthy main quest padded by additional high quality side quests that meaningfully expanded on the story, world, and characters. This kind of length is absolutely a plus, as long as you have the time to enjoy it. But it’s also a different, slower paced experience than raiding an Asylum of supervillains as the Batman, and sometimes I might want the fast paced, shorter experience compared to the slower paced, longer experience. And both of these experiences have value.

That said, if your main goal is to stretch your gaming budget, dollars per hour is a great approach. But if you’re looking to have a wider breadth of gaming experiences, you may find that some of them are best when the focus is on the quality and type of experience first, with the length of the experience being less of a priority, or even not a priority at all. In some cases, it may even be better if the game is shorter, not longer.

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