I wrote about Cost vs. Length (price is a better word) in The Gaming Trinity but did not go into detail about what I think is optimal. A game that offers more length for the same price as another game is usually better, but I follow a more concrete rule of thumb. It is very simple: Price (in dollars) = Length (in hours). That is, a$60 game should have about 60 hours of gameplay. I include all gameplay in this: single player, replay value, and multiplayer. However, I also look at the type of gameplay. Some types of gameplay I just do not get into much and cannot count on any gameplay hours from them. Here are just a few recent examples:
Modern Warfare 3 – I have never gotten into first-person shooter (FPS) competitive multiplayer, so I only look at the single player and co-op length. The single player campaign and spec ops is about 20 hours long. If we add in getting all the achievements, it is maybe 30-40 hours. That is not worth $60. However, someone who gets into the competitive multiplayer would definitely get their money’s worth.
Portal 2 – The single player + co-op is about 20 hours in total. Getting all the achievements increases that to 30 hours. Not worth $50. With the free DLC I think it would be worth $50, but by then the price had already gone down to $30.
Skyrim – The content is overwhelming with over a hundred hours of gameplay to do all quests and explore every map location, and that is just with one character. There are at least three unique “classes” you can play: the three role-playing game (RPG) archetypes of Fighter, Thief, and Mage. The main quest would probably only take 20 hours just going straight through it, so this game is only worth it if you like to explore a lot.
Dragon Age: Origins – Similar to Skyrim it has the three archetypes of Warrior, Rogue, and Mage. A single playthrough takes about 50 hours to do everything, so it is already worth the $50. Playing through again with a new class and choosing different dialogue choices makes it even better value. Not as long as Skyrim but still well worth the money, and these days it is available for $20-30.
Starcraft 2 – The single player campaign takes about 30 hours to complete with all achievements. Multiplayer is offered in three types: competitive, cooperative, and custom maps. Competitive and cooperative use the same basic game rules, just one is against human players and the other against computer players. Custom maps are opened ended with the rules whatever the map creator wants. I only got into cooperative and custom maps, but easily pushed my hours played to 100 hours. Worth the money, but only because I did some multiplayer.
Civilization 5 – There is a multiplayer mode, but it is buggy and not very popular, so I cannot count it. The single player is open-ended due to a lot of randomness of the terrain and your possible opponents. There are also advanced settings you can change to tweak the game rules. The standard game speed takes about 4 hours to complete, but you are encouraged to play multiple games to get better as well as try out all the various settings and different civilizations. You need 13 playthroughs to equal the $50 price, which I easily passed while trying out everything the game offered
Star Wars: The Old Republic – You have to pay $60 in advance plus a $15 monthly fee. The game definitely has 60 hours of gameplay even getting just one character to the level cap. However, we have to worry about that monthly fee. Putting 60 hours in the first month is too much for many players (average 2 hours per day), but if you play for enough months you can get your money’s worth.
Assuming a year of playing, you pay $60 + 11 * $15 for a total of $225 for the first year. If we split that number up over 12 months, you had to pay about $19 per month. So in the long run you only need to spend about 19 hours per month on the game. That is easy enough for most players. The fewer months you play, the more you have to play per month, though. Only two months you pay $75 requiring 38 hours of play per month. This is why I generally wait to play MMORPGs until the upfront retail price is down to $30 or $40.
Remember that this is all subjective. These are my opinions. I think an hour of gameplay per dollar spent is worth it. Others may think they should get 2 hours per dollar. It is up to everyone to decide their own preferences on this. Now, usually I do not break it down like I have here. I usually just think in my head. I read about how long a game is, the replay value, the price. Then I decide whether it passes this Price vs. Length test. If it does, I can buy the game right away. Otherwise, I wait until the price goes down or free patches add content (length) to the game.
Optimal Game Price vs. Length is a three part series in which I explain how I compare a game’s cost with its length. In the next part, I discuss how I do this with DLC.