The Dollar Debate: Cost Per Hour In Video Games

Green Man Gaming inflamed the video game review world with its cost per hour metric, but it’s not really a bad idea.

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Green Man Gaming Logo
(Image Credit to Green Man Gaming, retrieved from their official Brand Assets page)

A little-used online gaming store called Green Man Gaming released a hotly debated metric for its consumers last week: Average Cost Per Hour. According to Matt Kim from US Gamer, the metric is determined by the price of the game at the time someone views it divided by the average number of hours Steam connected users of Green Man Gaming have played the game. It goes without saying that, as a statistical measure, this metric is highly flawed. For one thing, this a volunteer sample and is not at all representative of all players of the game. It’s not even representative of Green Man Gaming players of the game which might be a more helpful metric considering that consumers using Green Man Gaming may share goals and perspectives. For another, Steam hardly, if ever, accurately tracks the amount of time a player spends in game and using current price as opposed to the price when purchased ignores the impact of investment on motivation to play. I can’t be the only person who’s spent more time in a game simply because it was more expensive for me. The list of qualms with this particular metric could run through this entire article, but instead of talking about how bad this particular version of the metric is for games, as was done in practically every major article covering it, I’d rather discuss how an average cost per hour metric could be useful.

I know what you’re thinking, “Useful? How could something that practically every major article believes distorts our understanding of a game’s value be useful? Doesn’t it harm developers and encourage the inclusion of time padding in otherwise succint and engaging experiences?” and yes, it does do all those things… in its current form on Green Man Gaming and in our current gaming culture. But have some imagination, this metric serves an obvious purpose! Not every gamer has a limitless pool of financial resources, and gaming is already far more expensive and specialized than practically every other entertainment medium out there! Finding ways to make gaming more accessible, like the explosion of the mobile market did, is critical for games to continue to develop as an artform. Yes, that’s right, more consumers and producers will make games a more mature artform, so giving an accurate average cost per hour metric could bolster our communities and platforms. There are many ways you could alter a flat average cost per hour into something more helpful.

Green Man Gaming - Stats and Facts
(Image credit to Green Man Gaming, retrieved from their official Moonlighter product page)

Why not, for instance, create a value based rating system as opposed to a nebulous review score structure? The calculation for this rating system would be Appraised Game Value = Hours Enjoyed × Personal Cost Per Hour and Value Per Hour = Appraised Game Value ÷ Hours Played. For example, let’s say you bought a $60 game that you’ve played for 20 hours but every hour you played was abysmal and you regret the time and money you spent. That game’s really worth $0 after your appraisal, so the value per hour (what the game should cost) comes out to $0 an hour. If you enjoyed all 20 hours of the game, that’s a $3 value per hour, and if you enjoyed 15 hours of the game that’s a $2.25 value per hour.  A value per hour rating system could then be compared with a cost per hour metric to aid in purchasing decisions. This eliminates the issue of cost per hour being used as a value system, and the meaningless “out of ten” reviews we’re all familiar with. This rating system also leaves room for higher order recommendations in the form of impressions, ordered lists, full scale analyses, etc. by separating the consumptive value of a game from its artistic merit.

Now on to fixing that pesky cost per hour metric. First off, self reporting is wildly inaccurate and Steam counts hours spent downloading and updating software in proprietary launchers, adjusting settings in menu, and many other superfluous moments into its record. What a cost per hour metric requires is an in-game timer like the one in Pokémon games and an “Are you still playing?” stop screen like the one used on Netflix. This wouldn’t eliminate every problem and is obviously a far way off (good luck trying to standardize all that) but it would drastically improve our data quality. Once we had that improved data collected in a publicly accessable forum, all sorts of demographic information could stratify the data according to the users needs. Imagine a Spotify style Discovery playlist that suggests games to you based on the playing habits of those with a similar library or similar favorite games! Imagine a specialized, social media style feed that performs a similar function. That, however, is beyond the point. Users could select which consumers to include in a cost per hour analysis or defer to an algorithmically generated analyis that matchs the user to those with similar tastes or view the full analysis that includes every player in the system. Each of these choices would give valuable information, but the order in which they’re arranged is important. I believe the default cost per hour metric should be blank and request you add users to track and only give the full player base or algorithmic analysis upon request. This would disuade the use of such a subjective measure of the game as objective and improve the metric itself as users develop it to reflect their own desires. Certainly a metric like that would be integral to purchasing decisions and celebrated/critiqued into fitness!

Despite all this, it is important to remember that even a value per hour score doesn’t relate every bit of critical information on a game. For a player, playing a game is like eating food. Appraised value and value per hour are to games almost what calorie content is to a meal. In both cases, that metric is terribly important for those with little to spend and degrades as a measure of utility as financial resources swell. Other methods of games criticism tell us more nuanced information like which ingredients were used, where those ingredients came from, how their flavors interact, and more, but no food critic has ever bemoaned a calorie count for degrading the value of their assessments. We shouldn’t let our critics either.

Besides, they must be a little impressed… Why else would they give a little-recognized retailer such great publicity coverage?

Steam Sale Snatches!

It’s hard to escape the rush of the Steam Summer Sale. Every year thousands of gamers spend their hard earned cash on digital downloads in the hopes that they’ll find some diamonds in Steam’s mountains of rough. With only $8.00 in my hands, I may have found some hidden gems, but these games are only what you make of them. Enjoy!

Best of Show – FTL: Faster Than Light
  • Sale Price: $2.49
  • Current Price: $9.99

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. It’s not just borderline criminal that I’ve slept on this game for five years, it’s an intergalactically recorded hate crime that warrants an entire rebel fleet on my tail in the most faithfully science fiction and brilliantly realized Rogue-ish game on the market. In Faster Than Light, you’re the captain and crew of the Kestrel, or the Torus, or whatever spacecraft you desire as you flee the Rebel fleet with valuable information for the Federation. It’s like playing as the Tantive IV, if Darth Vader was a series of drones, invaders, and hull fires, and Leia Organa was a Starfleet captain. Filled with classic sci-fi set pieces like derelict spaceships brimming with fungus, distress signals from failing space stations, many other lifeforms including mantis and robotic peoples, and more, FTL is a science fiction experience unrivaled even by the likes of No Man’s Sky and Elite: Dangerous. Although minimal on the graphics side of the things, Faster Than Light delivers on great space adventures in a way no other game I’ve played has. If you haven’t heard of this game already, you must be living in the Outer Rim, and at $2.49 it was well worth the purchase price.

Underexposed Nostalgia Trip – Powernaut VANGARDT

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  • Sale Price: $0.49
  • Current Price: $1.99

I managed to find Alex Hall’s little ode to the Gameboy era of punishing platformers while scrolling through the lowest priced games in the Steam Summer Sale. Powernaut VANGARDT takes design, narrative, and visual elements from games as successful as Metroid, Mega Man, and Dark Souls and repackages them into an inconspicuous bundle of raw nostalgia. Spiky enemies, doors to each room, and spaceship bases should immediately remind players of Metroid, but the “lemon” and charged attacks coupled with the difficulty scream Mega Man to me. That’s not to mention the Dark Souls cloned DNA system (with DNA instead of Souls and home ships instead of bonfires) that allows the player to customize their abilities a bit for the road ahead and also helps them make sense of the open world the game is set in. From inputting game save passwords without the help of the keyboard, to nail biting but entirely fair platforming segments that made me die time and again, Powernaut VANGARDT took me many years back to playing Gameboy in my grandmother’s basement. The excited drive that leads to thumbing through cheat booklets for password codes and failing despite their aid rushed back, and I played Powernaut VANGARDT for hours until I beat it’s first boss: a big ol’ spider. P. S. Bring a can of Raid to Skaridurk Woods; you’ll need it.

Arcade Diversion – Handsome Mr. Frog
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(Image credit to Cowboy Color, retrieved by Birb Friends via nVidia GeForce Experience capture)

 

  • Sale Price: $0.49
  • Current Price: $0.99

Handsome Mr. Frog was another bargain bin catch. It’s a Mario Bros. style arcade platformer with a Yoshi/Kirby gulp and spit mechanic that plays quite well with the jumping. To defeat the enemies you can pick up crates or other enemies and spit them towards each other, but the level design is underwhelming and at some points seems downright lazy. Regardless, there’s something undeniably charming about that handsome frog. You can collect hats along the way and there are little items that boost your score (there is a competitive leaderboard) but that’s about all. Handsome Mr. Frog was a cute and enjoyable diversion worth the $0.49 I paid for it, but I don’t think its revolutionary. In fact, most of the games on this list are derivative instead of inventive…

Platforming Meets Lateral Thinking – Tiny and Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers
  • Sale Price: $0.99
  • Current Price: $9.99

Now this is inventive! Tiny and Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers has a ridiculous Adventure Time-esque premise with a post-apocalyptic setting and a young inventor searching for his grandfather’s pants. The fun cartoon style doesn’t help the resemblance to Adventure Time and even the handheld gaming simulations felt a little too Beemo to me. Beyond that, the addition of a laser cutting tool to help you make platforms, a rope to pull them, and a rocket to push them means incredible physics/platforming challenges can await! I haven’t played much of the game just yet, but from what I’ve seen it’s at least worth the money I paid and maybe even the standard price! If you love 3D platformers, Adventure Time humor, and you’re looking for a new IP, this might be your game.

Walking Simulators, Now In 2D! – Beeswing
  • Sale Price: $0.49
  • Current Price: $4.99

Beeswing is a walking simulator set in the game designer’s rural home town in Scotland. The whole game is drawn on paper with what appears to be marker that, set against an often foreboding soundtrack, gives the game an uneasy atmosphere. I’ve played about 30 minutes of Beeswing and I still don’t know what to make of it. The conversations that take place in game are more revealing and psychologically angled than most other games which gives them a sort of depth uncommon, or perhaps more often unnoticed, in everyday talk. Walk around the place, read some flavor text, and solve some of the townspeople’s problems. There doesn’t seem to be much else to do! It’s a coming home story not too unlike Night in the Woods, and there’s definitely something to enjoy here for the right people.

What did you think of my finds? What did you buy this Steam Summer Sale? Let me know in the comments below! See you next time, Birbies!

Birb Friends Review: Blood and Bacon

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The Blood & Bacon Steam title card depicting both blood and bacon. (Image credit goes to Grunge Games’s Blood & Bacon Steam page)

Blood and Bacon is small pixelated First Person Shooter created by Grunge Games LTD. After its release in February of 2016 on Steam, its popularity has exploded. Some of you may recognize the game because of gameplay done by the famous YouTuber Markiplier, but have you ever wondered if the big YouTubers are really giving a great review? What if they are just praising a game in order to make money? Well that’s why I am here, to give you an honest review and plot overview from a gamer who just wants to game for the heck of it, like most of you!

You first start the game on Old McDonald’s farm, in Old McDonald’s barn, where you see The Farmer (Old McDonald) pinned to the wall by a pitch fork. The Farmer says he has a problem that he thinks you probably can’t handle, but he asks you anyway. Wild hogs are running wild on his farm, and he wants you to kill all of them. The only problem is that these hogs are quite unruly and seem to repopulate in massive numbers overnight. Throughout the game you spend each day killing new, more difficult hogs, while also unlocking new weapons to help you combat this crazy hog epidemic! Not only do you obtain new weapons, but you can unlock new expendables in the “Grinder”. The “Grinder” is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a massive grinding machine that you use by kicking all the left over hog parts into it, and watching eagerly as they grind them up for you to make more useful things such as ammunition and grenades. There are 100+ levels to beat with a mini boss every 10 levels and a standard boss every so often. This game almost seems to never end!

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Blubbergut eating some much needed lead. (Image credit to Bez, retrieved from their YouTube thumbnail)

Personally I had quite a bit of fun playing this game. I would absolutely recommend this game to anyone who is looking to fill some time up or just likes to play cheap, easy games. This game is also great for a game night with friends because of its multiplayer option. Now here are my ratings for the game overall.

Rating:

Overall: 7/10

Graphics: 3/10

Gameplay: 6/10

Personal Enjoyment: 8/10

Blood and Bacon is available for purchase through Steam for only $0.99 so if your don’t want to break the bank to get quite a few hours of enjoyment for you and your friends then this is a game for you. If you don’t want to take my word for it, then take the word of the over 8,000 people who rated and reviewed this game on Steam.