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Why Do Gamers Undervalue Video Games so much?
by Michael Gnade on 06/20/14 11:21:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


A few weeks ago, I went to Barcade for a friend’s birthday.  We wanted to relive our glory days so we found NBA Jam and got ready for some great two on two basketball hijinks.  We each had to pay $2 to play a full game.  We pumped our quarters in without thinking.  Each quarter in NBA Jam is set at 2 minutes so for $2 each ($8 for Barcade), we each played the game for 8 minutes.  Now granted we’re talking about a 20+ year old game, but it got me thinking about how much we currently devalue our games.  Why do we undervalue the games we love so much?  Why do games have to provide hours of entertainment for $10 or less?  I realize it’s not the 90s anymore and the number of arcades has diminished, but there’s no question that modern games are undervalued.  Not only compared to games of the past, but also compared to other forms of digital entertainment.

NBA Jam may have been manufactured on expensive cartridges for home consoles, but we’re living in the digital distribution age so that explains why games are so much more affordable right?  Not really.  There are plenty of other products that are distributed digitally that are more expensive and vastly more expensive when you take into account the length or cost per minute of the entertainment.  You can rent a new movie on Amazon for 24-48 hours for $3.99 to $5.99 per movie.  That’s on average 2 hours of entertainment or a fee of about $2-$3 per hour and you don’t even own the movie.  Meanwhile, the top sellers on Steam range from $4.99 - $29.99 and most indie games retail for $10 or less.  I like charts and data so here are some visuals to represent what I’m trying to get at:

  • For the purpose of the chart above, we used 2 hours as the average length of a movie and 45 minutes as the average length of an album.
  • We set the average time playing a game for all games to 20 hours and indie games to 10 hours.  There are plenty of games with longer and shorter play times, but those were some nice round numbers that made sense to me.
  • All data above is based on “original content” entertainment.  You can replay a game, song, or rewatch a movie dozens of times.  None of that is taken into account in the charts above.

We have this perception that games need to offer hours upon hours of entertainment for the same price (or cheaper) than movies and songs.  One of the things that the data above does not take into account is acquiring games at incredibly low bundle or pay-what-you-want prices.  To reflect how much value we get out of games we like (and don’t like), I pulled my own data from Steam and Xbox 360 over the past couple years.  It’s a good mix of recent AAA games and indie games:

I have a couple notes about my play history above.  First, I used $1 for the game price of any game that I got in a bundle or PWYW deal.  In most cases, I just beat the average of these deals and don’t remember the exact price I paid for them but it was likely much less than $1 each.  I didn’t want to feel bad about myself so I rounded up.  Next, I hated Black Ops 2 and resold it on eBay.  Nearly everything on this list I’ve beaten (i.e. seen all the original content) with the exception of Might & Magic (I’m very close) Monaco (near the end), Black Ops and the Banner Saga.  Also, do you ever really beat Spelunky?

Doing such an analysis of myself has really shown me how much value and entertainment I get out of my gaming habit.  The price I’m paying (per hour) to play these games is insanely low.  While the total cash I spend on games is quite high, the price that I’m paying per hour to play these games doesn’t even come close to the dollar amounts that I’m spending to see movies in theaters or that I paid to play NBA Jam for 8 minutes (~$15 per hour) at Barcade.

So again, I find myself asking: Why do we undervalue video games so much?  I would argue that it takes more effort to produce a great game with music, visuals, and game mechanics than it does an album of music.  Big blockbuster movies have similar if not smaller budgets then some of the biggest game franchises (Destiny, GTA, Call of Duty, etc), but we still expect hours upon hours more of content from games than our other types of entertainment.  God forbid if a game doesn’t deliver on playtime.  Why do indie games like Braid, Brothers, Gone Home, Little Inferno and more all have comments about how they’re too short? I know I’ve read way too many reviews that point to playtime and brevity as a negative to the overall score.  Meanwhile, in the film industry if a movie runs long, critics talk of bad editing or the boring narrative.  It’s absurd.  Isn’t a game that costs $10 and has an amazing 4 hours of content and no filler worth the price of admission?  It’s certainly worth as much as an album of music in my eyes.

Many of the games that have left lasting impressions on me over the past few years have been smaller independent games.  Looking at my data above, I actually feel really guilty about grabbing Gratuitous Space Battles and Atom Zombie Smasher in bundles.  Those games offered me hours of content at bargain level prices.  I certainly would have paid more for them.  Looking at the other indie games that I purchased, I can’t say that I feel ripped off based on the price and fun that I had with them.  Maybe I’m just at a point in my life where I want a shorter game experience.  I’m 31 and greatly appreciate a game that offers a quality experience with all the redundant parts edited out.  I look back fondly on games like Braid, World of Goo, and Brothers because of the great experiences that I had with them.  I was completely addicted until I beat those games, but then I was done.  Those game experiences have stuck with me over the years though, much like you continue to reminisce about a great movie or album.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a solution to this problem.  Free2Play games, mobile game pricing, game bundles, etc are all part of the game industry now for better or worse. Marketing your game and getting people’s attention is one of the most important factors to a game’s success.  I guess I’m just trying to spread awareness.  I think it’s important for us as gamers to realize that developers cannot live off of selling their games for less than a dollar.  Shorter games need to be priced at $10+ so that developers big and small alike can continue making games. Don’t be a clown and complain about Journey being too short and then tell me The Hobbit is too long.  Nerd up and admit that gamers are spoiled.

Another thing that I haven’t really addressed is every gamers’ backlog.  Who doesn’t have a few games they haven’t even booted up yet but acquired during some sale or bundle?  A lot of times, I hear gamers talking about their backlog as a bad thing.  It’s not.  You can experience more diversity in gaming by taking a half-hour to an hour playing these games in your backlog.  The big multiplayer or roleplaying game that you spend all your time playing (Dota2, Hearthstone, Halo, CoD, Skyrim etc) will still be there when you finish trying something new for a few minutes.  Best of all that other game may be a hidden gem (see some of the indie games above) or at the very least will help you appreciate the games you typically spend most of your time playing.  Best of all, if you play some $5 indie game for an hour or two and move on – you’ve still gotten more entertainment value (and helped out a small developer) for your time.  Is there anything worse than spending $13 to see a bad movie in the theater?

If anyone would like to reach me directly, you can tweet me @mgnade or email me at mike at  I would love to see some other people's charts and data about games that have given them an amazing price per hour.  Feel free to share in the comments section below.

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Arthur Hulsman
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hahah i really like it that you played call of duty only for 3 hours, which makes it your most costly piece of entertainment.

Good post! I've always treated money like this. How much positive emotion can you get for each euro/dollar you're going to spend on whatever it is you're going to pay. So if everyone did this, then i - and you - can probably earn some more money on our games :P

Michael G
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How could you possibly create a pricing system based on this? How many hours have you spent on GTA San Andreas? Most of my friends have sunk 30-50+ hours into it, I've played it for 6. So do I pay less? What other product applies this logic? You don't pay more for a car because you might use it longer than a different car, you don't pay more for a DVD for repeated viewings.
You can't base price off of one metric, and certainly not an utterly subjective metric like how much someone will enjoy it.

Ron Dippold
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Sales work a bit like this. Every game has a mental value to me and when it hits that price I'll buy. CoD:Ghosts is $30 on Steam right now - still not worth it. On the other hand, Dishonored was full price, day one.

One thing the Steam sales prove to me is that some games have very little or even negative worth. There are lots of games I won't buy at 50 cents (or free) because they're not even worth clogging up my Steam list with or wasting the time when I could be playing something better (the big hidden cost).

Now, how do you apply this to day one list price? That's harder. And it doesn't work for the buyer when your expected worth of the game doesn't match the game's actual worth (You and San Andreas, Michael and CodBlops, me and Assassin's Creed 3). But it does suggest a start high work low strategy.

James Coote
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Total up how many hours of spotify music you've listened to and divide it by the subscription fee, and you'll get similar numbers to games. Likewise with netflix. Moreover, the film/tv and music industries are heading increasingly towards those kinds of services.

The one that you didn't mention is literature, which like games, just needs a laptop and an internet connection. There has been an explosion in self-publishing e-books in the same way as with games on the app stores. And that has likewise effectively suffered a race to the bottom and massive discoverability problem. Professional photography is another one.

This is actually one of the great problems of our times. If you think back in history, there'd be one person in the village/tribe who was good at hunting, another who was good at making baskets, another good at telling stories. The other villagers would value the entertainment that storyteller provided, just as they appreciated the hunter or basket weaver.

It didn't matter if they were pretty average in the grand scheme of things, because they still fulfilled a useful role in their local community. Digital distribution means those story tellers are now competing with every other story teller in the world. They are competing with the Usain Bolt's or Mozarts and getting left in the dust as a result.

Larry Carney
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The price of E-books is something that is both a boon and a burden as a novelist. Consumers are able to get books cheaper, which means you might pick up more "impulse" buys, but anything below $5 (on Amazon at least) means you'll only get 30% of earnings, which may or may not price out the "impulse" buy market.

And it appears that it isn't just the impulse shoppers who believe books should be only a buck or two, but the wider market as well.

E-books were sold to authors as the future of the industry, but I'm not sure if it'll end up being any different than how things are now, with earning so little that it's either just a hobby or a career that only a few can indulge in.

Dane MacMahon
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Yes, competition is the root cause here. There are thousands of games at peoples' fingertips now, so you have to stand out somehow. Unless something is 100% exactly what you love or are looking for, why pay anywhere near full price for it? You probably don't even know it exists.

Leszek Szczepanski
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In your analysis you seriously overvalue music.

1. An album usually lasts about 60 min.

2. Music is to be re-experienced much more intensely and for much longer than any other form of entertainment. If you finish listening to an album you don't say "Ok, it's done, I've beaten it." You start it again (at least if it's any good). When I buy an album I initially listen to it for weeks, constantly. After that I tend to listen to it once in a while for years after.

I you look at like that you'd have:
Typical album costs 20-25 EUR and has 60 min of music.
Over the course of the first year you might listen to it about 50 times.
That gives you 0.50 EUR for 1h of entertainment in the first year. After that the price per hour diminishes even more.

Aaron Oostdijk
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Exactly. I buy very little music, but when I do buy an album I listen to it non-stop for a very long time. And periodically I will revisit all the albums from certain artists again for extended periods of time.

I spent about 6 months listening exclusively to Dream Theater (most of their albums though), and I'm currently on week... 4? of Animals as Leaders' latest album. I listen to nothing else in between.

Maria Jayne
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When you see a movie or listen to a music it ever visually or audibly imperfect? Regardless of if you like the movie or the music it's always been at a stable quality that never dips during use.....if it does it's defective and you replace it.

Video games have always been imperfect, buggy, unstable, broken, glitchy whatever term you use, they are not perfect. They require patches on day one, they require you to jump through hoops to get working and they often demand you spend more money to get the full experience....either through DLC or Hardware upgrades.

You're right minute to minute, video games offer better value for entertainment, but they are frequently lower quality entertainment, regardless of the content you can experience.

Alan Barton
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@"buggy, unstable, broken, glitchy" etc..
Music and films play on a single consistent very simple format, so once it works on one machine, it works on all compatible playback machines.

By contrast, all software, not just games, has to deal with a vast array of different underlying machine architectures. Also programs are getting ever larger. The larger they get, the more permutations for potential bugs. These factors greatly add to the difficulty of making software bug and glitch free. Therefore we are faced with a Combinatorial Explosion of complexity.

Also if that isn't bad enough news, finding all bugs is very strongly related to the fundamental problem of the so called "Halting Problem". I.e. "Alan Turing proved in 1936 that a general algorithm to solve the halting problem for all possible program-input pairs cannot exist."

So in short, we are never going to have totally bug free software. The best we can hope for is imperfect solutions in this imperfect world, but generally speaking, the vast majority are (after a lot of work, end up getting) bug free enough to be very useful solutions. :)

Given the ever increasing depth of difficulty programmers are faced with, its a wonder anything really works!. ;)

p.s. On behalf of all programmers, can we have a pay rise please?

Maria Jayne
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I think you're focusing too much on trying to make consumers feel sorry for developers. It's not a charity, it's a other business tries to sell their unfinished products with the excuse "it's really hard".

The problem is an industry one, they devalue their own products and demonstrate why they are not worth higher prices to the very consumers they market to.

Eric Mickols
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I 100% second this. More than anything, I think that games often have TOO MANY forms of feedback going to a player, and so they result in an imperfect balance of player action, visual stimulation, and audio stimulation.

When you have a 2-3 minute song for $1 that can fully entrance you using only one form of feedback, I think that puts you into a separate value equation entirely.

Alan Barton
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@"I think you're focusing too much on trying to make consumers feel sorry for developers."

No that is categorically wrong. That wasn't my point at all, so you are completely misrepresenting my point. It doesn't matter how people feel about developers, the science of computing shows what I say is true regardless of any opinion about developers. My point was about science, not emotion.

(By the way, I simply added the final line as a joke, hence the ";" to imply we are doing our best and getting good results).

My point about the effects of Combinatorial Explosions & the Halting Problem still stands. Software isn't and never will be as simple as other forms of media. That is just the way it is.

Also, @"the music it's always been at a stable quality"
No, I've bought many albums on the strength of one or two tunes, only to find some of the tunes are not that good.

I've also bought many films only to find some are not that good. Poor production values. Poor script. Poor acting. Poor directing. Poor camera work etc..

So trying to denigrate software on the false assertion other media is of better quality entertainment is wrong.

Victoria House
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Chris Dias
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Yeah, this article is a prime example of starting an experiment with the result you want and working from there.

Bob Fox
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This is a ridiculous post. This post is spoken by someone so out of touch with how criminal the game industry has become.

Videogames have overall taken away product ownership from gamers and lets be honest, game companies have become criminals who always whine and are some of the most entitled people on the planet. The fact that F2P succeeded is proof of mankinds dumbness not a net positive for the game industry.

Less ownership = less value. More and more games are tied to steams DRM service via online and that automatically devalues games.

There are so many games I would have loved to pay for but DRM and multiplayer lockdown (aka no dedicated servers and then onerous DRM) have reduced almost all new releases to bargain bin pickups or no pickup at all.

Game devs are out of touch, publishers and devs have single handedly made game value worse for the money by all the "online social" integration which is just code for DRM. Games have overall gotten worse, I'd love to have Quake 3 and unreal tournament levels of ownership with full control over dedicated servers, modding and level editing back thanks. Think of how many quake 3 and unreal tournament levels and mods were created 10 years ago vs today, huge difference. Almost games are locked down today and that makes them low value. Devs/pubs are just so out of touch with trying to lockdown games they purposely devalue the game so no one wants to buy it because of all the DRM and restrictions.

You list awesomenauts, Awesomenauts is a prime example of everything that is wrong with modern games. The forced matchmaking is horrible and there is no way to run your own dedicated servers. Everything has to be forced through social integration where in quake and unreal it was look at the serverlist, see who's in game and pick a server to play on with the best connection. Whereas many modern games have atrocious netcode.

I just picked up Awesomenauts and Transformers: FoC and both are everything that is wrong with modern games and why games don't get bought at full retail, they are deeply chained to online via onerous multiplayer DRM matchmaking (it's really DRM, lets face it). The whole league of legends/xbox live matchmaking approach has totally ruined many multiplayer games on PC and thats often why multiplayer games are so dead. Everything is so locked down to suffocating levels it devalues the game hugely.

Pedro Fonseca
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Easy, man.

It was already like this back in the day before the DRM wake; maybe was even worse, considering that back then games lasted for 50+ hours easily.

Besides, it's not like like the Music industry was much nicer, I remember not too long ago buying CDs only to be forced to pirate the mp3 because the CD had some bull DRM-like thing that prevented me from getting the mp3s myself and actually be able to listen to the music on my devices.

And movies have always had the worst type of bull on cinema costs and on-site snack prices.

Bob Fox
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@ ped

You dont know what you're talking about. We're talking about game value here, DRM and locked down un-editable games are low value.

Where do you think counterstrike, rocket arena, DOTA and other games born from mods came from? Today that has been sharply reduced. There were tonnes of maps/mods/skins/models for older games that there aren't for new ones... why? Locking down of games.

Rodney Emerson
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All the things that are being complained about in this post is because of game players pirating en masse. As a response to these tactics, gamers pirate even more and complain loudly about it in internet forums. As a result, game developers try to play around this even more with stronger DRM and F2P tactics to ensure they get some compensation for their work. As a result of this, gamers get even angrier, pirate even more, and complain louder on internet forums. As a result...

This is just one facet of the relationship of hate and mistrust I've noticed in the video game industry. All parties view themselves as the victim. All parties point the finger at the others and declare all wrongdoing on them. All parties go to great lengths to justify any wrong they have done. In the end, none of them are in the right, like a pack of men declaring each other villians while holding a gun behind their back, ready to fire when the other has a pang of conscious and relents for their misdeeds.

As far as other forms of entertainment, I'm not so sure, but I would not be surprised if this sort of relationship is common, as the fear of your audience stealing you stuff (And sometimes selling it as their own) seems to be universal.

Bob Fox
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I'm sorry but you couldn't be more wrong. This is about the industry itself and the general dumbness of the target market (teens to mid 30's).

A game like league of legends is basically a really gimped warcraft 3 without modding available with limited number of maps. It's basically war 3 with heroes a few maps and "new" hero's which are just statistical reskins of old heroes.

League is bona fide overwhelming evidence that its devs and pubs that are the problem.

Game piracy always existed and devs aren't going to get rid of it, when you DRM your game you make your game LESS valuable. You act like everyone is going to buy your game, we're talking about GAME VALUE here.

You're just so hopelessly wrong. Game quality has declined drastically and hence game value has too. F2P league of legends if released 10 years ago as stand alone would have been laughed at beside warcraft 3, since we already had hero arena in warcraft 3 for free.

I've skipped purchasing so many games until they get DRM free'd.

Rodney Emerson
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You regularly mention DRM and F2P, which are mainly known to be anti-piracy tactics. As such I responded in terms of piracy, rather than the modability of a game. Though it is interesting to see how piracy, and the adoption of anti-piracy tactics, negatively affected a great aspect of PC gaming, modifying:

Because devs fear piracy, they use scorched earth tactics to ensure that people are paying for the game, not really paying attention to the myriad of negative effects of it has on the game's longevity and value to players, because said players may or may not be refusing to put food on their table.

As far as modding goes, it is good, but I would not say it's the only gauge on a game's long term value. After all, people are still playing Super Smash Bros. Melee, which cannot be modded, but still provides fun for the users. Likewise, Street Fighter III: Third Strike, didn't die out until SF4 came along, and even that took some time. Then there's things like people to play Sonic Adventure 2 for the Chao garden...

While locked down games are certainly a problem, I don't think this is the only thing that can affect a game's value. Rather, I feel it is because video games are taking too many cues from movies: I see devs making games that are to be “eaten”: with a greater focus on narrative and one-time spectacle, rather than making game systems that persist for long periods of time and are replayable. Upon noticing that people were quickly running through games, the industry seemed to collectively decide that the way to mitigate gamers running through new games like a bag of potato chips is to give them a bigger bag of saltier chips (More content, bigger stories, greater spectacle, etc.).

Because of this, they have lost sight one of movie's strengths (They're relatively short things, so you can re watch them painlessly) while gaining one of it's weaknesses (A movie is always the same with each watch. There may be things people didn't notice right away, but the ending is always the same) while creating a big, BIG problem (Not many people want to replay a 40+ hour campaign that is generally the same with each play through). So now we have a situation where video games are even more disposable, while offering more content and taking more time than, a movie.

Bob Fox
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@ rod

"Because devs fear piracy, they use scorched earth tactics"

And this is the problem, even with DRM the games are still locked down... these don't excuse lack of level editor, no modding, etc. Lets just face facts, this is a dev/pub issue. A few other devs do just fine, like the torchlight developers but they are increasingly rare. One of the few last devs that understand how bad the game industry has become. We're talking GAME VALUE here. You shouldn't fear piracy but producing a low value game. We're talking value, and most modern games don't hold up compared to past works of the same game industry.

You keep forgetting there are successful non DRM'd games. So that doesn't excuse their tactics.

The witcher and torchlight just to name a few.

Tuomas Pirinen
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A question and a note: why do you think so many people (it is up to 37 million players now) have chosen to play League of Legends if it is indeed as poor as you say? Are gamers wrong or what is it that has caused its popularity? Especially since it is not from the old guard dev or publisher, so it had no established fan base.

As for piracy, continuing with the League of Legends example, how much of an issue is it to League? As far as I can tell, none exist on LoL due the way the game is built.

I hope you don't take this as a confrontation, but as you have strong position on all this, I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Bob Fox
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Generational turnover and the fact that tech illiterate is now connected to developers directly via the internet (aka devs are just taking advantage of tech stupid kids/teens who don't get and are too dumb to understand what they are doing to gaming because they never grew up during the Doom quake era on PC). In the pre-internet and early internet era of slow connections developers couldn't totally take advantage of all the stupid kids out there. You see all the mobile games with in-app purchases are all about scamming the tech stupid half of humanity, and kids who don't understand anything at all about technology. Modern internet = TV to most "gamers".

The 'modern gamer' aka lol's playerbase are all about exploiting the small percentage of stupid people out there. You quote leagues numbers without ever telling us how much % of players actually paid anything. F2P takes advantage of the mentally ill/totally retarded/stupid kids half of the gaming population thats their whole business model and most mobile card/trade gaming. Hell even STEAM is on collectable virtual card bullshit that I DETEST.

Many people playing league of legends are new gamers, lets not forget many countries outside of north america never had the western PC gaming scene when they are growing up. Any serious gamer will have a deep appreciation for the games of the origins of many modern games. Will most league players understand the roots of their game from War/starcraft and DOTA?

Tuomas Pirinen
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OK, first off, I want to say I respect your right to criticize League -as is the right of every gamer. I do have friends working at Riot, so I do not claim full impartiality, and it is fair for me to disclose that.

I also agree with you on what an excellent game Doom and Quake are, and they deserve support and accolades from the gaming community for their openness and support for modding.

But I want to go through a couple of issues where I think the points you raised could be argued not to be accurate.

First, the conversion rate. As Riot does not disclose it's numbers, we don't know the details, but typical conversion rates for a successful game are 3-6%, and 20-30% for a hit F2P game -most likely LoL is one. Estimates how they are doing vary for over 600 million to year to 100 million per month -this is what analysts reckon they are making. So it is no wonder you are seeing industry to gravitate towards their model, especially since their profit margins seem very healthy. They are also hiring the top talent from the industry, which speaks of their success -as they already have 1000 people. Of course success alone is not the only metric for games, but it is an industry, and industry tends to gravitate towards success cases.

As for the typical person who pays... According to EEDAR, a typical big spender is a male and 30+, and plays a lot of console, PC and handheld games -a core gamer according to them. So the people who spend money are not kids based on best data we have.

Now, I am fan of countless games, premium price and F2P alike, and I like to see as many different options for gamers to thrive. So I think that for the developers who want to offer an alternative to LoL is to make a game that offers a proposition that the gamers find more enticing than LoL.

I believe competition is the way how the gamers win.

Links to the articles/info I mentioned above:

On conversion rates:

EEDAR on typical big spender on F2P games:

League of Legends revenue:

Brian M
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Sorry this is one of the most ridiculous posts I've ever read, I work in a game studio full of old school tech heavy programmers that love League of Legends and play it hard for deeply competitive gaming.

Bob Fox
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@Brian M

You are overwhelming proof that the problem is developers and publishers, just like I said. You are too braindead to figure out locking down games with DRM and having no level editors and modding tools devalues games. The whole league model relies on stupidity and illiteracy of the masses to sell you "unlocks" for a game you never own. Only people like you would think this is a net positive for gaming as a whole.

League of legends is just a knock off of a mod for a previous game which had more freedom than a locked down F2P with so few levels.

You think LOL is positive from a dev standpoint, that right there is proof you are incapable of understanding wtf is going on.

Brian M
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Sorry this is one of the most ridiculous posts I've ever read, I work in a game studio full of old school tech heavy programmers that love League of Legends and play it hard for deeply competitive gaming.

John Gordon
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You are overselling how much people value other forms of entertainment.

For example, the industry leader in movie rentals right now is Redbox. Where I live they charge $1.20 for a 1-day rental. The cost is $.60 per hour. If you watch the movie with 1 other person then the cost is $.30 per person per hour. Likewise when someone buys a song or an album they listen to it many times. A person buying a song for $1 will end up listening to it for a couple of hours total (at least).

The price of games actually is in line with other forms of home entertainment.

Robert Green
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I see what the blog is getting at, but in practice I don't know that anyone compares games to movies and music when trying to decide what to buy, if only because people are rarely in a situation where they have to choose between one or the other.
Instead, people value games based mainly on how much they spend on other games. $1 for an iphone game might be a laughably small amount of money, but when there are a hundred thousand games you could be playing for free, you really do have to explain to most people why it's not irrational to spend that dollar. Similarly, if I know that a game I'm interested in will be heavily discounted in a Steam sale (topical comment bonus!) then not buying it at launch doesn't necessarily mean I'm undervaluing games, just that I'm patient and logical.

Looking further forward, I think what people are increasingly going to realise, once they get all-you-can-eat movie and music streaming and virtually unlimited F2P games, is that value for money isn't really that important any more. Value for time is.

Amanda Lee Matthews
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>if only because people are rarely in a situation where they have to choose between one or the other.

It doesn't seem that way when you're dealing with small numbers, but you really are making that choice every time you buy one or the other; because no one has an unlimited amount of money.

This is actually part of the reason why this "undervaluing" is happening. If I have to spend $60 on a game, that's all my entertainment money for the month and it's obvious that I can't spend it on anything else. But if I spend $1 or $5 on a game, I can still buy other things so I don't think about the fact that I can't spend THAT $1 or $5 on something else. Which is why I'm willing to pay $3.99 to watch a movie, but might not be willing to pay $60 for a game to get the same value-per-hour. I'm also not willing to pay $50 for my family to watch a movie - which is what it cost me when we went to the theater a couple of months ago, so we won't be going back.

Robert Green
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>you really are making that choice every time you buy one or the other; because no one has an unlimited amount of money

In a theoretical sense, sure. Every time I spend a dollar on a game, it's a dollar I'm not spending on anything else. But in practice, I'm not evaluating every dollar I spend to find the optimal use of that dollar, because that'd be a full-time job.

Here's the common thought experiment:
Imagine you're about to buy a coffee when someone tells you that if you walk another block down the road, you'll be able to save $2 on that coffee. Would you do it?
Now imagine you're buying a car, and someone tells you that if you walk another block down the road, you'll be able to save $10 on the same car. Would you do it?
Chances are, a lot more people would in the first scenario, despite saving 5X as much in the second, because the relative discounts are so different. Similarly, if you go to steam right now and look at the front store page, you'll notice it's not the prices that are highlighted, and it's not the dollar amounts that you save, it's the % discount. i.e. the fact that I can get Brothers for $2.99 isn't the important part, the important part is that that price is 80% off the regular.

Another thing I think the original post is missing is the issue of risk. A $60 game might provide me a lot more entertainment than a $10 movie, but let's imagine that both turn out to be terrible. Now I've wasted $60 on a bad game vs $10 on a bad movie. At very least that affects how much research I'm going to put into a purchase.

Luis Guimaraes
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That's what I think about bargaining too. My friend likes to go and spend a whole day in a market place looking at the prices of the same thing in every store and talking to the attenders looking for them to out-bid each other's bargains and stuff. In the end he saves the amount of money he makes in an hour, by wasting an entire day walking around...

Tuomas Pirinen
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Consumers seem to be very sensitive to price. After all, it is not like different models of payment are not available, but the data we have seems to point at the Free being the most popular price point. I agree that a good short game is worth 10$ (at least to me it is) but do you see this consumer behavior changing back any time soon?:

Because at the end of the day, it is always the consumers/gamers who make the final choice what is successful and what isn't. And influencing that is one mighty task indeed.

Lewis Pulsipher
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There's an idea that anything which can be copied for free (a new copy has no cost) will ultimately be free, or at least very cheap. Two reasons. One, enough competitors will be willing to lower their price (since making new copies doesn't cost them anything) that the price will approach zero. And that will drive the price down for everyone. (Example in progress: Mobile games) Two, that enough people are willing to pirate copies that the value will be reduced for everyone to nearly nothing.

Will this ultimately prove to be true for video games? I don't know, but it's going that way, isn't it? It has nothing to do with actual utility or cost per hour, and everything to do with economic models and contemporary disrespect for creators (the piracy).

In contrast, prices for boardgames have not gone down, even though people are less and less likely to play a given boardgame more than a few times before moving on to the next one (that is, fewer hours per game). Because boardgames are *physical* as well as intellectual products, that are hard to copy.

Michael Pianta
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Yes, I think this is a real issue. Mechanical reproduction had a similar effect - look at what books used to cost before the printing press. They were hugely expensive. But along comes mechanical reproduction, and within a generation they are very affordable and this whole chain reaction of social consequences gets kicked off. But even at that time, painting remained very expensive. And if you were a portrait painter, you had pretty bountiful work, as every middle class family needed at least some portraits now and again. But then the camera gets invented, and along comes mechanical reproduction, and today portrait painting is a very niche practice, because the need was obliterated by the much cheaper reproductions.

Digital reproduction will have a similar effect. Anything that can be digitally reproduced will be very low in price ultimately. And with 3D printing entering the mix, very many more things will be digitally reproducible than we currently imagine. It will be a sea change in society, I think, and how we relate to just about everything, once the digital age is fully in effect.

Amanda Lee Matthews
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MOST things are undervalued in our society. IMO it is because we have lost touch with the fact that there are people making these things and they must eat and live. It use to be that your parents would work at a factory, making some of the things you needed to live. So you knew the value of those things and the value of trading time making those things to buy other things. Before that, we had farms and would trade and barter with neighbors. You'd see the work behind others' items, food or etc. so everyone understood the value of them.

When the making of most things became automated and/or outsourced we lost all of this. Before it was trading work for work with money being representative of effort. But now it's just assumed that you'll trade x amount of your time and get at least [minimum wage in the area]. So everyone wants to get things for as cheaply as possible. They are only thinking about how they can maximize their money earned while working, get the most enjoyment out of their free time. They don't think about the fact that the people behind everything are people too, that had to spend just as much (if not more) time working as they do; and when they DO think about it they feel their time is more important or their work is more difficult so they shouldn't have to do an equal trade.

We also don't see people going hungry or broke due to our decision to not buy or not pay enough. If everyone chooses not to buy x brand of tshirt at walmart, everyone keeps their job at Walmart, all our friends and family keep their jobs and we don't see the factory in China going under, the families that worked there starving.

There's also the fact that the majority of gamers today DIDN'T start off playing in arcades. Even if they have been gaming for awhile, they started off with hours-long, made-for-home games, or ports where continuing meant pressing a button. They never experienced putting in another quarter to continue.

And then there's the fact that the sellers price it that way. If there were no $5 games, if all there were was $60 games then everyone would be paying $60 for games. But then of course people would expect MORE hours out of every game and many indie games would never be heard of.

TC Weidner
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I think many products are now undervalued in our society, but I think on the other hand most of our services are over valued. Healthcare, education, legal services, and on and on are way over priced, while the cost of actual products themselves are mainly under priced, due to many things including slave like wages over seas.

Its a interesting dichotomy.

Michael Pianta
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I've been thinking about this question myself for a while now, ever since I read an article pointing out the whole entertainment dollar per hour issue. Over that time, I've come up with a number of theories. I'm not saying that any of these are necessarily true, just possible explanations.

1. Games have less cultural value than music and movies: People still regard games as toys, and as intrinsically more frivolous and less worthy of money than music and film.

2. Games have less utility than music/film: This gets into replayability (which I know you're ignoring in your data, but I think is relevant to how people spend money) but also the flexibility of the medium itself. Videogames require attention and focus. This intrinsically limits them. I can listen to music while I'm driving, or working; I can put a movie on while I clean the house or have a bunch of people over. Video games require that everything else stop, which limits the situations in which they are useful.

3. Game consumers are more savvy: It's well and good to say "Look at what a CD costs on iTunes, look at what a game costs on Steam - there's a disparity!" but that doesn't tell us much of the consumers aren't the same. I theorize that if you asked a gamer who pays $10 for a game what they pay for music, the answer would be "Nothing." They are aware, if only intuitively, of the cost/entertainment-hour ratio, and they have long since abandoned buying music/movies because they perceive them as overpriced. We have tech savvy consumers who are very familiar and comfortable with downloading music/movies for free, and the fact that we even get $5 from them is a testament to the entertainment value they place on games.

4. Games are ahead of the curve: If #3 is true, then it follows that other industry may also be forced to lower their prices soon. The tech savvy future is a future in which entertainment is borderline free. I think there's a lot of trends to suggest that this is true. Netflix and Spotify, for example, or Bandcamp, where many indie artists sell their albums for $5, or $3, or "pay what you want," etc. They exhibit the exact same market pressures that is determining Steam prices. It may simply be the case that the digital age makes it very hard on content creators. Compared to before the digital revolution, prices for our work will be pennies on the dollar.

There are probably other factors, but those are the main ones that occur to me. I'll be interested, over the next few years, to see where all this goes.

Christopher Landry
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Like a lot of other commenters, I feel like the values for music and movies is far too high here. Frankly, the value we place per hour on games seems about right, it's music and movies, the older industries, that are taking too long to catch up to modern day values.

Thanks to things like Pandora, Spotify, Netflix, and Hulu (just to name a few), the values for music and movies has gone down drastically, to the point where they are easily less than the value per hour for games.

To use myself as an example, I pay for Pandora, so that's about $3 a month. I listen to some 90 or more hours every month, easily. That means less than $0.04 an hour. Your lowest value indie games are about 4 times higher.

Isaac Knowles
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It's important to distinguish between the price of a game and the value of a game. I'm aware of no evidence that consumers value games less than they used to. However, it is quite clear that, in many cases, consumers are paying a great deal less for those games than they used to.

IMHO, you're not observing a lower valuation of current games compared to past games or other media. What you're observing is the result of competition between game companies for sales, along with innovations in development and distribution that have driven down costs, especially for "smaller" games (indie, mobile, etc.)

adam anthony
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Yep, I agree. It is not a valuation thing, it is competition. There is a lot of it out there right now.

Nathan Mates
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All entertainment has been getting much cheaper over the past 30-40 years. Movies on VHS tapes were $40+ in the 1980s, and now Costco has Blurays under $10. (And, adjusting for inflation, those VHS tapes were $50-60 in today's dollars). With all-you-can-stream services like Pandora/Spotify for music, and Netflix for movies/TV shows, or Cable/Satellite TV packages, you get much more than you used to.

If other entertainment is cheaper, games will need to follow. However, as people have pointed out, Skyrim was a top-10 seller on Steam for months on end at $50+. Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto past few releases have all sold a billion dollars worth in their first week or two across all platforms. People are not adverse to paying for good games. The problem is, there are more games that think they're truly AAA, when they're not.

Florian Putz
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Well, it's really simple. It's not about value - it's about competition. The market is oversaturated, there are almost more games out there than people that play them. As a result the price is going down - ultimately reaching 0. What's going on right now in the gamemarket is really simple economics. There isn't much devs can do about it since the entry barrier to develop a game became so low. U cannot forbid people to enter the market since u dnt need a degree or anything to do that. Look for a niche market or entirely change the field. Do something hard, start building space ships... there is only like 3 companies in the US that will compete with u and probably lots of future customers ;).

Dane MacMahon
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I just got Metro Last Light for $6 on Steam. Years ago this would have been a game I easily paid $60 for, but nowadays I have way too many games to ever get around to playing them. Therefore if you want to get my attention and money you need to be one of two things: one of my favorite franchises/genres, or super cheap.

Greg Scheel
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The barrier to entry has merely shifted. Once, you had to know quite a bit about how to code, and there were few engines available. Now, you have to figure out how to make a game that people will care about, and pay attention to. The barrier is still quite high, or even higher than it once was. Many more persons can try to overcome the barrier, but this does not make it any easier.

Furthermore, there is no real competition, there has always been an avalanche of crap games, ever since '83, at least. It's you against the fun barrier, and has been for a very long time.

Bob Johnson
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YOur time spent gaming is different from your time spent watching a movie.

Gaming time has alot of down time. Time spent looking at menus or inventory screens or maps or thinking about a strategy or figuring out what to do etc etc. And most games have a good amount of filler. Stuff you've done already but have to do again and again and again.

even some of these multiplayer games alot of my game time is spent waiting to respawn, thinking about my next tactics, walking across a map, changing inventory, ...

movies have none of this.

So that's probably a big reason why we don't perceive the two as the same thing.

Kyle Redd
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The entire article focuses solely on the consideration of time entertained per dollar spent, but that is ignoring all other factors involved. Bob Fox has pointed out the lack of ownership with modern games - my boxed copy of Planescape Torment has retained close to its full value from the day I purchased, but DRM, forced accounts, and digital distribution has reduced the long-term value of virtually all modern games to $0.

More importantly though - the emotional benefit derived from games is not even remotely in the same league as that of books, movies, or even music. Skyrim may provide me with hundreds of hours of entertainment, but when 90% of that time is spent performing mundane, repetitive questing and killing, it can't really compare to a tightly edited and directed film that is powerful from beginning to end.

Most gamers, especially adults, play games often just to "kill time." But almost no one watches movies or reads books for that reason. We do that for the dramatic or comedic properties they provide that games do not.

Kai Boernert
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Well a problem is that before playing it I never know how good the game is,

I have about 90% of all games (indie and AAA) that have less than 2 hours playing time.
And I have a few gems that have well over several hunderd hours.
Oh also there are a few that I directly disconnected after like 5 minutes due to technical or gameplay problems.

So I usually assume that a game sucks probably when buying it, but hoping it will not. This is the emotional basis I buy games from.
-> So it boils down to establish a fanbase, if i buy a second game maybe even the next in a series I'm willing to pay several times more if I know that game is worth it (for my tastes)
-> Oh at least I'm kinda llergic to hypes, as I was disappointed way to often, I prefer niche games by now, that seem to have a active developer
-> Update blog, or similar, I don't expect a update very few weeks, but a small blog post once a week with a screenshot, or a small article about what you are working on greatly helps to make me trust you, for more than minimum price.

Pete Devlin
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Some excellent observations all around - one things stands out; peoples willingness to pay is linked to their perceived value. People will pay correctly for something they actually want. Hence why on humble bundles I tend to only want one of the games and simply only pay what I perceive is the correct price for that game, irrespective of the other games. I tend to give the codes away to people who moght actually want them

Lewis Pulsipher
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". . . peoples willingness to pay is linked to their perceived value." That doesn't seem to fit. Go back enough years and if you wanted a particular "oldie" song you might end up buying a "Best Hits" CD, or later, perhaps find it on iTunes. But as young people point out to me, why use iTunes when all the music is on YouTube, very easy to download? The perceived value is the same but the ease of getting it for a lower price/free makes a big difference.

Jennis Kartens
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One very great upside to all this is, that if you get a game for less then your daily meals you have to eat to survive, you get the possibility to see and value games for their actual elements, and not measure them on the price you paid for it.

This article spents a lot of effort in proving exactly how much "fun" you can squeeze out of a dollar. And that is something that has always been difficult with entertainment and represents the ongoing struggle between the market and art.

I am in a position where I don't have to pay for most games at all. A position that lead to the initial described shift in my point of view on games. Now since we still have to live within the system, I am still gladly supporting developers who made me happy. Interesting enough, that comes down to very few in the end. Doesn't matter if I "own" the game 3 or 4 times.

So maybe, just maybe, most games are just irrelevant.

The market is oversaturated already. It happend too fast, like most things related to the games industry. It'll need to sort itself out and maybe a lot of people will fall on their noses not making any money, because there is no demand.

Jon Doghe
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Having first cut my gaming teeth on the Atari 2600 I've seen the majority of the industry's growth and development. Some points made in the comments are pretty spot on. Some are not even close.

Games aren't flat out devalued by gamers as a whole. videogames are based on fair market price for the content being sold +/- %

The advancement of technology drives the price down of anything and everything it affects, videogames included

1 pirated videogame =/= 1 lost sale of a videogame. let me repeat myself, 1 pirated videogame DOES NOT mean 1 lost sale.

There has been a 'generational turnover' as Bob Fox calls it since the beginning of the modern era of PC gaming (ie. DOS + Windows). the player base of a popular game today is significantly different than it was for a popular game 10, 15, 20 years ago. Gamers today have lower standards as reflected by what publishers in the industry accommodate them accordingly with- buggy, unfinished, and even broken by design videogames, not to mention the opportunity to pre-purchase the next release of their next game before they even finish fixing/patching/completing the game they just released. (*SHEEN* *SPARKLE* *SPARKLE* !!!)

There's a trend in current gaming where developers/publishers (not ALL by any means) are dumbing down games- targeted at the least common denominator of the demographic.
(you can read interviews on other reputable industry ezines where it's spoken how many pubs/devs will only make games that are sure to be guaranteed franchises).

Previously the prestigious title of being labelled an AAA (Triple A) game occured after the game's release based on it's quality- nowadays that title has nothing to do with quality but everything to do with the developer/publisher/budget before the game is even released irregardless of quality. This devalues games.

The over abundance of low quality/depth/investment games reflects on the industry itself as a whole, which does actually devalue videogames in and of itself as well. Not to mention newly created studios/companies having the audacity to label themselves as an 'Indie' studio despite being headed and staffed by individuals previously in industry whom each have a handful of releases under their belt to begin with.

It was NOT 'like this back in the day before the DRM wake' the way Pedro Fonseca believes- draconian DRM did not exist even close to the way it does today. the closest thing to DRM back then was a CD check or a CD Key (Windows games), or bundled codes involving the user manuals (what's the 4th word in the second paragraph of page 3...). there was also SHAREWARE as a method of selling/protecting games (ie. DOOM, Duke Nukem 3D, etc) where if the game had VALUE the gamer would pay for the rest of the game. DRM hurts customers NOT pirates. DRM in and of itself devalues videogames.

When Carmack @ QuakeCon in '12 said gamers were a lot more hardcore back in the old days he was right, we were. Gaming also wasn't as mainstream the way it is now, publishers/developers had higher standards and paid people to beta test their products for them, NOT the other way around like it is right now. Games were released much more feature complete and only required minimal patching. A game didn't come out in a dozen different versions with different content the way it does now- all designed to nickel and dime the gamer to death (hell even in the mid-90s to early 2Ks you only had the retail release and then possibly a GOTY which included the few MBs of patches the game needed and a bonus CD with the soundtrack on it). Even with the rose colored glasses removed and placed on my desk I (as well as many others) can demonstrably state this generation's quality of games/developers & gamers are significantly different than those that came before it. Mark Bauerlein's latest book from '09 is proving to have be true, even in regards to the gaming industry, and this of course with numerous other factors I've touched on play a significant part in the valuation of videogames as a product.

I could go on more about the devaluing aspect, but I think Chris Dias hit the nail on the head about this article being a 'prime example of starting an experiment with the result you want and working from there' so I'll just leave it at that.