The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for hiking in the Lake District with people you haven’t seen for far too long. I won’t be reading anything about games, but you can, look:

Over at PC Gamer, I thought Steven Messner’s take on Green Man Gaming’s ‘Average Cost Per Hour’ metric was interesting – largely because it left me so conflicted. There’s one line in particular about how “it perpetuates the idea that games are products we consume, rather than experiences we have”, to which my gut reaction is ‘aren’t they both?’. I don’t think talking about cost per hour usually makes sense from a critics perspective, and agree that displaying the metric so prominently suggests an importance it doesn’t deserve. At the same time, I think I’d call the metric ‘problematic but helpful on a budget’, rather than useless.

As a measurement, Average Cost Per Hour is detrimental because it perpetuates the idea that games are products we consume, rather than experiences we have. It enforces the idea that a game’s value is derived from how many hours it lasts rather than how meaningful those hours are, and it invites us to unfairly compare games based on how cost effective they are. We’re already gaming in a world where concurrent user data is regularly misrepresented as the a true measurement of a game’s popularity. It’d suck to see this flawed stat adopted as an objective appraisal of quality in the same way.

Chris Thursten’s re-review of Dota 2 for PC Gamer does an astounding job of capturing the appeal of a game that’s absorbed over 3,000 hours of my life. I should probably mention that many of those hours were spent with Chris, “being the best helicopter or bear or fishmen” that we could be.

What does this mean for you as a prospective player? Principally, it means that this is a dizzyingly deep competitive team strategy game whose core design benefits from fifteen years of unbroken refinement. It was in this strategic sandbox that the basic assumptions of the MOBA were established: two teams, three lanes, five heroes per team, towers, creeps, jungles, bases, and Ancients. On paper, your job is to lay siege to the enemy base and blow up the enemy ancient. In practice, your job is to manipulate the strategic, economic and psychological tempo of the match, a challenge whose variables change every time you play.

For Eurogamer, Wesley Yin-Poole did a COLOSSAL interview with Mike Laidlaw, BioWare’s former creative director. It’s interesting to see Laidlaw’s blow-by-blow take on the history of Dragon Age, though my favourite part comes near the end.

“I’ve probably met over 100 people who’ve come up to me at PAX in particular and quietly taken me aside and said, ‘I need to tell you how much your game meant because my sibling committed suicide and it got me through that,’ ‘I had chemotherapy, I’d take my laptop in and I got out of it. It was the only thing that could pull me out of the fact that I was being injected with poison.’ ‘I felt like I could never talk about the fact I was attracted to other men until I played your games. They’ve celebrated those people. They were there for me and they made me feel like I was okay.’

“You watch that and you’re just like… people unload, in the best way possible, these stories. They wreck you, but it’s cathartic. You’re like, we did good. We did good, team!”

On Kotaku, I enjoyed Gita Jackson’s tale of how a moral quandary stumped her D&D group for two hours. I’ve already sent this link to my DM with the message ‘more moral dilemmas plz’.

At first, we were all pretty into this old lady’s argument. Her name was Gritha, and she said that nobles didn’t have the right to declare their ownership of land. Both in and out of character I think that all property is theft, so I was into that. It became clear that she wasn’t actually into liberating the keep for the proletariat, but more into the idea of taking the keep and then killing anyone who came by and also taking their shit. None of us liked that as much.

Also on Kotaku, former RPS good boy Nathan Grayson wrote about a dancing, talking banana that ultimately defeated some racist Twitch trolls. I’m tempted to leave that without context, but here you go: the banana was a robot programmed by Mike Nichols to speak aloud whatever people viewing its Twitch stream typed in. Some arseholes succeeded in making it repeat the n-word, and the best thing to come out of all of this is a powerful bit of chat filter code.

Nichols was not so naive as to put his banana on Twitch sans protection. There was a language filter in place, but the GGX gang figured out how to trick it. And while footage of the moment in question got deleted when Twitch banished the banana from the digital airwaves, Nichols had programmed it to log any text people tried to get it to say.

“It was kinda like when there’s a plane accident, and they recover the black box,” he said. “But this time, instead of the pilots saying ‘mayday’ as the plane crashed, they just kept repeating the n-word until the plane exploded.”

For New York Magazine, Brain Feldman wrote a neat ‘so how did that happen? piece on the Han Solo Jason Derulo parody in Kinect Star Wars. I dearly wish I could visit the alternate universe where the game was full of original songs performed in Huttese. Jokes aside though, I can’t argue with the reasoning below.

Ranked second in play count is “Empire Today,” which Afflack had actually expected to be the breakout hit. “They said, ‘You can have any of the effects you want, you can have laser sounds, anything from the library.’ Well, I said, ‘If I can have anything I want, can I have Darth Vader sing?’ And they said yes!”

“I had decided we should try and incorporate Darth Vader’s voice into ‘Y.M.C.A.,’” Harlin recalled. “It was going to be a song about the Empire, so why not include a hooky callback to it? If you have a chance to have Darth Vader sing ‘Y.M.C.A.,’ then why not?”’

Brian Ashcraft cheekily offloaded his journalistic duties for Kotaku onto his son, who he took with him around BitSummit. It’s an indie games event in Japan, and Ashcraft’s article is dotted with his kid’s notes on the games they played. It’s a lovely little insight into what kids find important about the games they play.

It’s fascinating to follow my son around the show. I feel like he’s looking at the games slightly differently than I would. He doesn’t care if the game has already been released or if it’s being debuted for the first time, as you end up doing when covering a show. He’s stopping at whatever catches his eye.

“This looks neat,” he says, stamping Shu on his notebook.

“Yeah, you’re an owl and you can fly around.”

There aren’t many sentences in Bennet Foddy’s look at Mirror Drop over on his blog, though that’s fine because I’m largely linking it so you can ogle the screenshots. The words that are there are pretty good too, mind.

In case it’s not clear by now, one of the things I most like about videogames is that they can have original ‘brainfeel’. Each of the levels in Mirror Drop starts with you feeling totally disoriented, then reconstructing an impossible geometry by floating around it and manipulating an object inside of it. Sometimes you find yourself in spaces where you can turn all the way around without turning 360°. Sometimes you find yourself in spaces that are inside of themselves. And your brain says: ‘alright’. That is a wonderful feeling.

Here’s a little more Foddy, this time talking about mobile games for Google. I’m told he expands on his ‘anti-philosophy’ approach to game making in this episode of Tone Control, which sounds interesting if heretical (I haven’t listened to it yet but I’m looking forward to).

Ashly Burch has a fun one of them Google vids too.

@Annemunition recorded some of the abuse she got from sexist imbeciles while playing Rainbow Six Siege. It’s uncomfortable viewing, but I think it’s important for men to see a taste of what multiplayer gaming is often like for women.

This baby brawling video makes me uncomfortable for different reasons.

EVE’s still EVE-ing.

This is another cracking mechanical tentacle monster.

I feel 120% more chipper after watching this.

I recommend this recommendation thread from Steve Gaynor.

Music this week is Country Joy by the Moulettes.

86 Comments

  1. Frosty Grin says:

    I think the main problem with “Average Cost Per Hour” is that it implies that lower is better and hence the longer the game the better. It’s not always the case, even when the game doesn’t feel repetitive (and hence has good user reviews in addition to low ACPH). It’s especially true when you have a backlog. A 5-15 hour game is more likely to get in front of my line than a 30-45 hour game.

    • Archonsod says:

      It doesn’t really imply anything beyond ‘this is the price of the game divided by the amount of time purchasers played it on average’. Whether a higher or lower figure is more valuable is entirely up to the purchaser.
      All GMG seem to have done is taken the average playtime from Steam (I don’t remember anyone complaining about Steam making those metrics available) and used it to divide the cost of the game, thereby deriving an average price per hour played. It’s kind of why I think Messner’s and similar arguments are somewhat silly – most of what they’re complaining about would be better applied to the ‘average time played’ metric to begin with; the fact GMG have taken the extra step of putting the price per hour derived from it doesn’t really change anything, beyond presumably the need to open calc for those who want a precise figure. Whether it’s a useful metric or not is somewhat moot given the value of a game to the player is entirely subjective to begin with; some people will care about the length of the game (long or short), those same people are likely to consider the amount of content a factor in how much they’re willing to pay for the game. There might even be people for whom this is the only metric they consider, thus living up to the hyperbole. It’s no more or less valid a method of valuing a game than any other.

      • zabieru says:

        It is a bit reductive, though. I mean, you don’t see this for books, do you? They just tell you the price and, y’know, how many pages. You can do the math, or you can include more subjective factors like “sure this is more expensive per page than Moby Dick but I think it’s gonna be a lot more fun to read on vacation.”

        I do like the idea of including average hours played! I think that’s useful for someone to know! (Especially if you go a little deeper: I think the percentage of buyers who never play maybe says more about bundles or sales than the game itself… but the percentage of buyers who play between 1 and 120 minutes is very likely significant: that ought to give you something close to a bounce rate. Doesn’t mean it’s bad, just that you should look a little closer to see if it’s right for you.)

        But put the “average hours played” up on its own. The price is right there anyway, I’m sure anyone who is primarily looking for hours per dollar can get their math on just fine.

        If you want to pretend you’re providing some kind of useful metric, you need to (as the article points out) make sure that you’re comparing apples to apples. Multiplayer games are potentially going to have MUCH higher playtimes than singleplayer ones, as will games with timed idle features (like DA:I’s war table or MGSV’s similar feature).

        Without some visibility/context there, it’s a bit like suggesting that a DVD boxed set with one good and six awful making-of shorts plus the soundtrack is four times as much value as the version that just has the movie. (Maybe more, if you play the soundtrack at parties or leave the movie playing while you’re at work to keep the dogs calm!)

        • Nolenthar says:

          I think eventually what it does is to provide a metric to a user. Arguing that this metric is useful or not, or comparable or not is totally up to the user. If the user compares a MMORPG or multiplayer fps with a single player fps using this metric, he is obviously not getting the full picture but if he is looking for an hourlybinvestment then he is obviously going to get more from Battlefield 5, Destiny or Plunkbat than he is getting from 3 or 4 games like “what remains of Edith Finch”. Whether or not the intensity is comparable is for him to decide.

        • Archonsod says:

          There’s no way of judging how many pages of a book someone reads on average though (unless it’s an e-book, and even then I’ve seen some advertise the average time to read). Arguably giving you the number of pages is the same as saying ‘this is how long the book is’, you could divide that by the price to get a similar figure (unless you’re one of those weird types who don’t actually finish books :P)

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    • ThePuzzler says:

      Low ‘cost per hour’ isn’t a reliable sign of good value. “This game costs £10 and guarantees hundreds of hours of boredom!”

      But high ‘cost per hour’ is a fairly reliable sign of bad value. “This game cost £50 and I completed it in an hour and a half!” Unless the game was a transcendent experience, you were ripped off.

      It can be a useful measure when someone is specifically complaining about a game being too short. “It was fun, but I paid £30 and it only lasted six hours!” That’s £5 per hour. Compared to going to the cinema, that’s not too bad.

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        FhnuZoag says:

        Can you actually think of a lot of games the £50 for one hour applies to?

        Many of my favourite games are in the category of somewhat high costs per hour. For realistic games that people consider buying, I don’t think it’s useful.

        • sosolidshoe says:

          Then ignore it? The problem here is that yourself and a few snotty “games are aaaaaart tho!” types have decided that people aren’t allowed to value quantity. If my budget permits the purchase of, say three normal priced games per year, then you’re damn right this kind of metric is valuable for me in deciding which one to purchase.

          Not everyone has a backlog of 500 pretentious indie games they’ll probably never complete to work through; they get one multiplayer game and a couple of big singleplayer games each year, and they want them to last. You can’t rely on the stated “X number of hours of gameplay” in the marketing because that could be all fun, all vapid busywork, or anywhere in between – average hours played and average cost per hour, though, tell you roughly what actual regular people got out of the product and how much it cost them.

          And yes, they are products, all artworks are products in a capitalist economic system, but especially ones intended for mass-market consumption like most videogames. Live with it.

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            FhnuZoag says:

            But it *could be* all vapid busywork. The fact that people who bought a game played it for a long time doesn’t mean they actually enjoyed even a second of that time. Like, your potential person with a small budget could be way better off buying a shorter game they actually enjoy, and then, when that’s finished, playing one of the bazillions of free games out there. I mean if I was really tight for budget, I would never even touch GMG – I’d just get a humble bundle.

            In the case of multiplayer, because of how prices work and how multiplayer playbases decline, a game with good cost to time played numbers will typically be games late in their lifecycle, where if you hop in now, you will find yourself not having nearly as good an experience.

    • Shadow says:

      People keep trying to find a be-all, end-all metric, which just doesn’t exist.

      Cost/hour is a valid metric, but like any other, it’s not of much use in a void. That’s about the only thing that can be concluded.

      That game’s hundred hours can be filled with interesting content or shameless padding, that “Very Positive” title might provide a remarkable experience or be over before it really gets going, and that best-seller may turn out to be a masterpiece or just the latest cookie-cutter installment of a popular series.

      Metrics are to be judged in conjunction. Otherwise any of them may well be misleading.

  2. Abacus says:

    link to bbc.co.uk

    Worth a mention?

    • heretic says:

      Yeah :( was surprised to only hear about this through mainstream channels (though tbh I only read RPS for games these days – was probably covered by other outlets).

    • Horg says:

      F

      It’s always sad for someone to go out that young but bloody hell he achieved a lot while he was with us.

    • woodsey says:

      I don’t really know the specifics of what made him controversial (beyond some kind of GG relation), but if it’s a point of contention among the RPS staff then it seems better to just leave it alone.

      Especially now that Casey Hudson (of BioWare) has had to publicly rebuke a (former?) employee for making a complete tit of themselves on Twitter.

    • poliovaccine says:

      Ohhh wow, that’s a shame. Not a surprise, but still a shame. Hopefully, for him anyway, this constitutes a relief.

    • Umberto Bongo says:

      Seems especially conspicuous by its absence given that RPS used to have Spotlight on Biscuit – a column basically dedicated to plugging his videos.

    • JohnnyG says:

      Its very odd. I’ve been checking often to see if RPS were at least going to mention the passing of this chap. He did seem to do a lot to promote PC gaming and I swear TB used to be involved in this website in some way.

    • Muzman says:

      Yeah, I feel like I missed something really big if there’s enough to make it impossible to mention.
      I guess it was during ‘the unpleasantness’ but maybe not. He was a bit mercurial on a few issues. I’ve seen him take either side of some smaller women in gaming-based controversies depending on who was a guest on the Co-optional podcast. Disappointing, but didn’t seem enough to damn him completely to me. After a point he seemed to stick to more straightforward stuff like freemium and pre-orders and so forth. But then again I haven’t got an exhaustive record of the guy or anything.

      • pepperfez says:

        I think the reason for the intense reactions is that a lot of people involved in games know — or are — the targets of GarbageGoblin harassment. If you or your friends are regularly getting graphic rape threats in your mailbox, then someone demanding you listen respectfully to the senders looks pretty vile.

        • Muzman says:

          Yeah, people are still sore about it and positions on what it was all about and “who won” etc haven’t really changed in years. It’s the US civil war of the internet. I don’t blame its victims for being angry. It’s an angering wave of stupidity, no denying it. (one that has rippled all the way to the whitehouse and canada and is rippling back with tiki torches, if you ask me).
          My impression of TB was still that he was one of the people who didn’t really understand it and thought it important to “take the gamers’s side” as such people saw it. I understand the impulse somewhat. There were people for whom it wasn’t -entirely- about hating on women and some who weren’t fully aware of their own prejudices and you’ve got to feel like there’s hope there, at least initially. Then I got the impression TB, at least in how he presented himself, was the sort of person who, a lot of the time, changed position or walked away from a topic by forcefully asserting that he was doing none of those things and this had always been his position (he might have been our first gamer pundit in the classic media/politics sense). And that’s not going to make you popular with some folks either. But in the end I think he was one of the lesser and more incidental enablers of the unpleasantness at worst. So I think being mostly alright and then dying horribly tends to put such flaws in the background.

          But, as I said, there might be some outright damning incident I missed. I don’t know.

  3. Freud says:

    I usually check link to howlongtobeat.com before starting a game just to get an idea of game length. It’s important to me, especially as I have completionist tendencies.

    I don’t do it to get a bang-for-bucks idea but more to manage my expectations going in. If I know Deus Exp: Mankind Divided takes on average 30 hours, Brother on average take 3 hours and Xenoblade Chronicles take 120 hours I have some mental preparation for what game it is.

    • Archonsod says:

      The only issue with length to completion is it assumes you’re going to want to complete the game in the first place. Average playtime on the other hand can give you an indicator of quality – if a game claims 40 hours of content yet has an average playtime of 5 hours (or vice-versa) it suggest something ;)

      • Sargonite says:

        Average playtime on the other hand can give you an indicator of quality – if a game claims 40 hours of content yet has an average playtime of 5 hours (or vice-versa) it suggest something ;)

        Your first statement is ridiculous, but you’re very close to understanding it given that your second statement makes way more sense.

        What matters isn’t average playtime – it’s average playtime versus advertised playtime. If the average player is playing a game for half the time it’s intended to be played, that’s definitely a bad sign no matter how long the game is.

        The naive insistence that raw playtime without context is somehow an indicator of quality is baffling.

        • Archonsod says:

          That’s the point – the issue with sites like HowLongToBeat is it promotes meta-gaming (people beating the game purely to record the time for example, rather than playing to enjoy the game).

      • Baines says:

        HowLongToBeat at least realized that a single completion time wasn’t particularly informative, and instead offers a list of different categories for each game. They have three categories for completion amount (main story, story plus extras, completionist) which are crossed with three categories for pace (leisure, rushed, median).

        Mind, this requires active player submissions, which results in a drastically lower sample size than automated raw data collection systems provide.

      • PseudoKnight says:

        Average playtime is misleading for a number of games. It wasn’t even tracked on Steam until March 2008, if I recall correctly, throwing off a number of my own statistics. It counts idle games. It doesn’t count offline games. It sometimes just doesn’t accurately track game time. It does count people who try a game but find it’s not for them, which especially throws off games that people got for free or in a bundle for whatever reason.

        I do like average completion time for story games so that I know what to expect, but not necessarily as a factor for purchasing. Average playtime can be totally misleading as a quality indicator.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      I’m the same. I often use that site to get a sense of how long a game will take. Anything narrative-focused, if I don’t hate it, I will tend to complete at least the main story. I check length, not before buying, but before *playing* to see if I actually have time to play this right now. If it’s a 5 hour thing I might play it in a weekend, but if it’s a huge 50+ hour epic, if I’m busy I might play something else first and leave this one for later.

  4. Kollega says:

    Re: the Star Wars Kinect Dance Party Game Thing… I honestly feel like it’s somewhat appropriate in the context of what Star Wars is. Star Wars, for all the innovation that it brought to cinema and pop-culture when it first came out, is now an inextricable part of said pop-culture, and I’d also say cinema at large. Many, many people all around the world know what Star Wars is, and could probably name characters like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader (and certainly recognize Vader’s dialogue style). And with being part of the foundations for modern popular culture, comes being a source for memes and a punchline for jokes. As the article points out, there are (in)famous GIF animations and videos of dancing Stormtroopers, in spite of the fact that Stormtroopers were originally Vader’s scary doom soldiers – so why should literally all of licensed Star Wars works keep exactly to the original trilogy’s tone and themes? I think that a little fun is perfectly fine to have, as long as it comes with the self-aware disclaimer along the lines of “we are not being serious here, and neither should you”.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      Honestly I’d take Kinect games and dancing storm troopers over Lucas’ “funny” merchandise designed characters any day – Star Wars isn’t exactly camped out on the artistic high ground here.

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      Gnarl says:

      The dislike of Galactic Dance Off always surprised me. I mean half of the characters in it probably [i]would[/i] bust a move given half a chance. I’ll admit it’s probably not super likely that the Emperor is doing the robot in the robes but I could see him waltzing it up, at least in his younger days. But I’d bet my lego Kit Fisto that Lando absolutely tore up the dance floor at every opportunity.

      Star Kinect Wars is probably my favourite non-PC game (sort of) recommended by RPS:-
      link to rockpapershotgun.com

      (The embed in the article doesn’t seem to work anymore, but originally went here:-

      )

      It absolutely has its share of problems, like I’m pretty sure that sometimes it’s trying recognise moves it’s not telling you to do, but the moves flow into each other better than most of the real dancing games. And while only half of the songs have new/any lyrics, the ones that do are amazing and totally canon. As far as I’m concerned. I mean, the article linked above mentions (a couple of times I think) that boogie is switched to wookie, but that takes away from the beauty of “You know this wookie is for real.” And switching ‘Kashyyyk’ for ‘Canned Heat’ is an RPS level quality pun.

  5. Astaa says:

    WoW, PC gamer went horrific. Some sort of pre-warning would be nice, the assault of adverts nearly bricked by phone. Where did it all go so badly wrong for them? I remember reading the magazine in my teens.

  6. Babymech says:

    “Sorry racists, we’ve played for weeks now but I’m sorry, you are going to have go over and play in one of literally thousands of other streams for now.” – RACIST TROLLS ARE CLEARLY ULTIMATELY DEFEATED

    • Beefenstein says:

      Racist trolls were already defeated. This is because their actions have consequences which only demean themselves.

    • shde2e says:

      Speaking of uninhibited douchebaggery, that video from Annemunition showed some pretty revolting behaviour too. And aimed at a human being to boot.

    • Shinard says:

      Maybe not ultimately defeated (well, depends on your meaning, after a long fought battle they were ultimately defeated by the creator), but I’d say you’ve got a tool in their defeat. This whole mess resulted in the creation of an advanced language filter that hundreds of dedicated trolls can’t crack. If that can be rolled out to channels that want to moderate phonetically, that sounds like a troll slayer to me.

  7. Sunjammer says:

    I like how I’m blocked from Steve Gaynor’s thread even though I’ve never said a word to him.

    Twitter is interesting sometimes in how fiercely some of the thought bubbles protect themselves in really broad sweeping ways. I reckon I can probably trace this back, by “intellectual proximity”, to having “arguments” with Leigh Alexander way back (by which I mean “saying anything at all to her”) because ever since I’ve kept bumping into stuff like this.

    It’s really unfortunate how so many joined Twitter, which is a discussion platform, without the intent to partake in discussions and even outrage at being engaged. Clearly I block obvious trolls myself left and right, but I always operate under the assumption that people are not generally actively stupid or heinous. So the idea of subscribing to a sort of curated block list of people ‘we’ disagree with is really worrisome to me, and in many ways has robbed me of a lot of people I considered myself an outspoken fan of. It’s just sad.

    • Beefenstein says:

      “So the idea of subscribing to a sort of curated block list of people ‘we’ disagree with is really worrisome to me…”

      Yes, it is worrisome. It likely indicates that the signal-to-noise ratio is way off and people are having to take desperate measures to make the platform useful.

    • DeepSleeper says:

      It’s interesting that you think in terms of “it’s robbed me of”. It hasn’t robbed them of anything, and it’s their experience they’re curating. Why do you want access to him so badly you feel you’ve been robbed? What makes you feel you have a right to it?

    • Premium User Badge

      FhnuZoag says:

      You don’t have to say dumb things to a person directly to be correctly pegged as an waste of space. I habitually block people in reply threads I find insulting and obnoxious. The fact that you chose to characterise people not liking you as ‘thought bubbles’ and ‘outrage at being engaged’ is the sort of self inflating nonsense that would have led me to click the little drop down arrow and choose block if I saw it.

      That said I had Charlie Stross block me for making a dumb joke at him. Twitter is a platform designed to create conflict and friction. Accept the fact some people will never like you and sometimes that’s unfair.

      • KidWithKnife says:

        “Twitter is a platform designed to create conflict and friction.”

        I really wish more people got that.

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        Ninja Dodo says:

        “Twitter is a platform designed to create conflict and friction.”

        Which is why no one should ever discuss politics on Twitter. It’s literally the least suitable platform of ALL TIME. Not only is everything reduced to nuance-free sound bites, every statement is also a bat-signal to every asshole on the internet who wants to have an opinion about it. When it comes to controversial topics, Twitter is designed for one-liners and hate mobs. The only way to use that platform without losing your mind is to exclusively share and discuss things you enjoy.

        (me I just tweet about games and animation)

    • PseudoKnight says:

      Twitter is NOT a discussion platform. It is a broadcast platform, a sort of mini-blog for the poster and an RSS feed for the readers. You can see this in its asymmetric design with following and followers, and its lack of easy-to-use threading. People can post about the same things, but it has always done a very poor job at fostering discussions. You can give feedback, but not have a good discussion.

  8. Halk says:

    Speaking of game prices, last week I had to print a rollup poster for a game I’m working on, and I was a bit taken aback by the fact that it costs way more than what my game will cost. It’s kind of absurd that a rollup ad costs as much as 3 Hollow Knights, a game that took years of passion and hard work to create.

  9. Titler says:

    Cost per hour? And what is missing from that? Sample size.

    That matters, because a poor game with a tiny audience but a few absolute obsessives will push the ratio of time spent extremely high, which will also be completely inaccurate unless you also become such a hyper-fan yourself.

    And that is before you get into the increasingly dirty tricks being used by both the audience and the industry itself. I’ve mentioned it often enough, but it’s really relevant here too; in my terrible experience with “Shroud of the Avatar”, a near closure game with pathetic concurrency numbers, you’ve got the obsessives who have personally invested 16,000+ hours in some cases. Average retention is off the charts, but actual player numbers are in the pits. But you’ve also got;

    * Real Money Traders in game permanently, but not actually playing, pushing the hours up: Either sitting and waiting for trade offers (and spamming chat with adverts etc) on, or left online to deliberately keep concurrency up to make their business look more secure. In Shroud in particular there’s a feature used to show if a player is in their home, and accounts are being left parked to keep that active to try and draw trade in… in something like WoW, it won’t affect the average Hours to Cost too much. But with only a few hundred players total in Shroud, all that idling does.

    * RMTs purchasing accounts as players quit the game, asset stripping them, and using them as safe “burner” accounts (Ones they don’t mind losing if need be) to either log in for daily rewards to sell, or as bots to farm upon, thus multiplying time listed in game but having only one active user. In Ultima Online once, I saw someone with 6 bots following one user in an automated conga-line… but those bots all count in any sort of playtime measurement.

    * Using those burner accounts to either harass and stalk critics of the game, or metagame wider review scores in it’s favour. You need to have a “history” to convincingly do either, and that means a convincing “play time”.

    If you also know the tiny Shroud community well, you can spot the false reviews by how they attempt to forge being a “real” person by linking themselves in to the exact same group of “friends” (because no one else is playing so they can’t be gained honestly). Then leave the character in Steam for a few hours to look like you’ve genuinely played, leave a fantastically glowing review listing all the things only a long term backer would know about… and then mysteriously, that account immediately stops playing after leaving the review! Shoves up the average played short term though, and makes it look like the game is more popular than it really is again…

    Or in my experience of harassment (over a year and a half now), a long history of time in game makes it harder to prove it’s part of an organised attempt to gaslight you personally, whilst making threats against your family, because people are more likely to trust it, or just not want to risk banning a potential Whale backer.

    * Both the industry itself and motivated players hide the actual costs, to make the value for money side of the equation look more favourable; in Shroud’s case, there’s a Purchase price, but they’ve hidden the game is actually a F2P Macrotransactions based game with a Premium currency. If ever you want property though, you’re going to need to spend the equivalent of $200 or so. That cost isn’t included in the calculations at GMG.

    At one point during launch, they even briefly moved all the Add On Store in game, and openly stated it was because it was putting potential players off. You still had to pay the same money, only now you couldn’t know what unless you at the very least found the Sales NPC in game via the Trial account. And needless to say, RMT players aren’t likely to honestly fore-warn you either…

    * Using Kickstarter, Begathons, SeedInvest, Cross-Promotions, Crypto-Currency, etc and calling it Crowd Sourcing to raise money, without listing it as “Cost” when you don’t want too: All done in Shroud, they’ve actually taken about $20m in funding that we know of, but any calculation of cost to hours played will only use the “Box” price, not how much you might have actually spent over the radically different ways they’ve raised the money.

    I’ve gone on long enough, I think. The sad thing is, with everything becoming increasingly polarised thanks to the internet, we’ll see more and more of this across the entire industry in years to come. I suppose my experience with Kickstarter was a valuable lesson in the dark side of human nature. So in that sense, it was value for money. But I wouldn’t have chosen to spend it that way.

    But who or what can you choose to trust these days?

  10. Smion says:

    My favourite kind of genre is game-journalists being upset that people value other things in games than they themselves do. Wanting to know whether something you buy from your hard-earned money can keep you engaged for a given amount of time is crude capitalist rationalization that refuses to engage the artwork on its own terms but it’s super-important that we get thousands of articles complaining about how Dota matches need to be shorter now that every other journo is a dad.

    • Beefenstein says:

      “My favourite kind of genre is game-journalists being upset that people value other things in games than they themselves do. Wanting to know whether something you buy from your hard-earned money can keep you engaged…”

      Your argument would make sense if cost divided by average play time was actually a measurement of your engagement. Do you measure a film’s worth by how long it is?

      • Smion says:

        The cinema I work at certainly does by charging more for movies above a certain length and the fact that boxsets for TV series generally cost more than a single movie does would imply something similar. I’m not saying that something ‘small’ can’t be as or even a lot more ‘worthy’ than a ‘bigger’ piece of entertainment but sometimes I also want to know I can spend a lot of time with something before having to adjust my caloric intake downwards so I can buy the next five-minutes long Twine game about horny robots being sad.

        • Premium User Badge

          FhnuZoag says:

          Box sets cost more because of cost of media and the relative niche nature of the product. Cinema ticket pricing is about the offsetting having fewer showings in a single day.

          • Smion says:

            And yet, people wouldn’t be willing to actually pay to cover those additional costs if they didn’t feel it was actually worth it and somehow, I don’t think they feel that way because of the numbers of discs but rather because there’s a lot of stuff to watch on them.

          • Premium User Badge

            FhnuZoag says:

            Do you think those box sets sell the same amount of copies, and all films have the same amount of ticket buyers?

          • Premium User Badge

            FhnuZoag says:

            Here’s 4 transformers movies for 10 quid. What a great, engaging deal!

            link to zavvi.com

            Surely this shows the movies are awesome and not you know, they kinda suck and the seller is trying to dump the stock.

          • Smion says:

            If I was at all interested in watching Transformers movies, I’d be a fool not to pick that set and instead buy a single copy of that equally shitty Battleship movie for the same price. How can it blow your mind this fucking much that people are willing to put a certain worth on the quantity of their entertainment as well as the quality when they’re willing to do that for everything else from food to clothes to condoms. It’s not the be-all, end-all but unless you have enough money to buy every game you’re ever interested in playing, it’s a factor.

          • Shinard says:

            If I was at all interested in watching Transformers movies, I’d be a fool not to pick that set and instead buy a single copy of that equally shitty Battleship movie for the same price.

            That, right there, that’s the point he was making. You don’t want to buy Transformers because you know it’s bad. You’d rather buy a good film for the same price, and so your comparison is another bad film. You still choose films based on quality over quantity.

            And yeah, I’m not saying quantity shouldn’t be a factor in games, given the higher entry cost and variance in length. I am saying that it should be a secondary consideration to whether the game is any good, and not be displayed as prominently as review scores on storefronts. Besides which, I think average playtime would be a better metric to display than cost per hour, as the first gives useful information in a neutral way while the second feels to me like more of a quality comparison.

          • malkav11 says:

            I don’t think anyone is arguing that quantity/cost is the only or even the most valuable metric to judge a game on. But I sure do see a lot of people suggesting that it shouldn’t be used at all.

          • Premium User Badge

            Ninja Dodo says:

            @malkav11: I don’t know that people are objecting to mentioning the length of a game; they are objecting to graphing it out as a ratio as if that is some kind of objective measure of worth. I think the hours/dollars attitude among gamers is precisely the reason so many games are drawn out grinds padded with meaningless half-baked ‘content’ just to hit some arbitrary number of hours that supposedly constitutes ‘good value’. This impulse actively makes games *worse*. I’d say that’s why it provokes such strong reactions.

            By all means make expansive epics if that’s what a given game needs, but also let a short game be short if that’s what fits…

          • malkav11 says:

            I agree. Games should be the length that suits what they’re trying to do, and end the moment they’ve run out of worthwhile content to show you. But then, and this is key, they should be priced accordingly. And that’s the value of a quantity/cost metric.

          • Premium User Badge

            Ninja Dodo says:

            I agree to the extent that a 1 hour or 5 minute experimental game should probably not cost 60 dollars/euro/whatever, but I don’t agree that *any* shorter running time should automatically mean less than full price (especially in a world where sales allow anyone to find a price they’re comfortable with eventually). I would gladly pay full price for any 15-20 hour Fumito Ueda game whereas I would usually rather pay 20 or so for a repetitive open world adventure that takes 50-100 hours (only 10-25 of which I’m likely to enjoy). I’ll pay even less for an infinitely replayable multiplayer game as I just don’t enjoy those that much beyond some casual sessions from time to time. Maybe a better metric than play-time is “anticipated level of enjoyment” (which is highly personal and impossible to measure objectively).

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      now that every other journo is a dad

      I can’t believe how many articles are like that. Your personal experiences can be interesting if they’re out of the ordinary, but how utterly boringly mundane.

      Back when we had actual PC gaming magazines and the writers skewed older, I can’t remember anyone talking at length about their boring kids and how being a parent has changed their lives (wow, such novel insight about the human experience).

      Anyway my biggest problem with this is that it’s not obvious how best to measure “average playtime”. If you look at Steam achievements for just about any game, you’ll see that maybe 80% of players make it past the first ten minutes. You’d really have to take the median instead of the mean.

      • Sin Vega says:

        the writers skewed older

        Uh… are you sure? The old pattern was that most game journos were very young because they were cheap and didn’t know better, and would be burned out and/or move to PR by their late 20s, if not sooner.

        • Smion says:

          Over here in Germany, they certainly skewed older but on the other hand, it’s kind of hard to imagine any of them ever having sex so that might have put a brake on the dad-thing for a while.

    • Archonsod says:

      To be fair it’s understandable – they’re game journalists. Just imagine how stupid they must feel when they realise they could have avoided all the hard work and toil of actually coming up with reviews and the like by simply calculating the average cost per hour of the game. Plus all the money they’ve missed out on; it’s not like the numbers need translating, a simple currency conversion app and they could have made a mint by freelancing for every game magazine/site/whatever worldwide :P
      It’s something of a non-issue to begin with. The people who’ll find it useful will find it useful, those who don’t won’t. I doubt any amount of arguing is likely to change anyone’s mind on what they’re really looking for out of a game, and I’ve not seen anyone suggest we scrap all other possible means of qualitatively assessing a game in favour of the One True Metric.

  11. Premium User Badge

    FhnuZoag says:

    The real reason why average cost per game is bad is that it’s a quantitative measure of a categorical trait. Specifically the key differences will not be about the quality of the game, but the type, and within type differences will not correlate well with quality.

    1. Long time wasting games that make money by microtransactions and lootboxes will have better scores than well crafted experiences without microtransactions

    2. Some genres (4x strategy, jrpgs) will inherently do much better than others like single player FPS.

    3. Bad games will have high playtime, if only a few fanatics buy them and play them a lot. Similarly popular games that a lot of people own (because of humble bundle etc) but have few opportunities to play will look terrible.

    I mean, yeah, some people want games that are a lot of bang for their buck. But it would be more useful for those people to look at e.g. 4x strategy games and sort by quality and see if cost makes sense etc, than be shown a list of train sims and farming sims and idle clickers and the odd ultra long visual novel and moba as if they are all interchangeable.

  12. Ham Solo says:

    What is “the n-word”?

  13. Laurentius says:

    How come I had now idea that Kinect Star Wars: Galactic Dance Off – Empire Today exists. That song is dope as shit.

  14. malkav11 says:

    I really don’t know why it’s so hard to understand why it could be useful to have a cost-per-quantity metric even for media where the true value is going to be personal and subjective. Of course it would be stupid and reductive to treat that as the primary determiner of value. But I think most people would agree that there are general expectations about what sort of money one might pay for, e.g. a single song versus an album, a movie versus a single season of television versus a complete series set, or a novella versus a full length novel. Games are more variable in length than most other media so the price versus length equation isn’t quite as defined, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think $60 is too much for a 4 hour campaign (and that’s what Call of Duty typically charges), for example.

    That doesn’t mean I want games to be a given length, just that they should be the length that best suits what they’re doing and then priced accordingly. (Although I prefer short games myself because the odds are much higher I’ll actually get through the whole thing.)

  15. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    With few exceptions most of my best game experiences have been relatively short, 20 hours at most. Many games I completed in 5 or 15 hours I still think about, whereas other games I spent 50-100 hours on I can barely remember. They were enjoyable enough at the time but ultimately not that engaging and what was good about them was spread too thin, repeating themselves over and over.

    It is useful to know the average playtime of a game (if for no other reason than to gauge the time commitment required) but games should not be judged by hours/price… Unless coupled with “how much is this game going to waste my time with meaningless grind and repetition?” it’s a useless metric of worth.

    • Archonsod says:

      Depends entirely on how you define worth and why you play games to begin with. There’s nothing inherently invalid about judging something intended as entertainment by how long it can keep you entertained for, or indeed how much it costs per hour of that entertainment. Particularly if gaming isn’t your only form of entertainment.

      • Premium User Badge

        Ninja Dodo says:

        Did you actually read what I said though? A game can be a 100 hours of boring grind while another can be 5 hours of amazing inventive and varied gameplay that feels perfectly complete. The 100 hour game is for all intents and purposes objectively worse despite having many more hours/dollars. Unless you also know the “density of fun” of a game its length says nothing about its quality.

        You could also watch paint dry for hundreds of hours, doesn’t mean it’s a worthwhile activity. There *are* lengthy or very replayable games that are rich and varied and do not outstay their welcome (eg Witcher 3) but these are the exception.

        • napoleonic says:

          It baffles me so much that the anti-CpH crowd are going to such great efforts to pretend that it is intended as the only measure to consider rather than being just one measure. You surely know that it is only intended as one measure, and therefore every word you say about any other form of measure (e.g. quality, for which CpH is a good proxy anyway) is irrelevant. Can you explain why you continue to talk about things you must know are irrelevant?

          • Premium User Badge

            Ninja Dodo says:

            Because gamers constantly talk (in reviews and comments) as if game length is the ONLY thing that matters. X hours for Y dollars?! lol what a ripoff.

            It’s an ignorant damaging attitude that needs to go away.

  16. syllopsium says:

    The article about cost per hour is a little biased. The idea of ‘consumption’ vs ‘experience’ is sophistry – games are escapism. Do I assess books and films by length vs cost? Yes! This is not restricted to games. Likewise, I might see a film by myself if seeing it with friends was substantially more expensive, and if travel time left little time for post film discussion.

    What I will agree is that length with no other metric is a poor one, and howlongtobeat isn’t much use either.

    What would be useful is ‘what percentage of the game is fun?’. If 20% of the game is grinding, it will fair worse than a game where 95% of it is purely fun.

    A higher cost also necessitates a higher quality product, I’m going to bring No Man’s Sky straight up here as that got a lot of grief. Personally I’ve enjoyed the game so far, but I’m 20 hours in, and spent 15 quid on it. I like the exploration, but boy, space flight sucks majorly. For a forty quid game I’d be annoyed, for fifteen, not so much.

    • GeoX says:

      Do I assess books and films by length vs cost? Yes! This is not restricted to games.

      I suspect you don’t have a lot of company there. That sounds incredibly weird to me.

      • malkav11 says:

        I think people who claim otherwise are in very limited company, like I’ve said above. Oh, I don’t think most people do a cents per page or minute breakdown, that’s a little overly granular. But you won’t generally see publishers charging the same for a 50 page novella as for a 300-400 page novel, nor are you likely to see theaters even bother to show <20 minute film shorts except perhaps as a bundled event around awards season. Why? Because people judge value at least in part based on length. The difference for games is that games aren't currently categorized based on length and so there's less agreement around fair pricing at given length ranges. Thus a cost/hour metric is the best we're going to get for now.

        • Premium User Badge

          FhnuZoag says:

          Publishers will charge more for a graphic novel than a prose book despite the former being a much quicker read.

          A fifty page hardback large print novel will sell for more than a 400 page paperback, also. Editors will also typically cut down the length of manuscripts to improve the quality of the work.

          • malkav11 says:

            All of the things you state are true, but irrelevant to the point I’m making, because there are other factors affecting pricing in the those cases. As to your last point, weirdly enough, it’s possible to have expectations about quantity/cost ratio -and- care about quality as a separate metric. Whoda thunk?

      • syllopsium says:

        I’d be amazed if it’s the other way around. Paperback books, or e-books, have a broadly similar cost unless they’re particularly long. Hardbacks have a premium. Watch people be surprised if an average length book is released on paperback at hardback price.

        As Malkav11 says, films tend to have a minimum length. If you’re unfortunate enough to want to make money from an animation short it will normally only be seen as part of a film festival together with other animation shorts.

        I definitely don’t buy media just on a cost/length ratio; much though I wish I could work less hours for the same pay and fit in time for 200 hour RPGs, it’s unlikely to happen any time soon.

      • napoleonic says:

        I have a one-page short story I would like to sell you for the price of a full novel. Interested?

  17. napoleonic says:

    I have a spreadsheet where I record my games played, how long I’ve spent in them, and how much they cost me (i.e. including sales etc). It has some lovely charts with slick regression curves.

    It’s been helpful in identifying where I am wasting money – it turns out I have a penchant for buying games that cost about £8 thinking they’re a bargain, then not getting much use out of them. Whereas when I buy ultra-cheap games I always get a good amount of use out of them relative to their cost, so I am now more likely to take a punt on an ultra-indies than I had been.

    But mostly I just like spreadsheets.

  18. Rane2k says:

    Regarding the “avg cost per hour” topic:

    Several people in this thread compare this to books and movies.
    This comparison is not useful. When you buy a book or movie you will usually know exactly how long it is, e.g. “416 pages” or “102 minutes”. (Books: You have to factor in your reading speed, but the content is the same for everyone holding the book in their hands)

    In the case of games this depends on many things: Did the persion finish the game or abort (too boring? real life interfered? is it a game that can be finished? did they play through it multiple times?)

    However, I think no one tries to judge the quality of a game by “avg cost per hour” ALONE. It is a mildly useful metric to have and can indicate crass cases such as “60€ for a 5 hour campaign”.

    What I would find more useful are things like:
    “how long is an average playthrough”
    “how long is a 100% playthrough”

    For example I nowadays steer away from long RPGs (60h+) because these games then dominate my gaming time for several months. (Pillars Of Eternity 2 might do this, I kickstarted it so I will at least start playing it, first one was very good.)

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