The Price of Gaming


The relationship between money and entertainment has been a contentious issue for as long as there has been money. The concept of swapping a physical item for a representation of wealth makes sense, but when you give up your representation of wealth for something that is transient, people start having difficulties. In Shakespeare’s day, you could go to the theatre for a penny, or you could pay more to get a seat if you didn’t want to stand. People were probably sitting at home weighing up three hours of entertainment for a penny against buying a pie the next day. Fast forward four hundred years and I’m weighing up getting an indie game off Steam for a few pounds against getting some snack food on the way home from work tomorrow. How times have changed.

Often I’ll find myself baulking at the ridiculous cost of various forms of entertainment. A cinema ticket regularly costs £10, a theatre/comedy/concert ticket £25, a new video game costs £35-50. That seems outrageous, but it’s the situation we’ve been in for a long time. Starwing on the SNES cost over £50 at launch, N64 games regularly ran from £50-60. Adjusting for inflation, a game bought at £50 in 1992 (the Super Nintendo launch in the UK) would cost £84.90 now.

So in a way, we’re actually getting the games slightly cheaper now than we used to. This is for plenty of reasons, discs are cheaper than cartridges to manufacture, can be printed in factories all over the world, and games sell millions more so publishers can charge less per unit. But still, when I went to have a look at a Wii-U in Game the other day, the only bundle available was £400. For that you got the deluxe Wii-U, a charging cradle, a pro controller and Zombi-U. I couldn’t justify that in my head so I left empty-handed. £400 is a holiday, it’s all my Christmas shopping, it’s all my bills for a month, it’s a new guitar, it’s petrol for nearly half a year.

We all do this kind of mental arithmetic when it comes to purchasing, and with entertainment it becomes more complicated. I generally think of it as a rough relationship between time and money. A cinema ticket costs £10 for around two hours entertainment. If we used that as a standard, a ticket to a theme park at £40 is reasonable for a full day’s entertainment. We’re saying to be entertained we are happy to pay £5 an hour. I really do use this kind of thinking in my everyday life. I’m happy to spend £500 on a TV because I’m going to use a TV for more than 100 hours. Similarly I spent £500 on my current PC which I have had for a year. Not counting time spent maintaining the website, looking at sites, doing work and watching films etc using it (I could have done all of those things on my old laptop or my phone) I have spent 536.7 hours in the last year playing games through Steam. That’s not counting World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, The Old Republic, Far Cry 3 or Battlefield 3 which would add much more to it. In those terms this PC is incredibly good value for money. Makes me feel better about planning my next one.

We can then start to use this equation to say how much we should be willing to spend on things. A weekend break away? That’s around 72 hours so anything cheaper than £360 each is a bargain. A new car? Well assuming you’ll keep it for six years and drive around an hour a day on average you should be willing to spend £10,950 on it.

So how does all this work out for video games? Looking at my time played on Raptr, I seem to play most games for around twenty hours. That means I should be prepared to pay £100 for them, so using the cinema standard they are incredibly good value. World of Warcraft’s subscription of £8.99 is worth it if you play for just under two hours a month. If I got the Wii-U it should be worth it as long as I can play it for 80 hours or more. I’ve apparently played DayZ for 80 hours. As I had to pay around £25 for ArmA 2 so I could play it I’ve paid around 31p for each hour of entertainment that mod has brought me.

Of course all of these numbers are very abstract, and meaningless without a broader context. Games aren’t just entertainment time, they actively take up time I might be doing other things, spending more money or even earning money. I also have a finite amount of time each month and a finite amount of money. Games fluctuate in price ridiculously, and the amount of time you would want to play them. I’ve finished some games in four hours and never wanted to touch them again, I’ve paid £1 for some titles and £80 for others. I’ve played games for 20 hours and never really enjoyed them, and I’ve played games for 6 hours and loved every second.

You’ve also got to factor in the quality of different ways to spend your time. Games are a waste of time, it might be upsetting but it’s true. You are not producing anything, you will not look back on it as time spent well. Time playing games would be better spent learning something, creating something, or getting to know loved ones. But variety is good, and there are far worse ways to waste time. I strongly believe games are more beneficial than watching TV, Films or reading. I do all of those things, but gaming makes you think, is social in its own funny way, and doesn’t hurt anyone.

If I wanted to be entertained for four hours every evening using my £5/hour rule, each month I would need an entertainment budget of £600, which I couldn’t possibly afford. Filling that time with games would cost around £240, assuming I bought all the games at full price, never traded anything in, and enjoyed every game I bought for 20 hours. There are much more economic ways to spend your time, like drawing, learning an instrument or visiting friends. But overall gaming isn’t too expensive for what it is.

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