As much as I view video games as a form of art, the industry is still a business. The current industry standard hovers around $60 for a triple-A title, give or take, not counting any special editions or collections. I’ve personally noticed indie games cost less, but other than that, play time is not a huge factor–or is it?
Let’s set up some examples to start. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild clocks in at about 50 hours for the main story line, but can be played well past 200 hours. It costs the standard $60. Players can finish God of War in about 25 hours, but play time can easily stretch to 50 if desired. It was $60 upon release, while the standard edition now costs $20. Both are Game of the Year recipients. Meanwhile, What Remains of Edith Finch is only 2 hours at $20 and Undertale runs at 6 to 20 hours at $15. All are fantastic games worth playing. While you can see a slight pattern of cost to hours, that’s not necessarily proof of causation.
There are several factors at play, including discounted cost over time. While Nintendo generally never lowers their first party games’ price, other companies don’t mind discounting past hits such as God of War. Another factor is side content. In an open-world sandbox game, do you count hours of game play when exploring or checking off side-missions? As mentioned earlier, you can also see a pattern of cost between blockbuster triple-A titles versus indie titles. Finally, we have to chalk it up to one’s taste. Some gamers balked at The Last of Us II, claiming it was padded with too much unnecessary content. That title costs $60 at approximately 25 hours of game play. Sure, that seems on par with God of War, but if some critics had it their way, the game would have been shorter. If it was only a 10 hour game, would a $60 price tag still hold up?
This Boss Rush Banter question is one that could veer down multiple rabbit holes, but to keep this on track, my answer is: there is no magic number of hours that justify a purchase price. It costs about 30 cents/hour for a 200-hour run on Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and $1.20/hour for main storyline while What Remains of Edith Finch breaks down to about $10/hour. It’s grossly disproportionate because if you flip the script and apply the $10/hour to Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild…Well, that’s a $500- 2000 game.
With that being said, is a two hour game worth buying, even if it’s on the inexpensive side? It could be! What Remains of Edith Finch is a very highly rated game, and it does not need additional content to make it worth its $20. I won’t name names, but I’ve also sank endless hours into a game, and by the end, I rubbed my hand over my face and muttered, “It wasn’t worth it.”
To wrap things up, play time and price has been and will always be debated. Price bumps in future titles may be inevitable, and one has to wonder–will developers feel pressured to add more content to justify to cost? I personally feel that if the quality is there, there is no amount of hours that matter. A great game is a great game, and will always be worth the purchase, whether at 2 hours or 200 hours.
If you’re interested in this topic, I highly recommend another Banter piece by our own Dan Murphy where he dissects the question “Are We Paying Too Much for Digital Games”? It’s an incredible article, so check it out if you haven’t done so already.
How many hours justify a game for you? Let us know your thoughts on our Discord channel! We’d love to know!