In 2016, I kept track of every game I played. People liked it, so in 2017, I upped the ante and kept track of every second and every penny spent on games--both videogames and tabletop games. If you like games and want to keep liking them and playing them happily, don't do this.
If you don't care about words and just want my data, go for it.
If you care a little bit about words, but not too much, I get it. Here's my main point: games should entertain, inspire, or both at all times. If a game is just dragging you along or employing you in repetitive tasks just for "rewards," stop playing. Get what you want out of your time and your life, don't get tricked out of it by someone else's greed.
If you care about words enough to read a lot of words, please, come with me....
For those of you still here, let me give you some fun facts first. In 2017:
- I played games for 744 hours, 18 minutes, and 26 seconds
- I spent $827.10 on games
- I "made" $360 by selling old game stuff (Wii U, 3DS, and games)
- My net investment in games was $467.10
- On average, gaming cost me $0.63 per hour for the whole year.
- I played 125 unique games across 16 platforms
- 2016's total was 147 games across 10 platforms
Now, allow me to assume some of your questions and answer them:
How did you keep track of everything, though?
- I paid $3 for an app called Multi-timer on my phone that lets you have over 100 stopwatches at once. I created a new stopwatch for every game I played, then started the stopwatch either as I opened the application (for videogames) or opened the box (for tabletop games). I stopped timing when I closed the application or closed the box.
Didn't you forget or screw up so your time isn't really accurate?
- Yes, sometimes, but I did everything I could to adjust for that. The app I used keeps a record of when stopwatches were started and stopped, so if I accidentally left a stopwatch running all night (the most common mistake I made), I could check when I started it and when I went to bed and create a timer to count down the difference in the two times. When the timer ran out, I would start the stopwatch again. For other mistakes (forgetting to start the stopwatch), I would just do estimates of how long I had been playing and add that to the time.
Oh, so it's not 100% accurate?
- No, it's not. You got me. I basically made this all up. I don't even like games.
Okay, but why did you do this?
- The short answer is curiosity.
- The long answer is I really like games (even have a master's degree to prove it) but I also have a family and a religion and a job and other interests I really like, and balancing time and budget for all those things is complicated. There's always this fog of suspicion when I tell people I play games, a lingering "Okay, but isn't that a huge waste of time and don't you have a family and a religion and a job and other interests you really like?" Or more simply, "Haven't you grown out of that yet?" While my answer to these people's faces always tries to be educational and eye-opening in nature--stuff like how games have grown as an artistic medium, can foster empathy, or are a great way to connect with family and friends who are physically distant--the truth is I ask myself the same questions constantly. Getting my degree was supposed to lead to a job in games and then it would all make a lot more sense (playing games is now "research"), but to keep the balance with all those other things, I ended up not taking a job in games after school, and suddenly I had to ask those questions more seriously every time I went to play more games. So I wanted to know exactly how much time and money games were taking from me. It felt like a lot, and it's easy to call it too much from the outside, but I wanted real data to evaluate for myself.
- Also, I'm a nerd.
Do you think your results are typical of gamers generally?
- The short answer is I have no clue, but yeah, maybe.
- The long answer is I think maybe for gamers with similar demographics to me, and I think most gamers have pretty similar demographics to me in a lot of ways. I'm male, white, 27 years old, have a full-time job, and a wife. I work for a tech startup so sometimes my hours are weird and long, but not all the time, and I make a pretty average salary. Unlike most 27-year-olds, I have two kids, so that puts me outside the average a bit, but there's also plenty of gamers a little older than me who have children. Of course, I already mentioned that I have a master's degree in game production, which is definitely not average, but since I don't work in the industry or otherwise do anything for the industry, I think that actually isn't all the relevant to my gameplay habits at this point in my life. One other thing that pumps my results slightly off average is that I have a friend who does marketing for Ubisoft and was able to get me free keys to 3 games this year: Ghost Recon Wildlands, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and Assassin's Creed Origins. Combined, however, those games only account for a total playtime of 14:39:18, so they didn't have a very significant impact on my playing. If I hadn't got them for free, I maybe would've bought Assassin's Creed but probably would've ignored Mario +Rabbids. And even after getting it for free, I never actually played Wildlands. I almost did a couple times, though. Almost. Finally, I don't have a good gaming PC, so I'm a console peasant. That probably screws up my average pretty drastically for my demographics. Sorry, corporate data bots using me to harvest marketing insights.
What's your game of the year?
- Super Mario Odyssey, with a very close second-place tie going to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Horizon Zero Dawn.
- Honorable mentions: Uncharted: The Lost Legacy and Pyre
Which games did you play the most?
- I played 10 games for over 20 hours this year. Here they are in order:
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - 80:26:15
- Destiny 2 - 78:21:28
- Horizon Zero Dawn - 68:40:00
- Super Mario Odyssey - 50:09:16
- Injustice 2 - 48:18:31
- Overwatch (PS4) - 41:05:49
- Stardew Valley (Switch) - 31:41:30
- Fortnite - 28:18:26
- Fire Emblem Heroes - 23:56:50
- Pyre - 22:00:18
Which game did you play the least?
- The honor goes to Math Battle, a game you can play in the messaging app Telegram. I played it for a full 0:01:20. We use this app at my work and someone found this game and sent it around one day. As you can tell, I really enjoyed it.
If you kept track of total cost per hour, did you do that for each game? If so, which games were lowest and highest cost per hour?
- Great question. I did indeed keep track of that.
- For the 12 "full games" I purchased in 2017 (meaning I could not play the game until I paid money for it in 2017, as opposed to playing for free, playing a previously purchased game, or only paying money for extra content), here's the bang I got for my buck, cheapest to most expensive (cost is per hour of play in 2017):
- Pyre - $0.42
- Stardew Valley - $0.51
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - $0.65
- Destiny 2 - $0.75
- Super Mario Odyssey - $1.01
- Injustice 2 - $1.32
- Mass Effect: Andromeda - $1.56
- Mario Kart 8 Deluxe - $3.06
- Pokken Tournament DX - $3.38
- Dragonwood: A Game of Dice and Daring - $3.48
- Star Wars Destiny - $4.44
- Star Wars Battlefront II (Classic, 2005) - Divide by 0 error. I paid $3.39 and didn't play it at all in 2017.
- There's two pretty clear trends to this list:
1. Good indie videogames are quite the bargain and provide huge value to the player in terms of cost per hour of entertainment. If you need to game on the cheap, good indies are 100% the way to go over free-to-play games, in my opinion.
2. Tabletop games are an expensive hobby for me, when compared to videogames. I'm just not going to get the playtime out of a new board game that I would out of pretty much any videogame. I would bet this is true for most people who play both types of games regularly.
1. I will say, however, that board games have a much, much longer tail to their life cycle than videogames. I will still bust out board games from 4 or 5 years ago on game night, but it's very rare that I'll play through a videogame when it comes out and then play it again 4 or 5 years later.
What surprised you the most?
- The fact that I somehow played 125 games, but only spent money on 14 of them. One thing to keep in mind is that I've been a "hardcore" gamer for 4 years now (talking in terms of money and time spent, definitely not skill), so I've built up a collection and friends and family have clued into games as good gifts for me, so by now the engine is running and games are just constantly all around me. If you were to start from zero and start getting into games as much as I am, the cost seems crazy to me right now. (Although, obviously, I've payed it, so, I guess not?)
You said if I like like games, I shouldn't keep track of them like you did. Why did you say that?
- Doing this...thing...had a lot of weird effects on my gameplay habits. Let me start with a couple positive ones:
- Being a dad, a lot of my game time is squeezed in between other things. Having the extra step of turning on the stopwatch and turning it off and making it feel formal turned me off of a lot of opportunities for short little gaming sessions, or from the interrupted gaming sessions that are the hallmark of any dad gamer--playing about 30 seconds, pausing, maybe a minute, pausing, maybe 2 minutes this time, pausing. Every pause in that sequence is usually something pretty urgent or immediate--a diaper change, spilled cheerios, etc. It feels pretty dumb to have to pause, pull our your phone, pause that, then deal with the screaming kid. In the end, it's probably better that I just wasn't playing games and paying more attention, so this one was overall positive, I think.
- It also pushed me to get more out of the games I did purchase. Every new game meant a new stopwatch, a new record in my spreadsheet, and, if I had to buy it, more money on my tally. I really liked the idea of having my game time be under $1/hour for games overall, and for each individual game as well. I liked having the easy gauge of, "Well, will I play it for 60 hours? No? Then it probably isn't worth $60." I also would give the games I did buy more time just because I wanted to get more value out of them, which I think was particularly helpful with Injustice 2, a game that I honestly enjoyed for myself, but since no one I play with stuck with it, I normally would've abandoned quickly. Wanting to get the cost per hour down gave me the extra boost I needed to keep playing it even after everyone else had moved on, and I was still enjoying it, so that was a win for me.
- I will say that there are some merits to this system, but it's also quite problematic. Quality and taste definitely affect my enjoyment of a game. For instance, one of my favorite games of the year, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, I only played for 9:09:06. I didn't pay anything for it in 2017 because I bought the Uncharted 4 triple pack, meaning I got Lost Legacy for "free," but even if I paid the full retail of $40 for it, it would've been worth it to me. It's a great game, with great mechanics, story, acting, and technical achievement, and, most importantly, it didn't waste my time. That means more to me than ever in a year that most games started to feel like they were employing me rather than entertaining me. (Looking at you, Destiny 2.)
- Okay, so there were some positive things about it. But there was also negative aspects to this experiment thing:
- I felt a little trapped by my own restrictions. I felt like if I couldn't play for a good chunk of time, it wasn't really worth playing at all. I like bouncing around between games and just seeing new mechanics, but having to keep records of everything made every game feel like a commitment, so I played it more safe overall and feel like I missed out on some games I might have enjoyed (Nier:Automata, Nioh, Persona 5...).
- Thinking about games in terms of time and money all the time made me start to look at them differently. Rather than helping me evaluate rationally if games were worth my time, this experiment just seemed to constantly reinforce that no, games are not worth my time, and really, they're all so similar that once you've played one, it seems like you don't really owe time to them anymore. Whereas two years ago I considered myself an almost exclusively single-player focused gamer, this experiment made me much more focused on multiplayer games, because they feel more productive--they feel like at least I'm developing a skill, learning how to outplay other real humans. Also, they allow me to talk to friends and family, which felt more positive than just playing a game by myself. (Confession time: I don't really like Fornite all that much, despite spending over a day playing it this year. My brother and my game crew love it so much that I happily play it once or twice a week, because I like hanging out with them, and that game is great at letting you just run around and hang out and chat--with just the occasional interruption by sudden bursts of gunfights.) By the end of the year, single-player open-world games felt like a huge waste of time--they're all just roam, stab/shoot, collect, watch movie, repeat. Unless the mechanics are superbly implemented and open to emergent play (Zelda) or the story is truly thought-provoking (Horizon), games like Assassin's Creed just felt pointless, especially because I got Assassin's Creed for free, while other games I had purchased were still above the $1/hour mark. Even Horizon's DLC felt pointless when I tried to play it, because it just felt like more of the same, and it didn't seem to be making me think in any new ways. Basically, this whole thing really skewed my perception of games and made me feel like I had quotas on everything all the time. I even ended up playing like 6 or 7 rounds of Star Wars Destiny with myself just to try to get the cost per hour down. I don't care what anyone says, playing a trading card game with yourself is not actually fun. It's just a dream of playing it with someone who would actually care about playing a trading card game with you. And that's more sad than fun.
- I was constantly stressed that I had forgot to turn on or off a stopwatch. Like, constantly. I checked the stopwatches 2 or 3 times during and after playing any game just to make sure, because trying to correct a mistake was such a hassle and such a juggle of trying to sort out exactly how far I was off, etc.
If it was so bad, why did you stick with it?
- Pretty much just because I said I would do it, so I was going to do it. I feel like that's valuable as a human. Also, I was curious. And I'm a nerd. Otherwise, yeah, there was no point to any of this and I have no idea why I actually stuck with it for the whole year.
So what did you conclude/learn/whatever? (I still don't really understand why you did this.)
- After forcing myself to look this closely at the time and money I spend on games, I've decided that in the end, the best games do only 2 things: entertain and inspire. The second a game is not doing at least one of those two things, stop. Seriously, just stop. Examine why you aren't entertained or inspired, then watch out for those patterns in other games, and don't play those games. Don't buy them, don't start them, don't give them any more attention than they deserve. This was a turbulent year for games, as gamers and governments both started to question loot boxes and the practices of game developers to suck the most out of gamers' wallets and clocks. While getting that fancy master's degree I bragged about earlier, we read a book called Addiction By Design about all the tricks of the slot machine and casino trade to keep people hooked. This year, I've watched game publishers use some of the same tricks. In Vegas, they'll give you a meal ticket when you're down a lot of money to keep you playing. In videogames, they carefully choreograph the "free" loot drops so that it's just frequent enough to make you want to "save time" and buy more. The worst videogames do 2 things as well: drag and drive. They drag you along, using the promise of stuff to keep you playing even after the actual play experience has ceased being entertaining or inspiring. They drive you like cattle by simply putting you to work for your "rewards" rather than delighting you with true content. As indie games started to rise, I thought they were just nostalgia fests and people were just blinded by their memories of childhood games, but this year, my opinion has changed. Look at some of the best indie games of the past few years and you see a clear pattern: they're just games. They entertain, inspire, or both, and they don't waste your time or try to trick you out of your money. In fact, look at some of the best AAA games and you'll see the same thing. (I'll admit, making that second list was much harder, and even some of those picks are controversial--is The Witcher 3 so big that it disrespects your time? Is any open world game inherently a time suck simply because you have to travel so much between places instead of just playing? I know you can buy stuff in MGSV, I just never felt even a little bit of need to do so, and the core gameplay was so entertaining and inspiring that I doubt any significant number of players ever did. Also, I realize Uncharted's multiplayer is full of microtransactions and loot boxes, but it's not on the list for the multiplayer.) Other games were very close to making that list, but the Skinner box or simply the drive to grind has sneaked in just enough to make me uncomfortable.
- If this experiment taught me anything, it's that I want to be purposeful with my time. I want to enrich my life with my choices, not get sucked into doing things, then wake up and regret my decisions. Games are so frustrating because they jump around that line so much and so often. Destiny has some of the best gunplay of any videogame I've ever played, but man, do I hate myself for how many public events I've done this year. Assassin's Creed Origins was so painstakingly done that it predicted a real discovery before it happened, but what do you get when you play the game? Loot, loot, loot, blue, purple, blue, blue, yellow. The world used to worry that violence would keep games from ever amounting to anything of real cultural value, now I worry that greed will.
Finally, are you going to do this again in 2018?
There's more I want to say, but I think I'll stop now and just publish this thing because I want to move on. If you read this whole thing, wow, thank you. If you have more questions you want answered, leave a comment and I'll gladly respond.
Now go forth, and be entertained and inspired, but never dragged or driven.
Have a great 2018.