The value proposition of a video game is not always easy to ascertain. One way to measure success is to look at the average and median playtime hours as a function of price. To that end, we took a look at data collected from Steam -- the largest digital distribution platform for PC gaming. Our analysis allowed us to see which of the over 3,300 titles provided players with the most hours of enjoyment for every dollar paid. In other words, we looked at which games provided gamers with the most bang for their buck.
Note: We are not trying to draw a correlation between number of hours played and enjoyment. We recognize the fact that some games are intended to be short and players can still find them to be good and enjoyable. The purpose of this study is to simply analyze the relationship between hours played and a game's price.
When measuring cost-effectiveness we looked at two metrics: average and median playtime per dollar spent. The median value accounts for niche games that have a small and dedicated fan base. Hardcore gamers can spend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours playing a game they enjoy. While it's worth highlighting these titles for the audiences that enjoy them, it's important to distinguish between the two. The perfect example of this is EVE Online. Some have described the game as "filling out spreadsheets" and it is certainly an acquired taste. It can take hours before a player begins understanding the mechanics. However, those who do play the game consistently have put in a high number of hours into it. Unsurprisingly, the game has a high average, and low median.
For the most part, online games tend to score well on average playtime. Seven out of the top ten most cost-effective games were multiplayer-focused, compared to just three on the median playtime top ten list.
*We excluded Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn from the list. Normally, the game would have placed in the 7th spot. However, it charges a monthly subscription fee which further adds to its cost after the base price is paid.
It’s also interesting to note that three games -- Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Multiplayer, and Terraria -- managed to cross over both sides.
We also wanted look at whether paying more for a game increased an individual’s odds at getting more playtime hours out of it. There was a positive correlation of about 0.4 between the price of a game and median time played, and 0.3 when it came to average time played. In both cases, the relationships were too weak to imply any trend. Unfortunately for consumers, paying top dollar for a video game does not provide a strong guarantee that they will get a large number of hours of the product.
The graph below shows the distribution of games on Steam, and graphs them as a function of price and average playtime. The size each point represents the number of current players at a random point in time. Ideally, products should be located in the bottom right -- in this space, games are on the cheaper side of the spectrum while also providing a high number of average hours. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is the most notable example. Football Manager 2016 and Arma 3 were the clear winners among games priced at $49.99 and above.
The yellow trendline allows us to see the average relationship between price paid and average playtime. Games to the right of the line performed above average, while those on the left scored worse.
All Steam users know that the price of games on the platform is not fixed. The figures we considered for this study looked at the cost per game on a given day – in this case that was April 19, 2016. However, the performance of each title may differ based on whether or not a permanent or seasonal discount is applied.
To that end, we took a look at the some of the most popular titles on Steam, and see what their cost-effective value is, when compared against the average cost per hour of gameplay -- in this case players could expect to pay $0.28 per hour. Therefore, the cost-effective value here is the price of each title, if it were scaled to that average benchmark figure.
|Game||Price ($)||Average Playtime||Hours / $||Cost-Effective Value|
|Counter-Strike: Global Offensive||14.99||245.03||16.35||68.33|
|Football Manager 2016||49.99||191.3||3.83||53.34|
|Europa Universalis IV||39.99||171.5||4.29||47.82|
|Sid Meier's Civilization V||29.99||165.11||5.51||46.04|
|Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - Multiplayer||9.99||153.25||15.34||42.73|
|Total War: ROME II - Emperor Edition||59.95||119||1.98||33.18|
|Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 - Multiplayer||19.99||112.04||5.60||31.24|
|The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim||19.99||110.56||5.53||30.83|
|Pro Evolution Soccer 2016||49.99||105.08||2.10||29.30|
|Mount & Blade: Warband||19.99||103.39||5.17||28.83|
|Crusader Kings II||39.99||102.04||2.55||28.45|
|Empire: Total War||19.99||98.53||4.93||27.48|
|Grand Theft Auto V||59.99||97.48||1.62||27.18|
|ARK: Survival Evolved||29.99||92.55||3.09||25.81|
|Call of Duty: Black Ops II - Multiplayer||19.79||87.02||4.40||24.27|
|Call of Duty: Black Ops - Multiplayer||19.99||79.26||3.96||22.10|
|Farming Simulator 15||24.99||76.27||3.05||21.27|
|Total War: ATTILA||44.99||75.48||1.68||21.05|
|Total War: SHOGUN 2||29.99||74.5||2.48||20.77|
|Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword||9.99||69.05||6.91||19.25|
|The Sims(TM) 3||19.99||65||3.25||18.13|
|Company of Heroes 2||34.99||64.56||1.85||18.00|
|Call of Duty: Black Ops III||35.99||59.53||1.65||16.60|
|Napoleon: Total War||19.99||59.39||2.97||16.56|
|Fallout: New Vegas||9.99||59.07||5.91||16.47|
|Life is Feudal: Your Own||23.99||57.41||2.39||16.01|
|7 Days to Die||24.99||57.2||2.29||15.95|
|Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege||40.19||56.12||1.40||15.65|
|Medieval II: Total War||19.99||56||2.80||15.62|
|Euro Truck Simulator 2||22.99||54.24||2.36||15.12|
|Arma 2: Operation Arrowhead||19.99||50.52||2.53||14.09|
|XCOM: Enemy Unknown||29.99||50.3||1.68||14.03|
|Hearts of Iron III||9.99||48.36||4.84||13.49|
|Men of War: Assault Squad 2||7.49||47.16||6.30||13.15|
|Sid Meier's Civilization III: Complete||4.99||45.54||9.13||12.70|
|Mass Effect 2||19.99||43.19||2.16||12.04|
|Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag||29.99||42.43||1.41||11.83|
|Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition||19.99||42.12||2.11||11.75|
|From The Depths||19.99||41.41||2.07||11.55|
|Craft The World||18.99||40.24||2.12||11.22|
|Primal Carnage: Extinction||19.99||40||2.00||11.15|
|Supreme Commander 2||12.99||37.57||2.89||10.48|
|Left 4 Dead 2||19.99||37.35||1.87||10.42|
|Left 4 Dead||19.99||36.47||1.82||10.17|
|Reign Of Kings||19.99||35.33||1.77||9.85|
|Call of Duty: World at War||9.99||35.14||3.52||9.80|
|Rome: Total War||9.99||34.59||3.46||9.65|
|Plants vs. Zombies: Game of the Year||4.99||34.45||6.90||9.61|
|Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition||19.99||34.36||1.72||9.58|
|Age of Empires II: HD Edition||19.99||34.16||1.71||9.53|
|Counter-Strike: Condition Zero||9.99||33.37||3.34||9.31|
|The Binding of Isaac||4.99||31.32||6.28||8.73|
|Day of Defeat: Source||9.99||31.22||3.13||8.71|
|Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance||14.99||31.06||2.07||8.66|
|Mordheim: City of the Damned||19.99||30.21||1.51||8.42|
|Empyrion - Galactic Survival||17.99||30.16||1.68||8.41|
|FINAL FANTASY VIII||11.99||30.06||2.51||8.38|
|Thea: The Awakening||19.99||28.39||1.42||7.92|
|Saints Row: The Third||5.09||26.46||5.20||7.38|
|FTL: Faster Than Light||9.99||26.19||2.62||7.30|
|Town of Salem||4.99||26.09||5.23||7.28|
|FINAL FANTASY VII||11.99||26.05||2.17||7.26|
|Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2||9.99||24.15||2.42||6.73|
|Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare||9.99||23.41||2.34||6.53|
|Heroes of Might & Magic III - HD Edition||14.99||22.58||1.51||6.30|
|Saints Row IV||5.09||20.1||3.95||5.60|
|The Witcher: Enhanced Edition||9.99||15.2||1.52||4.24|
|Risk of Rain||9.99||14.59||1.46||4.07|
|The Banner Saga||4.99||8.57||1.72||2.39|
|Saints Row: Gat out of Hell||5.09||7.26||1.43||2.02|
The data we looked at was collected by SteamDB and SteamSpy. The former published statistics about the current active number of players per game, while latter makes available the average and median playtime, as well as the current price of each product.
The dataset we looked at contained 3,337 titles. When comparing games based on average playtime per dollar spent, we narrowed down the selection to look at games currently being played by over 500 individuals, and costing at least $1. Free games were excluded from the analysis, since they do not represent any sort of monetary investment on the part of the consumer. If one does not consider in-game purchases, these products are free. The average and median playtime, as defined by Steamspy, is the “hours played in total per person that have actually launched this game since March 2009”.
One major limitation of the data is the fact that averages could be thrown off by individuals simply keeping their game running while not playing. Secondly, the prices analyzed are current prices on Steam for each product. The platform is famous for discounting their games in seasonal sales. Furthermore, games that have scored high on this list could have, at one point, cost significantly more, thus affecting their 'per dollar' score. It's important to keep these considerations in mind when reading through the report.
Also, keep in mind that games that have been out for a longer period of time have an advantage in terms of average/median playtime. Over time, some of the titles listed here can improve their standing as players have more time to spend with them. In some instances, however, that doesn't seem to matter. Stardew Valley, for example, performs better than Rainbow Six Siege, despite being released close to three months after it. To minimize the effect of a game's release, we only looked at games released in 2015 or before.