Are indie games better value than AAA games?

This post started life as a debate with friends about whether big triple-A games are better value than cheaper indie games. We didn’t have data, the debate was just opinions. But it stuck with me, so I decided to collect data to prove I was right. 🙂

The plan was to plot time I spend playing games against how much money I spent on them, and use the clear correlation to prove my point. That didn’t work. I didn’t find much of a pattern, but it’s been a while since I’ve done this sort of quantified-self thing and collecting the data was a pain so I’m sharing it anyway!

To start with, this graph plots the cost of each game (x axis) against the number of hours I’ve spent playing them (y axis).

Cost against Hours played – click for larger version

The two outliers, if you’re interested, are Rocket League (top dot on the left) and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (top dot on the right).

Is there a pattern there? The outliers screw the y-axis a bit, but if you ignore them maybe there is a bit of a trend.

What if I plot cost-per-hour instead? That would be a better description of “value” anyway. Spending £5 on a game that I play for 20 hours is better value than spending £20 on a game that I play for 30 hours.

This graph plots the cost of each game (x axis) against the cost-divided-by-number-of-hours-played (y axis).

Cost against Cost per hour – click for larger version

Not much of a trend here, either. I was hoping there would be a clear difference between the cost-per-hour of the indies on the left and the AAA’s on the right.

I guess if there is a conclusion, it’s that, ignoring a few outliers, all games seem to be in the same cost-per-hour ballpark.

Including the time that my kids spend playing the same video games maybe gives a more accurate view of the value we get from buying a game.

This plots the price against the total number hours we’ve all spent.

Cost against Hours played (family) – click for larger version

It doesn’t really change the graph much, as games they played a lot (e.g. Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey) are games I’ve played a lot too. It mostly stretches out the y-axis a bit.

If you can think of something interesting or enlightening to do with the data, I’ve put it on Google Sheets.

There are plenty of flaws here in this as an attempt to answer the question. For one thing, this is just my personal data. I’ve got no reason to think that my experience is representative.

Nintendo makes it super hard to get this data. The Switch only displays play time data for the most recently started games, so I had to start each game briefly to fill out the spreadsheet. Where’s a handy JSON API when you want one?

Even then, they don’t give precise data. Until 5 hours, they report data in 1 hour thresholds. After that, they report after every 5 hours. (e.g. 9 hours and 55 minutes is reported as “over 5 hours”).

I didn’t buy some of the games – they were gifts. I was too polite to ask how much was spent on them, so made my best guess.

This all means there is a pretty big margin of error in the data.

Finally, in collecting this, it made me realise that hours played isn’t the best measure of the value I get from a game anyway.

For example, Minit is a game where you live for a minute before you die and go back to the start. It took me a few enjoyable hours to complete this intriguing little game. Would it have been better if the developers had stretched it out to four or five hours? The value I got from it came from it being original and quirky. It was as long as it needed to be. I wouldn’t have wanted to need to spend 50 hours to complete it.

The same is true for several games, not just short indies. Wolfenstein II was a complete and enjoyable story-driven experience. I finished the main story, found the collectibles and unlocked and finished the final bonus level in 30 hours. That was enough. It wouldn’t have been a better story if it had lasted 100 hours.

So, to sum up.

The data was harder to find than I expected, wasn’t as accurate as I’d hoped, didn’t show the pattern I was hoping to find, and the whole exercise persuaded me that it wasn’t the right thing to measure in the first place.

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