Video Games as Frugal Entertainment
Most people, when thinking of video games as a hobby, acknowledge in advance just how expensive a hobby it can be. However, this doesn't have to be the case every time. Depending on how one views gaming and how one tends to play games, video games can be remarkably frugal as a form of entertainment, which may come as something of a surprise to those who believe that being a gamer means forking over hundreds of dollars a month for the latest releases.
Yes, some people do this, and that's fine if they can afford it and enjoy the games they buy. I'm not saying anything against them whatsoever. (And honestly, part of me envies their expansive collections, but that's a matter for another day.) This article isn't about how people need to spend less on what they enjoy. It's about how something somebody enjoys can be more cost-effective than one might expect.
My experience with this comes from role-playing games (RPGs) and simulation games, which are the kinds of games I play most often. Already I know that how I play is different from how others play. Some people prefer platformers, which they can beat in as little as a few hours. Some people enjoy puzzle games and take pleasure in playing familiar levels over and over. Some people enjoy the many first-person shooters that are on the market. But in my experience, the kind of games I enjoy lend themselves very well to frugality. Allow me to explain.
Breaking It Down
Take the average price of a brand new AAA video game title today. You're going to spend around $80, give or take, before taxes. And that is a lot of money to hand over in advance. $80 can buy a lot of food. It could pay my cell phone bill for almost two months. It's not exactly pocket change.
And yet, exchanging that $80 for a video game is probably one of the most economical decisions I could make when it comes to my entertainment.
Most big-name RPGs take somewhere between 20 and 40 hours to beat. Right there, if I just play this new game once, from beginning to end, focusing only on getting through the main story, my hourly cost of entertainment is $2-4. Right from the get-go, this game is starting to look like a wise investment.
But it can go further than that. Many RPGs have side-quests and optional content that can add on another 5-10 hours of gameplay. Now my cost per hour for entertainment is $1.60-3.20. Even better.
What if the game has additional difficulty settings, New Game +, or is just enjoyable enough that you want to play it over again at a later date? Now your cost per hour of entertainment has dropped to $0.80-1.60.
In other words, your average role-playing game is a steep upfront investment but shows its worth in how long you spend playing it. The longer you play it, the longer you're entertained by it, and the more that initial $80 investment gets spread out, resulting in a smaller and smaller cost per hour of entertainment.
"Okay," I hear you say, "But it's not like a game is all you need. What about a console to play it on?" You're absolutely right, hypothetical speaker, and I'm glad you brought that up. Purchasing a video game console is a lot more expensive than purchasing a single game. At the time of writing this article, a PlayStation 4 costs around $399, and an XBox One costs around $249. If the single game wasn't pocket change, the console certainly isn't either! If I take into account the cost of buying, say, a PlayStation 4 and a new game, my upfront cost is now $479, making my cost per hour for a single playthrough of the game $11.96-23.95. Far more expensive. You could spend the same amount and go to see a movie in theatres and have better value. I freely admit that. The math doesn't lie.
This brings me back to one of my initial points: gaming isn't frugal for everyone. It all depends on how you play, how much you play, and what you consider to be worth the cost. If I only buy one game per system and play it through just once, then it's simply not worth it as a hobby.
But hobbies aren't typically things you do just once. They're things you repeatedly do, and relatively often. You don't see too many people calling themselves gamers who purchase a brand new system simple for one game they'll only play once.
I have a friend who has clocked over 1000 hours (yes, you read that correctly: one thousand hours) in Skyrim. If you assume the whole cost of that venture was around $500, that's $0.50 an hour for entertainment. For a single game console and a single game to play on it.
Additionally, many current generation consoles have access to free-to-play games. Lately, I've played a lot of Neverwinter on my PS4, an MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) that costs nothing to download, no monthly subscription fees, and can be played online using my existing Internet connection. I've played for a couple of dozen hours at this point, enjoying myself the whole time. Even if I paid for the console itself, you can't argue with the cost of free! Every hour I play Neverwinter, my cost per hour of entertainment shrinks a little more, until I eventually pay mere pennies per hour of entertainment.
And remember, I have already paid the upfront cost. I am not going to be charged those pennies every time I log in, every time I take a disc from the case and get ready to play. My money has already left my pocket. At this point, it's up to me and my play style that determines the final value.
Do You Believe Gaming Can Be a Frugal Hobby?
As I said before, more than once, this will not hold true for everybody. The frugal potential of gaming shines for those who play games for a long time; others may not find the same value in their cost per hour of entertainment. If you play mostly shorter games, you'll find yourself paying more per hour. That's just how it is. The math backs that up as well.
But for others, such as myself, the only difficulty is in justifying the initial cost of a console or game. I know that, given the games I prefer and the way I tend to play them, I will get hours of entertainment from each purchase, and my average cost per hour will end up very low, making video games worth my while. I may have sunk probably a few thousand dollars into my collection over the years, but I've also been gaming for many years -- spending $3000 doesn't seem so terrible when you do it over the course of 15 years or so. Even in times when I've had little money to spare, often I'd spend that discretionary income on a new video game, knowing that I'd get my money's worth with ease despite the high upfront cost. For me, it's worth it, and very much so. Video games aren't the most frugal hobby around, but they're far from the expensive venture that they're commonly thought to be.