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The Cost of Online Gaming: MMORPGs

The Cost of Online Gaming: MMORPGs

One of my earliest video game memories is being at my friend’s house when we were much younger. He had just gotten a new computer game and wanted to show it to me. He played while I watched, and it was still marvellous fun. It was called “WarCraft”. A number of years later, my family got a home computer, internet, and a copy of “WarCraft 2”. We were actually able to link up over our dial up modems and play games against each other, which, again, was wonderful fun. Eventually, many years later, “WarCraft 3” came out, and had these epic CGI cut scenes that bordered on movie quality. So you can imagine my delight when I heard that Blizzard, the creators of WarCraft and StarCraft, were coming out with a new game… World of WarCraft.

Now, I had already been introduced to Massive Multiplayer Online RPGs through another game called Runescape. Runescape was a free game that I downloaded and quickly sunk hundreds of hours into. The graphics were poor, the usability was poor, and the gameplay, to be honest, was quite poor. It was, however, tremendously addictive. The online gaming in WoW, I was sure, would devour my entire life.

But it didn’t. In fact, I hardly even played it at all. Why? Because I never bought it. There were two big problems that prevented me from playing WoW. The first was that the game cost $60, and the second was that it cost an additional $15 a month. It was so successful that Blizzard still holds world records for amount of players subscribed to an MMORPG, and is ridiculously rich because of it. For me, however, the entry fee was too high, and as such, was completely put off by it.

Since WoW came out, there have been numerous other games that have tried a similar model, but I have never been particularly interested. I want to pay for a game once, and then be able to play it as much as I’d like, whenever I’d like, without having it cost me more money. I figured that I would get a better value from a game that I payed for once. While that may be true, what I have recently discovered is that the value of a game comes not from how much it costs to play, but how much time you spend playing it.

Consider two standard computer games. Let’s say they each cost $60. If you buy both, and play both, then they have the same “value”, or time spent being entertained per dollar spent. However, if you quickly grow bored with one game, and stop playing it, but continue to play the other, then the value of the game that you are continuing to play goes up, as the amount of money that you are paying per hour of entertainment goes down.

  • $60/30 hours = $2/hour of entertainment.
  • $60/60 hours = $1/hour of entertainment.

When you consider an MMORPG, the calculation gets a little more complicated. You still may pay $60 for the game, but now you have to add in a monthly fee. For me, I was awfully concerned that if I did pay $15/month, I would not get my money’s worth unless I spent every night playing that game. However, if you look at how much value you are getting from your other entertainment options, you may realize that you don’t have to play as much as you think in order to get your money’s worth.

  • Rent a DVD $5/2 hours = $2.50/hour
  • Buy a DVD $15/2 hours = $7.50/hour
  • Go to the movies $10/2.5 hours = $4/hour
  • Go to a play $30/3 hours = $10/hour
  • Go to the pub $20/3 hours = $6.67/hour
  • Netflix $8/20 hours = $0.40/hour

So if we go back and look at the MMORPG over a 3 month period, the game will cost us about $105 (60+[15×3]). In order to get to the same $/hour ratio as most entertainment, you are looking at 14 hours a month for those 3 months ($2.50/hour). That’s about half an hour of online gaming a day, or just over 3.5 hours a week. If you have ever played an MMORPG, you know that this number is incredibly low for this type of game. If you wanted to get it to Netflix-type cheap entertainment, however, you would have to play over 250 hours over those 3 months, which is about as much as a part time job.

In the end, MMORPGs can actually be a good value for your money, when you consider it in terms of dollars per hour spent being entertained. In fact, because you are paying for the game, most MMORPGs, at least the successful ones, are constantly creating and releasing new content and updates, allowing you to continue to play a game that does not have an end. Therefore, it is far more difficult to grow bored with the game and abandon it, a pitfall the plagues other $60 titles. While it is true that the time that you invest into video games could otherwise be spent learning a new skill, or working a second job, it is a fallacy to think that buying and playing MMORPGs is a larger waste of money than other forms of entertainment, and even other video games.

Do you play MMORPGs, or other video games? How do you deal with the cost of online gaming?


  1. John P

    I’ve never considered the cost/hour of entertainment before..thanks for the analysis!

    I used to play WoW for a few years (mostly played in the battlegrounds). Stopped playing a few months ago because I thought it was a waste of money (not so sure now after reading this article)…but every now and then I get the itch to get back into it.

    Another cheaper alternative to monthly fee based MMORPGs are free-to-play MMORPGs such as Lord of the Rings online or Dungeons & Dragons online. These games are supposedly similar to MMORPGs that charge a monthly fee, but they’re free to play, only charging money if you want premium content.

  2. Sustainable PF

    Used to play, kicked the habit. I never got into WoW but I did play Diablo II. It was not a monthly fee game but I did put 100s, if not 1000s of hours into it. I got to the point the items I found (or made) were highly desirable and I was selling virtual items on eBay (as a service, of course). I actually made money playing the game.

    I started online games in the text based world in the late 80s: MUDs (Multi User Dungeons/Dimensions). I even designed and programmed a fairly complex “area” for one MUD. Prior to this experience I played a text based multi user game on a local BBS and there too I was able to create charactors that I could sell to others and find items others would pay for.


  3. Max

    Hi, I still play Everquest! I’m glad I came across this article too, now I can show it to my girlfriend and tell her its not a waste of time or money! I will just quote this line, “In the end, MMORPGs can actually be a good value for your money, when you consider it in terms of dollars per hour spent being entertained.”

  4. Göran HAglund

    I used to play world of warcraft in Vanilla and I have to say it was much more addictive than then it´s now. I couldnt stop. BUt then when the game became worse I had no problem to stop playing because I had also realised the big costs.

  5. My University Money

    I have a very similar story. I loved Warcraft and Starcraft growing up, but I got WOW for Christmas. I had never played a MMORPG before and quickly became addicted. When my initial 3 month account ran out, I realized I had to go cold turkey. I never re-upped, even though I honestly still miss the game. I have a perfectionist, addictive personality, and I can’t imagine the productivity my life would have lost if I had kept playing that game!

  6. Juan

    The sad truth is that just because WOW may be cheaper on a per dollar basis it doesn’t mean it won’t be more expensive in the long run. If one were to calculate lost wages into the equation the numbers may change drastically.

  7. Matt Wegner @ Financial Excellence

    I had no idea gaming could cost so much. I guess I’ve always looked at gaming as an opportunity cost for my money, not in terms of comparing forms of entertainment but in terms of costing me money that could be invested in earning more money.

  8. Kiley Theiring

    The high cost of WoW is exactly why I quit playing. It’s definitely addicting and I loved it when I played. I still enjoy it and I would love to keep playing, but now that I have to use my income for the real world – rent, utilities, food, etc. – I just can’t afford the $15 a month anymore.

    Too bad they don’t have a pay as you play plan. They probably never will either because Blizzard knows they can get away with charging ridiculous prices.

  9. The Lost Goat

    Best game I ever played on a dollar per hour basis was Guild Wars. You paid for installments, but there was no subscription fee.

    I’ve tried WoW-style MMOs, but they aren’t much fun, really. It’s all about how many hours you spend grinding. I like to play games which favor skill. However, if I could find one that amused me for 14 hours a month on a consistent monthly basis, I’d definitely consider it a frugal entertainment.

  10. Could be worse

    Well, even though Blizzard charges a subscription fee for WoW its still a flat fee. Its hard to spend more money on the game than the sub fee. There are other games out there which work a bit differently. The Free to play games with shops are a clever invention that fools players into spending money on boosts, items or not even that, but chances to get items (like lottery or roulette). Atlantica Online is one of the most devious games developed for those weak willed players who wants it all. My personal friend spent close to 2000 dollars in their store buying boxes for mounts and decorations. He almost managed to crash his relationship with his wife when she found out. As it turned out he was not addicted to the game, but rather the gambling of the boxes in the item shop (random content). Life can surely be funny… and expensive.

  11. JaiGuru

    I don’t really have a problem with the pay for play model. I’ve tried out some of the free to play mmo’s and they’re kind of a joke. I’d much rather pay a little extra and know additional content and reliable hosting of the game is part of the package.

    Having said that, I would love to play WoW but the cost of entry now is beyond ridiculous. I have to buy 5 pieces of software, two or three of which are not at all reasonably priced given that they’re no longer end game content AND the monthly fee is a bit ridiculous. $10 a month tops, is what I’d be willing to pay but 8 or 9 would be ideal. Not having to buy it in chunks would be nice too. No matter how you spin it,t hat’s just plain profiteering to knock off cost only for people who cough up half a year’s worth at a time.

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