In a recent game review, PC Gamer mentioned that Quake IV, which was released recently, can be completed in about ten hours.  Ten hours.

This made me think.

I must have spent easily that much in my first week of World of Warcraft.  And probably just as much in all the weeks following, for a period of several months.  Which led me to wonder about the cost of entertainment, and how each type compares to each other.

Let’s start with Quake IV.  Ten hours to complete it, maybe another ten hours to do it a second time (some people seem to do that) and maybe twenty hours playing on the multiplayer version, for a total of forty hours of fun.

World of Warcraft… well, it’s actually fairly easy to quantify since the game keeps track of this for you.  Over a course of nine months, I built two character up to level 60 and each of them clocked in at over twenty days of playing.  That’s twenty days of effective play — 480 hours — and let’s add a few hours spent on a few other characters to round it up to about 1000 hours total.

Here is a quick breakdown:

Name Upfront cost Cost per hour Explanation
World of Warcraft $50 + $15 / month = $185 18.5 cents per hour $185 / 1000
Quake IV $50 $1.02 per hour $50 / 40 hours
TV Show $30 per month (basic cable subscription) $2.70 per hour $30 / 12, assuming you watch 3 series, each showing 4 episodes per month
Movie (rental) $5 $1.7 per hour $5 / 3 hours (movie + extras)
Movie (theater) $10 $5 per hour $10 / 2 hours

Of course, there are plenty of other activities we could add, such as sport (mostly free:  basket, volleyball, etc…  and not so free:  golf, scuba diving, horse riding. etc…) and other ways to pass the time (hiking, walking, running, reading, etc…).

Another factor that we should probably add is the "intensity" of these activities.  Not all of them will enrapture you and isolate you from the real world with the same intensity, and you could probably say that World of Warcraft would score very high on that scale while hiking would not.

But the general idea is this:  World of Warcraft, and massively online games in general, have often been chastised for not only the monthly fee they charge but also for charging for the game in the first place.  In light of these numbers, one might actually wonder why they don’t charge more…