The Cost of Entertainment

Something you may not think about, in so many words, is the hourly cost of entertainment. For things that fall into the pure entertainment category, such as movies, TV, books, games, etc, there’s a huge spread in value.

The worst offenders are movies. In a theater, you’re spending between 3 and 10 dollars per person, per hour of entertainment (depending upon whether you catch a matinee, and whether you’re watching 3D, Imax, etc). On DVD, the cost can drop significantly, because multiple people can watch, and you’ll usually end up watching a bought movie at least 3-4 times. So that can drop the cost to under $1 per person/hour. Rentals are a great option. Via Redline, DVDs can be 25 cents per person-hour (2 hour movie, for 2 people, for a $1 rental). And there’s always the library.

TV can be expensive – if you’ve got cable. Then you’re spending roughly $50 per month – assuming 2 people watch 2 hours a day (that’s a lot of TV), then you’re spending about 20 cents per hour of entertainment. On the other hand, network TV is free – but you sit through commercials, and most network shows have little redeeming value.

Books are highly variable. A $10 new book will probably cost 2-$3 per hour of entertainment, which is pricy. But used books are very common, and very cheap – usually $1 or less. For used paperbacks (25 or 50 cents), the cost per hour is maybe 5 cents. That’s a great deal! The library is another option here.

Finally, there’s games. I think these can frequently be the best value of all. If you buy a video game on sale on Steam, it’s usually 75% to 90% off – I refuse to spend more than $10 on a game now.

Let’s say that hypothetically you bought Age of Empires III on Steam – the complete package, the game and 2 expansions, was $10, and this is rather expensive for a 3-4 year old game. I’ve probably put upwards of 50 hours into that game. And it’s by no means the most engrossing game I’ve played. I’ve probably put several hundred hours into earlier Age of Empires games, Unreal Tournament, etc. The cost per hour typically goes under 5 cents. The key here is to focus on ‘true games,’ rather than games which are a form of interactive cinema. Half Life – which is super high-quality – is pretty much an on-rails shooter with limited replay value. The same goes for a lot of other popular games. On the other hand, Starcraft is really closer in function to chess – there are distinct skills which require a lot of dedication to master.

Speaking of chess – board games are something I’ve recently gotten into, and they’re also a great value. I’ll give an example: my friend recently purchased a board game expansion (7 Wonders: Leaders). This cost $20. 4 people played this game for 5 hours this past weekend. So the cost per person-hour was $1. And this was the first play! Assuming the game is well-done, you’ll play the game a lot more. The cost can easily drop below 10-15 cents per person-hour. And this isn’t including “game sets,” such as checkers (with which you can play dozens of different games) or a standard pack of playing cards.

So – this is just something to consider. Sometimes it’s worth spending to see a movie in a theater – but usually there are far more rewarding options. And this isn’t even discussing hobbies. Gardening or woodworking can even earn you money, and you get to develop skills.

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