The Tragic Cost of Google Pac-Man – 4.82 million hours

When Google launched its Pac-Man logo on Friday, we immediately heard amused groans in our tweet-streams. “Well, so much for my morning,” said one. “Google’s Pac Man logo just ruined millions of dollars in productivity today, nationwide,” said another.

Here’s what we all saw on Friday:

Here are two of the tweets we saw in response:

Given our repository of hundreds of millions of man hours of second by second attention data, we figured there’s no one better than RescueTime to tell the world about the cost of Google Pac-Man on that fateful Friday. Here’s what we learned.

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    The first thing to understand is that Google does not result in a lot of active usage, in terms of time. Yes, we all use Google. But a Google search only requires a few seconds, and we’re all pretty well trained to click one of the first few links. Add to that the fact that many people use Google as a navigation tool (“Googling “IBM” instead of typing in “”). Nonetheless, it might surprise you that our average Google user spends only 4 and a half active minutes on Google search per day, spread over about 22 page views. That’s roughly 11 seconds of attention invested in each Google page view. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but next time you do a search, count to 11- it’s a long time.

    This weekend, we took a hard look at Pac-Man D-Day and compared it with previous Fridays (before and After Google’s recent redesign) and found some noticeable differences. We took a random subset of our users (about 11,000 people spending about 3 million seconds on Google that day) The average user spent 36 seconds MORE on on Friday.. Thankfully, Google tossed out the logo with pretty low “perceived affordance” – they put an “insert coin” button next to the search button, but I imagine most users missed that. In fact, I’d wager that 75% of the people who saw the logo had no idea that you could actually play it. Which the world should be thankful for.

    If we take Wolfram Alpha at its word, Google had about 504,703,000 unique visitors on May 23. If we assume that our userbase is representative, that means:

    • Google Pac-Man consumed 4,819,352 hours of time (beyond the 33.6m daily man hours of attention that Google Search gets in a given day)
    • $120,483,800 is the dollar tally, If the average Google user has a COST of $25/hr (note that cost is 1.3 – 2.0 X pay rate).
    • For that same cost, you could hire all 19,835 google employees, from Larry and Sergey down to their janitors, and get 6 weeks of their time. Imagine what you could build with that army of man power.
    • $298,803,988 is the dollar tally if all of the Pac-Man players had an approximate cost of the average Google employee.

    I hope you’ve enjoyed our Pac-Man data journey as much as we have. Next up in our on our data-hacking list, we’ll be digging in to find the laziest and most productive countries and cities in the world. Where do you think yours ranks?

    About the data:
    RescueTime provides a time management tool to allow individuals and businesses to track their time and attention to see where their days go (and to help them get more productive!). We have hundreds of millions of man hours of second-by-second attention data from hundreds of thousands of users around the world, tracking both inside and outside the browser. The data for this report was compiled from 11,000 randomly selected Google users.

    About our software:
    If you want to see how productive you are vs the rest of our users, you should check out our service. We offer both individual and group plans (pricing starts at FREE).

    Tony Wright

    Currently: UI, web products, and web marketing freelancer and founder of Past: Director of Product Development at Jobster, owner/founder of Jobby (sold to Jobster), owner/founder of a 20ish person web consultancy (sold).


    1. Just to be pre-emptive. No, we don’t REALLY think it’s tragic. Leisure surfing is critical to productivity (strangely enough). There are quite a few studies out there to back this up. We just thought it was interesting number-play!

      1. “No, we don’t REALLY think it’s tragic. Leisure surfing is critical to productivity (strangely enough). There are quite a few studies out there to back this up. We just thought it was interesting number-play!”

        Then why not state this explicitly in the article? Why not report the full story? You leave out this information, give your title a catchy word “Tragic”, then say “Oh we don’t really think that!”

        Isn’t your whole ethos supposed to be about providing people with accurate information which they can make decisions on? Shame on you, sir, shame on you!

        You might say “Yeah but you have to do this to get the retweets and exposure you need…” Blah blah!

        Whatever helps you sleep at night, dude!

      2. The big question is
        That time was instead of the Facebook usual ritual or on top of it!

    2. You forgot to count all the time of people blogging about Google pac-man and all the people reading/commenting. :>

    3. Tony:
      You might be interested to learn that PAC-MAN is now a full-time feature on Google. No, it’s no longer on the front-page but it’s six extra letters or one bookmark away. (-:

      More Here:

      As I mention in the post, with the success of this “doodle” I would not be surprised to see more interactive doodles in the very near future.

      1. If an employee is searching on Google the intention to waste time was already made. Perhaps an argument could be made that each employee wasted ‘only’ 36 seconds whereas normally they may spend much more time random searching for something as amusing as Pacman.

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    5. Yeah, that was tragic. They shouldn’t play 36 seconds with a pacman, they should go home and spend hours watching big-brother, football, american idol, and doing other productive tasks…

      Stop manipulating numbers, if you want to talk about numbers, include all the variables on the ecuations. 36 seconds is nothing compared to other unusefull tasks on every human life.

    6. This is an old fallacy:

      a) Per-person numbers don’t scale. The time/cost of organizing this “army” would consume vast amounts of those large numbers, plus the short timespans spent would be virtually useless. People would have to use much larger blocks of time to be productive.

      b) The calculation assumes that playing pacman takes time away from a 100% productive work hour. In reality, much time is spent idling anyway, so the only thing that happens is that the wasted time/money goes to pacman instead of facebook.

    7. HAH! Not I! I steadfastly resisted the urge to chase little dots around the screen, but the dollar amount statistic is staggering. Imagine if Google had a paypal button and asked us to “insert a coin” to play. How many of us would have been dollars poorer if they had?

    8. Who is thinking about this stat for porn? My mind boggles just to think of the hours going on that…:)

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    10. “$120,483,800 is the dollar tally, If the average Google user has a COST of $25/hr (note that cost is 1.3 – 2.0 X pay rate).”

      You interpret this as a cost. It’s also perfectly reasonable to say that if leisure activities are worth, say, $10/hr, then Google provided about $48M of free entertainment.

    11. I think your articles could benefit if you just add a bit of data visualisation to tell the most interesting bits of the story.

    12. you all talk about productivity and wasted seconds. have you asked yourself how many SMILES and good moments google brought to people’s faces that day?

      do you really have to work every second without breathing? dont be idiots and slaves of this bad capitalist system – RELAX! live your life at least one day!a

    13. Testing ground for ‘google weekly game?’ @ even .10 cents to make it live…they’d make a killing. We stare at the face of Google every day without fail. Productivity, Schmoductivity.

    14. ….Another thought…Google could take the profits from “The Weekly Game” and donate it to public schools.

    15. It is indeed an interesting play on numbers.

      Harold Says: “It’s also perfectly reasonable to say that if leisure activities are worth, say, $10/hr, then Google provided about $48M of free entertainment.”

      ^^ Also a good play on numbers.

      It would also be interesting to know how much time Google has saved people from trawling through directories, navigating websites links pages, looking for the information they want, as well as all the other time saving, useful tools they offer. However, its more than likely incalculable.


    16. +1 (and don’t forget about Twitter, blogs, iPhone/iPad, commuting by car, air travel and other crap)

      It’s not only about time though. It’s also about wasted energy. I don’t understand why Google put up this pacman doodle. Google always emphasizes its care for environmental issues, i.e. that they try to minimize power usage of their data centers bla bla.

      The whole world playing pacman on wastes quite a lot of electrical energy world-wide. Doesn’t fit well with the image Google wants us to have of them.

    17. My company have just lost even more ‘man’ hours by me reading your article about the loss of man hours! Get a grip people, a little light relief never hurt anyone

    18. But if they weren’t playing packman, they’d be surfing. Productivity doesn’t work the way you explain it. In reality, employees fit in their work to fill their working day. If they have a lot of work to do, they just work harder. On quiet days they ease up.

    19. well I love pacman and always playing fact i can still play pacman here.

      pretty impresive right?

    20. Oh, I just thought that the view of people as “continuous production factors” just like machines that place rivets was outdated. No wonder there’s a recession, that’s what happens when you confuse maths with the real worldd.

    21. I took my pacman time from my usual facebook time, so don’t count them…

      This kind of stadistics are just funny.

    22. Wow, so, in essence, google now has the attention of millions of advertisers and businesses because they have discovered a new way to make money by bringing attention to their page…. woop de doo, if only i had thought of google, i could be a massive rich douche too…

      Also, i friggen heart pacman. Google, you did an awesome job, although i found it a little tiresome pacmaning the same course over and over…. it was highly entertaining, for all 5 mins of my day that i normally spend staring at the wall creating things with my mind.

      Can we have a few less people who need to justify their lives and a few more with creative ideas so that life can be a little more engaging and entertaining?

    23. Tragic?? It’s marketing genius.
      You’ll get bat sonar if you hide in a dark box.
      Don’t be scared to venture out of it & take risks.
      From now on every time I see a pacman reference, I’ll think “GOOGLE” as will millions of others and they’ll tell their friends, etc, etc.
      props GOOGLE.

    24. I’m sure if someone went to the effort to tally the total time that the human race spends plucking eyebrows, it would come to a similarly staggering number.

    25. It should be noted that pressing the “insert coin” button was not necessary; waiting long enough also started the game.

    26. I teach high school. My students walked into the computer lab, opened the Internet browser and began to play. They had a project due on Monday. I told them, “If you’re finished with your project (wink wink) then I challenge you to beat my score of 20,000 points.” They creamed my score and we had a delightful class.

    27. By the way, how much did reading your article cost?
      Just to emphasize the money cost on leisure surfing, not being offensive mate 😉

    28. it was sunday. when nobody is working.
      and not everyone earns 25USD/hour, maybe in the USA, and Western Europe, but the world is much bigger, and in most countries people doesn’t earn this much money in a day, not in one hour

    29. Stop thinking about losing “productivity” in terms of time.

      I’m pretty sure, that this small distraction made the day for those millions, AND their productivity increased by just being happy

    30. Oh how sad, people were actually having fun at work and not just slaving away as normal. I think its a shame that we need to put a value on how much time was “wasted.” In my opinion company moral is far more important than productivity, and if people are happy at work they are going to be more loyal, have more energy and generally give a damn about their work. I witnessed a lot of people playing pacman including myself and the thing that stood out the most to me was the similes on their faces! Good on you Google for bringing some joy to millions of people who are only look at as devices to make money!

    31. I posted a similar analysis three days prior to this post. Glad you went into more detail.

    32. Ha! The BBC have reported your hours in total seriousness, without your pre-emptive disclaimer. Now bosses across the UK will be turning blue with anger.

      Wait until the Daily Mail gets hold of the story 🙂

    33. Well played Gubatron, Google doing a one off to an iconic game of 30 years ago is nothing compared to the continual drivel people will share over the water cooler or prior to a meeting about LOST, HOUSE MD or whatever popular show is around at the time.

      I say well played Google.

    34. What about the smart phone or iPad’s hidden in worker’s desk drawers…helps the day go by for me!

    35. Hey, it is a kid investment business model, I hope 5 year olds might have been introduced with Google…I hope they are also told it is not just a pac man…

    36. Imagine the total number of “person-hours” that the mighty Microsoft has forced the world to waste…many minutes boot-up time, time spent waiting for apps to load/ execute, and shut down wait times just to name a few.

      When will a governing body put the screws to these jerks and make them accountable for the many, many millions of wasted hours spent fighting with their clunky, piecemeal, band-aid laden operating systems and office “tools”?

      MS has (undeservingly) dominated that market for nearly twenty years and they still refuse to get their act together (to much money to be made when you release garbage into your near monopoly!)

      Let’s cut the Man of Pac some slack!

    37. If people are playing at that excellent game during work hours, I say it is just because they are bored. Their jobs are just boring jobs. Employers: Take good care of your staff and you will not have them waist time on brilliant online games.

    38. ­I’m not sure if I want to live in a world where taking some fun for two minutes and having a new thing to comment is just a waste of time and money

    39. I use Firefox with the Groowe search tool bar, so I never see the Google logos on their front search page.
      I only read about it in a blog…thanks Gary Price and Tara Calishan. Got to play it again!

      The statistics are perhaps as good as PEW research which, however, don’t make the conclusions reliable.

    40. Searches on Google were steeply down over the weekend while the Pacman game was up. At Google, they claim it’s due to the nice weather. But we can guess there’s another cause…

      The first one to have “tragic costs” is most probably Google Inc.

    41. I always find “work productivity” analysis pretty silly because you’re assuming that the time playing pacman would have been used for something productive. Not likely.

    42. This article goes to show once again, one cannot spell “analysis” without “anal”! 😉 😀

      Kudos to Google, and I for one look forward to their next interactive Doodle.

      1. There is indeed, and it’s been given several times in these posts already:

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    47. Interesting information.
      I`m sorry, that I can´t count the benefit of that good feeling I had after playing:

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    57. Who actually visits the google homepage any more? Don’t all major browsers have a search bar built in??? I haven’t been to google since Apple launched Safari years ago…

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