Gaming's an expensive hobby -- and all too often, it's questionable whether you get your money's worth. Even if a game is plenty of fun, it's a bummer when an experience is over in a few hours with no replay potential.
But the real gems race in the other direction, offering gameplay that keeps you coming back and enough content to keep the experience fresh even after many hours have been logged.
These are the magical titles, the ones players always hope they're picking up, but they're actually pretty rare. While it's hard to predict which upcoming games will give the best bang for the buck, since it so often depends on the player's tastes, here are a few educated guesses — as well as some current titles that should fit the bill nicely.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
Electronic Arts and Bioware built their massively multiplayer online game to last. But when you're paying $15 per month beyond the game's $60 retail price, that's to be expected.
The key to its long-term success, however, is that fact that the developer had lots of time to study what its chief competitor, World of Warcraft, did wrong. And the biggest flaw in that game is the long delays between new content. Bioware has vowed to offer regular updates that will keep players engaged — and that's what will keep them immersed in that universe for a long, long time.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
As frequently as Activision issues downloadable content for the Call of Duty series, it's no surprise that each new release is often still topping the charts six months after it hits shelves.
Consider that 2010's Black Ops is still one of the most frequently played games on Xbox Live and you can safely assume plenty of people will still be playing Modern Warfare 3 in 2013. Helping that theory? Activision has announced plans to release a whopping 20 packs of new maps and content over the next 9 months. When it comes to Call of Duty, fans don't let go easily.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Bethesda's long-awaited next chapter in the much-loved role-playing game franchise is packed with so much content, it's hard to wrap your head around it. It's not hard, however, to spend well over 100 hours exploring the game's universe.
And if its absurdly long list of side quests isn't enough, players can rest assured that downloadable content is coming (though it hasn't been formally announced yet). Even better? Fan-made mods. While console players are out of luck on this one, people who play the PC version will have dozens, if not hundreds, of new modes to explore, keeping the fight against the dragons going for a long, long time.
It might not be as big and meaty as Skyrim, but to its bazillion players, Angry Birds is just as addictive -- and just as valuable.
Even if you're getting a little tired of Rovio's avian-flinging masterpiece (which, two years after it's release, is still selling like hotcakes), there's still no better time killer when you only have a few minutes. The developer also keeps interest in the franchise alive with a consistent stream of seasonal updates that make this arguably the best 99 cents you've ever spent.
Blizzard still hasn't given a launch date for this anticipated hack and slash clickfest, but seeing how ferociously players are devouring the beta (and how often they're replaying it with all available character classes), it's a safe bet this is a title that will have long, long legs.
The last game, after all, was published nearly 12 years ago and is still actively enjoyed by fans.
Technically, there's no release date on this heavily-anticipated game (and it's conceivable it may not even be out until 2013, knowing how picky Rockstar is about quality), but we're pretty sure it's coming this year.
And that means you'll be playing it well into next. That's largely due to how complete a world the developers create. Playing the game's core storyline takes a long time to complete, but there are so many side missions and curiosities to explore that players dedicate months to finding all of the hidden treasures.