Monday, May 27, 2024

Did Google’s Pac-Man Celebration Gobble Productivity?

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Every once in a while, Google livens up its spartan home page to take note of significant anniversaries and notable birthdays. On Friday, in honor of the 30th anniversary of Pac-Man, one of the first video games, Google embedded a playable version of the game above its main search box. Great fun, right?

Not so for businesses. A company called RescueTime, a developer of time management software, has estimated the gambit resulted in some 4.82 million wasted work hours.

If that sounds like a lot of lost productivity, RescueTime points out it could have been a lot worse because Google hadn’t made it obvious that visitors could actually play the game. Many visitors to Google’s site last Friday may have been momentarily distracted by the Pac-Man art, but could have missed the virtual, free “insert coin” button that let users begin playing the game, RescueTime founder Tony Wright said.

“I imagine most users missed that. In fact, I’d wager that 75 percent of the people who saw the logo had no idea that you could actually play it. Which the world should be thankful for,” Wrightsaid in a blog post. (The game also activated after a few seconds of inactivity at the search site.)

RescueTime is not asserting that thousands of users necessarily spent hours playing the game, however: “It might surprise you that our average Google user spends only four 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,” Wright said.

Through its desktop app and Web-based activity tracker, RescueTime said it collects hundreds of millions of man hours of second-by-second data from hundreds of thousands of users around the world, tracking both inside and outside the browser.

For the Pac-Man estimates, RescueTime measured a random subset of users on Friday: about 11,000 people who spent about 3 million seconds in total on Google that day. The results show those users spent only about 36 seconds more time on average on that day.

Using figures on Google’s traffic compiled by WolframAlpha, RescueTime estimates Google Pac-Man accounted for an extra 4,819,352 hours of time spent on the site beyond the 33.6 million man hours of attention that Google Search gets in a given day.

Additionally, using $25 per hour as a pay estimate, RescueTime said the time spent playing the game worked out to a total payroll of $120,483,800. RescueTime said that with that much money, one could afford to hire all of Google’s 19,835 employees, including co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, for six weeks.

“Imagine what you could build with that army of manpower,” Wright said.

If the pay of the average Google employee is substituted, however, the dollar total rises to $298,803,988.

Google says Pac-Man a success

But for all the talk of lost work hours and productivity, Wright said in a comment to his blog that “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!”

And for its part, Google termed the Pac-Man celebration a success.

“Pac-Man seems like a natural fit for the Google homepage. They’re both deceptively straightforward, carefully hiding their complexity under the hood. There’s a light-hearted, human touch to both of them,” Marcin Wichary, senior user experience designer and developer at Google, said in a blog post last Friday explaining the Pac-Man celebration.

“We’ve been overwhelmed — but not surprised 🙂 — by the success of our 30th anniversary Pac-Man doodle,” Google’s vice president of search products and user experience, Marissa Mayer, said in a blog post Sunday. “Due to popular demand, we’re making the game permanently available,” she added.

The game can be accessed here.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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