Too often, I find myself 15 hours into a game that's overstayed its welcome. After the initial honeymoon period is over and the gameplay cycle has run dry, many games over-extend their experience in the guise of value. Getting a return on our investments is important, but playing a game shouldn't feel like a chore. As a child this would have been great, but being older and having finite amounts of time, games need to implement even more rewarding gameplay cycles or simply be shorter.
The visuals Studio Ghibli provided for Ni No Kuni look absolutely amazing, but when weighed against the 40+ minimum hours just to complete the main story, I'm left with an ominous feeling of responsibility to an archaic JRPG design, rather than a world so ripe with content I'd want to get lost in for days. The game has no shortage of story beats and interesting characters, but when a game takes 45 hours to play, how can a studio craft a story that serves that amount of time justice? Studio Ghibli is basically the Disney of Japan in many ways and for a studio that excels at storytelling, this has to say something for the negative effects extended game length have on the overall experience.
Consider the possible benefits of shorter game lengths. If developers didn't have to expend their resources over a 20 hour game, time could be spent cultivating other aspects and creating a tighter experience. Ninja Theory has been very successful in approaching games in that nature. Both Heavenly Sword and DmC have a compressed run time in comparison to most AAA single player games, but their tight design and narrative pacing are possible because Ninja Theory doesn't waste time with artificial game extensions. DmC has replay value through challenges and multiple difficulties, but if that isn't your cup of tea, eight hours can leave you feeling satisfied and having completed the game.
While trimming down game length may seem like taking away from players, consider the fact that only about 10% of players finish their games. Developing games that people reach a sort of closure with is important. It creates a connection to the content and leaves an impression in players, which will most likely get them to pay attention to the sequel or next title from the studio. If you play through a game and get bored halfway through, you're most likely going to pass on the next one. Except for GTA games. Never finished them, but they're still awesome.
Nathan (Associate Editor)
These days, the expectation for value in games has never been higher. Unfortunately for much of the buying public, this is judged by the amount of content rather than its quality. Games that might feature compelling narratives, particularly those from indie developers, are sometimes marked because they ‘only’ give you a three hour campaign.
Perhaps it has to do with how games are digested. The movie watching patrons out there will balk at a film longer than three hours, mostly because unlike virtually every other type of media, which can be consumed in multiple bite-sized sittings, a film must be viewed from beginning to end in one shot. The length of films has been decided based on years of marketing to the general public and feeling for the limits of the average attention span. And while it’s not uncommon for a gamer, especially a devoted one, to spend just as long, if not longer on a single gaming session, developers have strained to adhere to a much lengthier standard. Sadly, your average gamer usually demands it.
This has led to games with interesting gameplay and premises exhausting their appeal when trying to stretch the number of hours it takes to finish them. It’s very easy for a game, even a good one, to overstay its welcome if it’s apparent there aren’t enough ideas to justify it. Once a new gameplay concept is introduced, it’s repeated ad nauseum until the player is utterly tired of it. Only then is a new concept introduced, if it ever is. It’s hard to say this inherently leads to better value when the quality of the experience only suffers for it. Worse yet, it can lead to bloated development cycles and budgets, and more expensive games that didn’t necessarily have to cost $60.
I’ve long been an advocate for more variability in the pricing model for games, and I think the next generation is the time to finally pursue it. The idea that games that cost less than $60 aren’t worth your time, and games that don’t need to be full priced have to have filler content so they can match the imagined threshold for quality needs to stop. Already with digital-only games and indie developers we’re seeing those misconceptions changing, and I think this will lead to a healthier and more vibrant industry as a whole.
Brian Jensen (Executive Editor)
“The size of the boat doesn’t matter, it’s the motion of the ocean.” We use this phrase to overcome our greatest insecurities, it holds true even when it comes to the length of a game. As content capacity grows and allows us to get more game onto one disc, it becomes clearer that making the longest game ever made a worthwhile endeavor. Right now the average release is around 10 hours long, even then, do people even have time for that? As I get older the answer become “No” in a bolder font each day. We have work, school, and other obligations. We don’t have 10 hours to dedicate to each game that comes out. Part of the reason why games were so long to begin with is because we didn’t have a huge release every week. I have yet to finish anything that came out this past November. It’s not hard to believe that only 10% of gamers finish games.
If given the choice, I would take a “AAA” quality 3 hour game over a 8+ hour “okay” experience that I won’t finish. I see this kind of model becoming inevitable. Games are going to be so much more expensive to make and developers are going have to cut back somewhere. Ultimately, I think that these cuts will be in the game’s length. The mobile market in the iOS and Android stores already implement this model. Experiences developed with the time you don’t have in mind. These miniature games cost hardly anything and continue to offer what I love about games in the short amount of time I invest in them. Sometimes I end up investing more time into them than I do $60 games when I have 5 hours to kill.
It’s not so much the quantity of time, but the quality. You can have hour long adventures in Journey, be completely satisfied with the experience, and go on with your life. Not only is this a more effective model, it’s one that could potentially bring more people into gaming and for less money. I know I’m living in “La La Land” saying this, but we could have games become the same as owning a movie. Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a space for the 10 hour epics, but I would want them to become a rarity so I can actually play through them without fear of another big game coming out in 6 days.