Objection! Are Games Too Short Or Too Long?

Welcome to Objection! This is where we take the time to go on-depth on gaming issues, and let you guys continue the discussion in the comments section.

This week we started talking about game length - are they too long? Are they too short? But then things started getting complicated!

Joining us this week is Dylan 'Gameboffin' Burns, Editor in Chief of Pixel Hunt and regular contributor to Hyper Magazine. Dylan is a great writer, and a stand-up guy. He recently transferred all donations made towards the Pixel Hunt 2010 Yearbook to the Queensland flood fund, which we think is a pretty cool thing to do.

Anyway - let's get down to business...

MARK: Alright Dylan ‘The Boff’ Burns – are games getting shorter these days? And does it really matter?

DYLAN: Hi Mark. First of all, thanks for letting me use the comfy chair. And I love your ‘What would Wildgoose do?’ screensaver. Ahem, game length. Yes, I do think that games are getting shorter these days, but not in the literal sense.

I think that we’re seeing an increase in the amount of titles where you become aware of the entire suite of mechanical/gameplay elements present in a game a lot sooner. A great example is Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. The whole game is structurally and graphically identical to Assassin’s Creed 2 – it’s just been rejigged to present a new city and new quests. If you wash away the new storyline for a moment, the gameplay experience that you’re having is incredibly similar to previous games, so that the journey of game discovery becomes shorter.

Race for an hour in NFS: Hot Pursuit and you’ve experienced pretty much everything that you’ll be doing for the next 10 or 15. Load up Final Fantasy XIII and, actually, no... don’t subject yourself to that. I guess what I’m saying is that developers are relying on our investment in games, in terms of money spent and engagement with social aspects such as Achievements or auto updates, to elongate game time artificially. This allows them to pump out yearly sequels with just enough new content that we almost don’t realise that we’ve been down that road before.

MARK: I just want to make it clear that I am not in possession of a ‘What would Wildgoose do?’ screensaver, because the response to said question is the same no matter what the circumstance. Ran out of food and water? Play Far Cry 2. Invaded by China? Play Far Cry 2. Copy of Far Cry 2 broken/worn out? Play Minecraft.

But, back on topic, I think what you’re saying is that developers are more content to stretch a single set of mechanics across a 5-8 hour game - rinse and repeat – and concentrate on fluffing said mechanics out with things like story, game universe, etc, etc.

I think I would agree with that. In fact – those are the kind of circumstances that are more likely to make me feel like a game is too long. A game like Metroid Prime for example – it’s a long game, but it felt short to me, because it was constantly feeding me new mechanics, new experiences, and linking them seamlessly into some of the best level design I’ve ever seen. Gears of War on the other hand – which I do love – often feels a little dragged out, mainly because it uses the same (admittedly awesome and well-polished) mechanics for the entirety of the game.

Is that what you’re getting at?

DYLAN: Definitely. I often feel that my play style has changed over the years too. Where once I would track down every quest in an RPG or find every hidden package in a GTA game, I am now more likely to just explore an open world for a few hours and then get down to the business of the main quest. I can see through the design curtain and am much less enthused to dance to its tune. So in that sense I don’t think that games getting shorter matters a whole lot, because if you trim the fat from other games you’re left with products of comparable parity. Of course, that didn’t save Mafia II from getting completely hammered by critics.

Another way in which developers are ostensibly ‘deepening’ our experience is with multiplayer. Providing an online space allows them to completely eschew those time consuming elements such as storyline and scripting. Simply design a level, nut out an upgrade tree, throw in 32 people and there you go, have fun for the next 20 hours. A six hour single player campaign is then (from a developer’s perspective) entirely justifiable, because you’ve got ‘awesome’ multiplayer, which places the enjoyment responsibility squarely on the players’ shoulders.

MARK: I think you’re being a little too hard on the multiplayer aspect of games to be honest – I think the days of throwing together a half-arsed multiplayer component are over. The work that has gone into, say, the multiplayer of Halo: Reach is incredible and, for me, represents the major reason for buying the game. Same goes, I’m sure, for fans of Call of Duty.

Multiplayer, if designed right, is fun forever. If it’s unbalanced and features terrible map design, it’s fun for precisely two seconds. There’s a real art to balancing and play-testing the absolute crap out of the multiplayer section of your game, and I have a lot of respect for the developers who get it right.

But on the topic of design - and seeing through the curtain – I wouldn’t necessarily say that seeing through said curtain is necessarily bad. In fact, I think there’s a lot of enjoyment to be gleaned from playing video games on a meta-level. Basically, I just want to be surprised – that represents value for money for me, and it represents a motivation to continue playing. I kept playing Mario Galaxy because it seemed like every single level was showing me something entirely new – I’ve given up on so many games quickly because I feel like I’ve seen everything they have to show in the first hour.

DYLAN: My multi-casual preferences are showing now, aren’t they? Okay, I’ll grant that multiplayer can be deep. My statement was aimed primarily at those games that simply don’t need multiplayer, yet jump on the bandwagon anyway.

Maintaining new ideas across hours of gameplay can’t be easy, I’ll admit. Mario Galaxy 2 makes everything seem so natural that when you look back over your experience the sheer technical brilliance suddenly comes to light. Another woefully underrated title of last year was Nier. Get past the dated graphics and iffy voice acting and you experience a game that is not afraid to experiment with all manner of crazy changes in gameplay. Even just the way in which the perspective shifts to side-on 2D whenever you enter buildings keeps things interesting.

We could just be expecting too much. A film script runs at 120 pages to keep you engaged for two hours, whereas a game needs many times that, sometimes into thousands of pages, in order to maintain player interest for tens of hours. Up until now, we’ve accepted the padding out of a narrative with repetitive design, but as we move forward I’m hoping that we’ll see more effort put into stories that constantly surprise us and make us think.


Comments

    Another good "Objection"
    Tough call. I think it comes down to a blend of story and gameplay mechanics and balancing both.
    i.e if COD took 40 - 50+ hours like Mass Effect, i don't think it would cut it (repetitive mechanics and simple story)
    conversely if Mass Effect wrapped up in under 8 hours how disappointed would we be??

      But does that include multiplayer? 40-50 hours is way too long for a singleplayer COD campaign, but I put several times that many hours into online on COD4 and BC2.

        When most people think of game length, they think of the single player campaign. Multi-player adds an entirely different level to the length of a game, good multi-player can allow it to be worthy for several hundred hours (like Halo), but bad MP or no MP users can ultimately lead to a decrease in game length

        I meant single only. Not on Live so have never experienced multiplayer. Can see how it can give a game legs though.

      As my pink shadow pointed out... it depends on the game.

      Personally I don't like multiplayer, I'm not good at it... and whilst I have fun playing CoD online I spend most of my time dieing, or watching a respawn screen.
      I would be happy to see single player campaigns in FPS's go from being 6 to 10 or 15 hours long.
      RPG's are long... but they're supposed to be.

      The only game I can think of that would be "too" long is FF13... but if that was more fun I think the time taken would have been more enjoyable.

      It's like anything; if you're enjoying it time fly's and you want more... if you're not then it seems to drag. I don't approve of multiplayer being a stand in for a short campaign.

        You make me sound like a phallic apparition!!! :D

        yeah in my opinon a shooter should be 10 hours long minimum on the first playthrough on a normal difficulty, most seem to be 6 though

        they can argue it doesn't fit the story but in general most FPS really come down to Start (previously on this game) middle shoot some stuff for 6 hours end To be concluded in the sequel
        (Note may not actually be concluded in the sequel depending on possible sales)

        FFXIII issue was that it was long in the boring section, everyone i spoke to was like yeah it gets awesome 40 hours in, if its not awesome within the first 5 ive stopped

    I shall rant slightly off topic, but in terms of the number of 'hours' a game has:

    There was this great piece on GameInformer which I read a while back:

    http://www.gameinformer.com/b/news/archive/2010/12/29/it-s-over-when-it-s-over-in-defense-of-short-games.aspx

    And one quote that really stuck with me, and made plenty of sense:

    ---------------------------
    “How long is the game?” as though it’s the most important question. I hate hearing developers answer that question evasively or apologetically. I want to hear them reply, “It’s as long as it needs to be. Next question.”
    ----------------------------

    Are games getting shorter? Maybe. But does it matter? Not really. If they produce a quality, enjoyable experience, I'll be fine with that. I finished Portal in about 5/6 hours the first time, and about 2 hours the second time. But I don't care. It was awesome. It really made you think, there was great dialogue and overall, it stuck with me. It's stuck with me just as much as Metal Gear Solid 3 has, which took me, I'm guessing here, but probably 12-15 hours. It's stuck with me just as much as Arkham Asylum has, which probably took 20+ hours. It doesn't matter how long the game in terms of hours, for me, the enjoyment and experience is what matters. I care more about the story, the gameplay, how much fun I have than some stupid number of hours.

      I agree with this rant. When you go to the book store, you don't judge a book by how many pages it has, you judge it by content (or the cover, or blurb, or reviews.. anyway). Why? Because the book is only as long as it needs to be to tell the story.

      Similar logic should be applied to video games, they need only be as long as it takes to keep you interested.

      The real question is should the length of a game influence the price of the game. Are you happy paying $90 for a 2 hour game?

        What 2 hour games have you bought for $90?

        I have and will continue to pay $90 for 5-6 hour games, on the condition I will continue to enjoy it each time I replay it. If I will never be interested enough to replay a game, I would never pay that much for a short game.

          I find it amusing that people are paying $90 for new games :P (Try the internet. It sells cheap stuff!)

          I also agree with Glenn, at least, I think I am. I pay full price for a new game if it's a memorable and enjoyable experience. If it's a crap game, it doesn't matter if it's 2 hours long or 20 hours long; the point will remain that it's a crap game, which is why I do my utmost best to avoid games like this.

          2 hours is an extreme hypothetical.

          4 hours is more reasonable. Kane and Lynch 2 for instance would fall into this bracket, as would Portal. Would you pay $90 for Portal?

          Knowing that Portal is an awesome game and has replay value, but is quite short. If it were priced at $90 would you feel short changed for having bought it at that price?

            Yeah, I can understand what you're saying. I would pay $50-60 for Portal (which is what I do for normal new releases), but I think this is tinged by the fact that I've already played it and loved it. Paying $90? No, I'd struggle to make that purchase, especially if I'd known beforehand I'd finish it in 6 hours. But this is where Joe Juba (Gameinformer) makes the excellent point - Reporters/devs should say it's as long as it should be and not harp on about how short it is. Without a knowledge of the hours I'd sink into a game, that'd make me much more likely to a buy a short game.

        Portal generally isn't even $50-$60 when it's packaged alone. The Orange Box may cost this much or more but it has another, single player game, Half Life 2, which is fairly long. (And TF2, for multiplayer - even more hours
        So if we're talking Orange Box, would you pay $60 for a 4 hour puzzle game, a 15 hour shooter, and a robust multiplayer (many hours)?

    Agreed, open world games generally have a good length to them (20 hours plus), but your standard straight narrative game with a 8-10 hour long single player isn't necessarily a bad thing.

    I quite enjoy a number of short games, because in the real world, between housework, work, kids and spouse, there is very little time to sit down and play games. I enjoy a good 10 hour game because it means if I happen to get a weekend off, I can plow right through it, and if the game is engaging enough, gives me incentive you replay it in the future. The longer games like Fallout 3 and Mass Effect are really difficult to go back and replay after you've moved onto the next game, as you have to invest a lot of time to get through. This is the very reason I keep putting off playing Dragon Age, I'd rather get through my pile of 8-10 hour games than put in the 40-60 hours I've heard it takes to really enjoy Dragon Age.

    Ultimately it comes down to the genre, and what people have come to expect from the developer. Had Starcraft 2 been under 10 hours long, there would have been rioting, especially given the lengthy wait between chapters.

      I think your expectations on length of games are pretty spot on, but the problem is that alot of games now (big budget games also) are falling well under these lengths now.

      For example, Modern Warfare 2, I truly felt as though I was casually playing the campaign, even had a fair look around a lot of the levels for the intel, etc, only to find out that when the credits rolled, it was all over in just a touch over 5 hrs, the way they ended it abruptly was also a big FU to the people playing because they could have easily had a few more levels to continue and wrap up the story.

      Just recently I played through Prince Of Persia : Sands Of Time on the PS3, which I hadn't played since it first came out in 2003 or something. Now I finished the story in about 8 hrs, sure it's different to a COD game, but it was longer by a bit, keep in mind also that I still remembered a few of the tricky puzzles and/or things that needed to be done in the game. There is no reason why something like MW2 couldn't have had longer and more levels before it started to get 'stale'.

      Ultimately I agree with Dylan and that games are slowly becoming shorter and shorter, because developers and publishers are throwing in multiplayer as the way for us to continue to play their game beyond the story.

        Thing is though that COD is primarily a multiplayer game nowdays.
        Yeah the single player was short but 90% of people bought it because of the multiplayer and the developers knew that when they made it so that's what they focused on.
        It is the opposite to the tacked on MP - they built a polished MP game and felt the need to include a token SP part.

        Not necessarily a good thing but if you are wanting a Mass Effect quality SP and a Halo quality MP in one game it is not going to happen.

        On that note, developers should probably stop including MP unless it is a major focus of the game, cause if it is not totally awesome then gamers will go back to the proven and player filled COD and Halo.

          I'm not looking to have games that are all "Mass Effect quality SP and a Halo quality MP" in quality, just wanting to make sure that the single player game doesn't become the tacked on bit for all games.

          COD became what it is from COD4, which at it's heart was a fantastic SP game, it had variety in it's levels and some brilliant set pieces, I found alot of people got involved with COD via the SP first and then found the MP from that. Yes the series has basically moved to a MP only focus, but that shouldn't mean they half ass the SP portion.

          Kotick talks about a COD MMO, or perhaps just an online only game... go for it, if it also means they release a SP player game also, actually take their time with it.

          I can't understand WHY every game has to have a MP component... Arkham City will have it, Batman Arkham Asylum was absolutely fantastic as it was... why does that need MP? Dead Space, Resident Evil, are a few more examples where there is no need for MP but we have them now... Perhaps I'm just an oldskool gamer who doesn't want to see anymore focus removed from SP campaigns.

    "Invaded by China? Play Far Cry 2." <-- Damn right.

    Agree with NotoriousR that length in itself is less important than how impressive the game's content happens to be. A 100-hour messy, mediocre game is vastly inferior to, as you say, Portal (which was immensely memorable). Then again, countless 8-10 hour mediocre shooters or movie spin offs that sell for $120 are also undeniably stupid. There's a balance between fun, length and value that lots of games miss by a wide mark.

    There's also a point where games are too long, too arduous, and so massively huge that just the thought of playing through them again makes me wince. Dragon Age is a prime example (like Glenn says) - I'm doing my first playthrough of Origins and Awakening, reading every codex entry and doing every quest, and my play-time is something above 100 hours, even 120. To even contemplate doing this again, or many times, is crazy.

      Totally agree. I played through Portal for the first time earlier this year (I know, I was a bit late to the Portal party) and I liked its brevity. It impressively did what it did without wearing out its welcome. I liked that.

      So a short game for me is completely fine if it's a good game.

        From my understanding ,( I have never played portal ) Portal was great because people had no expectations. It came as part of the orange box, as a "bonus". The puzzles determine the length to some degree, but i think people were so blown away by the "bonus", that the length became irrelevant.

      though its like that with all RPG's the first time you play through you read everything you immerse yourself the second time you know where you want to go and you speed through it

      the issue with Portal being short is there are very few games that stand up to the entertainment that portal is on such a quick playthrough. it has charm and character that alot of other games don't.

      i often feel that the MP and SP should be reviewed seperatly, if a game has crap SP, but you think that the MP is the shiz that doesn't deserve anything above an 8 imo yet they consistently can get near perfect scores because online has large replayability(repetitive)

    I dont care about about how long a game is, all i care about is how replayable the game is, 5-6 hour game has to make me want to go back and play the game again. Devs do that where you finish the game and then it unlocks a "impossible" mode or unlocks more content, but this is only limited.

    Devs are using the multiplayer component to pad out the game, no one would pay $100+ for a game that can be finished in half a day or so.

    >
    videogame narrative isnt easy. writing a solid tv or film screenplay is difficult in itself - explaining why so much film and television languishes in mediocrity or worse. like comedy - timing is everything. Good media takes you away from time considerations. Good timing feels like . . . no time.

    The truth is video game style interactive story telling - where you need to give the participant the illusion they are progressively creating story and developing character along a - b - c - etc story threads poses serious challenges for writers.

    most games use a lot of padding. repetitive quest structures to prolong the experience.
    cinema cant afford to do this so all the fat and extraneous detail - ideally - is cut back - that is a very good thing.

    video games may not have had a Citizen Kane - God Father - On The Waterfront - etc. So cinema continues to trump video games as the more legitimate art form. and video games fight to shake their tech toy image.

    but this is forget/overlook Shadow of the Colossus: art in every sense of the word. And the pacing. climax and narrative arc are exquisite. all fat and extraneous detail trimmed back. a magnificent & tragic story. beautifully sparse/minimalist.

    Having to kill the majestic-beautiful Colossi is an evocative and very painful experience. a deep and powerful story told and you feel like youre telling it yourself. killing the good and great in the name of - an arguably selfish - love. is love selfish? destructive? at what cost? etc

    How much would you kill to save the life of one? How much would you sacrifice? Shadow of The Colossus is a powerful and emotional experience. its sparse, minimalist world is haunting and - once again i.m.o. - stands tall alongside Citizen Kane and cinemas other finest moments. it transports you from real world time considerations. no padding. just a beautiful & beautifully paced video game where time spent playing is invisible/unseen.

    If you question the duration of a game - or film for that matter - it has failed to draw you into the illusory dimensions of its universe.

    I like the argument that a long game can be percieved as a short game. As someone mentioned above Arkham Asylum is quite a long game - hour wise - but to me it felt short. Not in a negative way I have to add, the gameplay, pacing and the story made it engaging for me and kept my interest the whole way through. To me it feels like a short game because I enjoyed the ride so much, and like a rollercoaster all I wanted to do was experience the thrill again - while not feeling shortchanged about the original experience.

    Games like call of Duty are indeed short games - in terms of single player - but seem to be aware of their limitations. There's only so many times you can shoot at AI and run down corridors before you start to feel a bit weary of the experience. The games are littered with set pieces and visuals to keep things exciting (and in the case of COD:MW2 the threadbare story is perhaps the least engaging part of the experience)but ultimately have to be backed up by the core gameplay - which as I said can grow tedious.

    Metal Gear Solid 4 is a game that appears to be long, but is really too short. Like Dylan said about scripting games, a lot of work has to go into making stories, 100s of pages of dialogue - but does that guarentee an engaged audience? In MGS4 you're pulled out of the actual game experience constantly - and at length - for the game to explain everything to the player, at the detriment to gameplay. I felt like I hadn't actually played much of the game when I'd finished despite siting through over 10 hours of it. To use the rollercoaster analogy again, it was more like rollercoaster simulator with all the visual feast of the ride, but without the tactile wind-rushing-in-your-face experience.

    I never once thought a game was too long...what's wrong people? Dont like value for money?

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