Why I'm Rallying For Shorter Games

I played a game that lasted only 10 minutes and it was glorious. It also cost me five bucks. Yes: I am saying that a game that amounts to one dollar per two minutes was worth the investment.

In fact I was so struck by how short the game was, I couldn't help but wonder why we don't have more games in a commercial setting that only last 10, fifteen minutes if played in their entirety. Not games we can play for a few minutes and put down: games that last a few minutes, period.

That game that sparked these thoughts would be the experimental Thirty Flights of Loving, the follow-up to Brendon Chung's indie darling, Gravity Bone. It's a tale of heist gone horribly wrong for a band of criminal schemers, which we have to piece together after a series of smaller, fast paced vignettes and montages.

Chung calls a "first person short story". This is an apt description. A short story, after all, is something that hones in on just a few things and often concentrates on mood instead of the plot. Thirty Flights and its refusal to give the player too much information-which works beautifully for stringing the player along-and its quirky aesthetic and tone fits the bill of a "short story". You can't quite figure out the exact details and context of the plot. But the mood and feel of the game is still carried well.

It reminded me of how recently, I've been reading a whole lot of the Japanese author Haruki Murakami. Not his novels — his short stories. I was hooked, and the length had everything to do with it. No filler. Just pure, condensed story — there's no having to read through hundreds of pages to understand 'the point' of what I was reading. Fantastic. I'm a busy person. I don't have time for garbage.

And if the media I'm consuming isn't worth my time, then I move on to the next tab, the next song, the next YouTube clip. Whatever delivers. But there's always something next on the docket.

Notice a pattern here? Length. Speed. Moving forward to the next thing — because we're all hungry for information and our lives are a daily struggle to cram as much in it as possible, in the least amount of time possible.

Many of us bemoan that games are getting shorter and shorter, some of us would even like our games to never end. But maybe we're ignoring the fact that this shortening is happening to media-at-large and it's something that we actually like, speaking generally.

And why wouldn't we like it? Constant stimulation feels...good. Compulsive. At times maybe lacking depth, but good.

Many of the games that will come to top GOTY lists this year, I suspect, will be shorter games. Journey. Walking Dead. Fez. Papo & Yo. Just to name a few.

Notice a pattern here? Length. Speed. Moving forward to the next thing-because we're all hungry for information and our lives are a daily struggle to cram as much in it as possible, in the least amount of time possible

It's not the length that will give these titles the ability to contend for the top prize, of course. Nobody is going to award a game a prize for being short. But being short means that a game has to be conscientious of how it asks us to spend our time, and to be, above all, punchy. Shorter games have to be better games — or else. We might be willing to forgive a longer game for segments that drag on, but a shorter game is burned at the stake for the mistake.

A shorter game forces a developer to focus on only the aspects of a game worth including and experiencing. It's no surprise that titles like The Walking Dead feel tight and well-paced. There's nothing superfluous in it. And, should it be that the game is actually drivel? Well, it was short — you didn't have to suffer through it for too long and, ideally, didn't spend much money on it either.

Consider, too, that not only is our free time disappearing as we are all getting older — according to the ESA's average gamer age, anyway — but stats show that we just plain don't finish most of the games we play. So why do we keep asking for them to be longer and longer when the truth is that most of us don't have the extra time for it, and if we did, we're not even finishing the games anyway?

Give me more shorter games. Longer games have their place, and I don't want them to go away. But I also want to feel that my time is respected, and I want to play as many games as possible. Maybe you do too.

Credit Bloomua/Shutterstock


Comments

    I'll keep it short so your attention span doesn't lose focus, no.

    No.

    I feel a little ripped off if I pay $60-100 for a game that only lasts me 4-6 hours with minimum replay value. 12-15 hours is probably in the sweet spot for me depending on the type of game it is.

    I dislike games that "artificially" lengthen the game through boring random encounters, or excessive traveling, or lame fetch it quests etc. I don't want to play that crap for 50-100 hours.

    I just finished the story on Sleeping Dogs the other day. I did a mix of story missions and side quests, and was happy to finish the story at around 15 hours. If it ran much longer than that I risked getting distracted by another game, or losing some of the interest and putting the game away.

    It's an art form in its own to find the perfect mix of length and pacing.

      See but right there - that 15 hours would probably take me the better part of a year! At most I have maybe two hours spare of a night for gaming and if I hit a roadblock or difficulty spike I will put it down and come back to it later rather than busting my arse in frustration.

        That's exactly the boat I'm in. CoD games usually take a week or two for me to finish. Still doesn't mean I'm interested all that much in ultra short games becoming the norm, mostly because of the money problems I'd start to encounter. $5 sounds cheap, but on such short narrative games it would start to add up rather quickly.

      "I feel a little ripped off if I pay $60-100 for a game that only lasts me 4-6 hours with minimum replay value" But that's based on games you've played before, not games that dont exist yet. I would happily pay 60-100 for an amazing game that went for 2 hours. Surely what you want for your money is the value of the experience, not just the length of time you're attention span is held for?

    While I agree that length does not equal quality and something more concise can often be better, I think 10-15 minutes is too short. One of the great things about gaming, or movies, or books, is being able to just become absorbed in the experience and relax for a while.

    Starting something new every 10 minutes would seem jarring to me and I don't think I'd have time to sink into the experience before it was over already.

    And I don't think we're really that busy that we can only afford to spare 10 minutes per day for gaming.

    Yeah, I don't think any big titles with the price tags to match should be shorter, but I could do with a few more short games with low, low prices... kinda sick of the big publisher mentality that everything has to be a giant budget AAA extravaganza that will suck down entire weeks of your life and all else is worthless. There's room at both ends of the scale.

    (Interestingly, the loudmouthed doomsayers who constantly bemoan the death of PC gaming seem to not agree - they only care about the AAA end of things, and anything less is not even regarded as a "real game")

    I'm not certain that Fez is actually a short game - seems bloody long to me.

    Also I'm all for games with campaigns that run a bit shorter because otherwise you put up with a lot of filler

    Of the games I've finished...

    Modern Warfare (COD4)
    Perfect Length - every mission was exciting and most of them had an interesting point of difference

    Portal & Portal 2
    Again perfect length with each and excellent pacing

    Half Life 2
    Water Hazard, Highway 17, Sandtraps and Nova Prospeckt all drag on way too long with too few high points between them - Nova Prospeckt in particular is a grind.

    Gears of War
    Whole underground level needs to be half as long

    Halo 3
    Needed to be half that length - esp with such a comprehensive MP

    Grand Theft Auto IV
    This could have one fifth of the missions and you'd still see every trick in the game, that's how many filler story missions there are.

      Ooh also just this week

      Crysis 2
      The whole mid section around Grand Central and Times Square needs to be cut - it's repetitive. The rest of the game is awesome.

    Yes, a thousand times yes.

    The complaints of current 'gamers' like most of the people that have posted above should be utterly ignored. They are in their little rut, and its designers making games for people like them that massively slows the industry from progressing.

    I would love to see games like Uncharted or Dead Space being 2 hours long, 3 tops. Ideally, at a lower price point as well. I'd like to see both types of experience on offer, there will always be long games too - in the same way you can go see the dark knight for 3 hours, or watch the whole of game of thrones for 20. Neither is 'better' or 'worse' they are just different experiences.

    All in moderation. Even instant gratification feels boring after a while if you just keep overloading your senses by flicking from one thing to the next. Sure, sometimes all you want is a quick dip in a game world and its story, other times it grabs your fancy and you want to know more, to delve into it and explore its mysteries and possibilities. If you keep making short games, that's not possible and you'll always be left wondering what could have been.

    It's like speed dating vs traditional dating. Sure it's thrilling to constantly meet new and exciting people and know that you can move on if they don't grab your fancy but afterwards, if you find someone who captures your interest, you can start to know them better and have a more in depth level of interaction with them.

    I loved Gravity Bone and Thirty Flights of Loving, but I just wish there was more. (Yes, I know there are four other Citizen Abel games but they require fooling around with Quake II and stuff to run)

    If you can't make the time to sit down and really appreciate a game for an hour or more, why are you even bothering? Do something else. Games are designed to binge on. A good game absolutely immerses you and has you wanting to play for a good four hours at once. If you're wanting something that you can play for ten minutes then forget about ten minutes later, why the hell aren't you spending time doing something else?

      Ridiculous. My 2 hours with Flower meant more to me than a hundred hours of Mass Effect.

      I think YOU want to binge on games, and YOU want to play games for four hours at once. I want games that give me an amazing experience, which has nothing to do with their length. Some games do that in an hour, some take 30. Depends on the experience. Journey is as fantastic as FF6. Very different lengths, both great experiences.

        +1 to that. I've +1'd so many comments on this article. Mostly these types.

    I think the length of a game is almost irrelevant.

    It's about quality. Here's one example.

    Resident Evil 4 is a very long game. Even knowing exactly where to go and not dawdling it'll take you around 9 hours to finish. It took me 20 on my first go. And it's very replayable, with the unlockable weapons and upgrades.

    But it never outstays its welcome because it is constantly mixing things up and showing you new things.

    Then there are the bonus missions which lasted me around 7 hours to play through once. Now there's some repetition here because you (mostly) go through areas you saw in the main story. But your objective is very different and the enemy locations and variety are different.

    And mercenaries mode? You can spend as long as you like in that mode just improving your score.

    Capcom reckon Resident Evil 6 is going to be the biggest RE yet. I hope they've played RE4 recently.

    I demand that a game last atleast 1 hour for every dollar I spent on it, on average across all my games.

    Wow, I did not expect this level of vitriol on here. Jeez, there's this whole culture completely obsessed with numbers and time and more, more, more. When the SNES was out in Aus we'd pay at times upwards of $120 for a 3-hour beat-em-up. Now, people will tell you that $15 a month to play TOR isn't worth it because the numbers aren't right or something, forget about the hundreds of hours worth of serviceable (if not grand) storytelling and multiplayer on offer, another section of the game isn't to my standard (whether high or low) which means it's so bad it shouldn't exist. Can we be any more idiotic? That as a community we can't just have fun playing a game, we can't just see it for what it is, it has to meet our unlikely expectations before the fact? I've played Skyrim and WoW for hundreds of hours but i've gladly paid $10 for a 30 minute indie game, simply because I like games and I'd rather all of them find their audience than relegate the industry to a few elitists.

      ^ This comment had to happen eventually. I'm surprised it took this long.

    No, but why not?

    Good article! Of course there's still plenty of room for innovation in design for games, and there always will be as the industry evolves out of consumer demand, just like all entertainment.
    With this, there's no reason why more story dense games won't appear in the market, and everyone can agree that's a good thing.

    The issue is linking total game time with story density and using them synonymously.
    "Bang for your Buck" is going to be different for all gamers. Radically different. I mean, look at all the in-game economies and the lame stuff people spend real money on. It's hard to believe. But then I spend hundreds on retro GameBoy games I never play.
    Apparently some complete weirdo's love games which are only 10 minutes long too!
    So each to their own.

    It's funny you should quote Murakami as an influence for story dense narrative because I just finished reading the 1Q84 trilogy and although of course he digresses in many areas, it's always entertaining and I don't think that takes away from it's story density. And these books total around 1000 pages.

    Length of course could be used to calculate story density with some weird formula using dramatic events as the metric. But plenty (most) games which require a story offer it as densely as they can if the writing is good, because everyone likes a ripping good yarn so why not. It attributes to the fun.

    Look at Half Life 2, 10 hours, awesome story, literally never a dull moment.
    Makes me think that maybe if Thirty flights of loving had some action elements it could have been a 10 hour game too. But then we'd have no article and I'd be off playing Gameboy.

    Portal was great. Total play time... I can't remember exactly... about 10 hours?
    But the end was a mix of "Yay I finished!" and "Aww, is that it?"

    Something that only lasts about 10 minutes, I would expect to see as a Flash game, either ad-supported or "donationware". Or straight out free.

      What if those 10 minutes were a better experience than 5 hours of another game? Do you just want to pay for the amount of time you want to be occupied, or do you want to have a great gaming experience?

      What were you doing for 10 hours? This first one I did in about 3 hours, felt satisfied. The second one I did in about 5-7 (I forget) and it was even better than the first one in most regards. And those hours didn't need to be any longer.

      And you should really play Gravity Bone and 30FoL before commenting. Because they're truely brilliant.

    While I agree on some points you have Patricia, I must respectfully disagree on your view that games should be shorter. Yes. Some games are great and are better kept short, The Walking Dead and the Telltale series being a good example.

    A long game, book, magazine article is not a bad thing nor should it be changed. The primary problem with most long things as of late is the lack of interesting writing. Should Harry Potter (best example I could think of at the moment) be reduced to "Harry becomes a mage, fights a bunch of different dudes, slays Voldemort and saves the day. The End."?

    No. The story in between was interesting with long books making up the entire series. It still captivated many people despite its length.

    You speak of people trying to jam in more and more into their "valuable" time. That doesn't mean that games should be reduced to the equivalent of a Twitter post. What it should mean is that games should have a better story (most games lack this) and a "Save when you want" feature (something older games had in abundance).

    Yes we should have "Casual" games for the more "time pressed" people out there (And seriously people, your time is not that important. Most of us are desk jockeys whose "important" work will be forgotten by the next paycheck) but long sagas should still be made.

    TL; DR - No. Just... No.

    I think it's worth saying that a long game that feels like it has bloated, un-enjoyable filler in it is a problem with that game itself, not the idea of a longer game. It just means the developers did a terrible job of giving the game lasting value.

    I don't mind short games, but I must stress two things. The first is that making a short game does not give a developer or publisher free license to price gouge - the price should be an accurate representation of what you're getting. Sure, a bit of a premium is fine, but $10 for a 30-minute game is absolutely absurd unless the game absolutely superb. The second thing is that I absolutely do not want shorter games to ever become a major focus in the industry, which brings me into disagreement with the author's statement about rallying for more shorter games. This is the perfect territory for indie developers, I agree, but indie developers are already free to make these kinds of games and do so. What is there to rally for? I don't want to see bigger developers making games in the region of 30 minutes to 2 hours, due to it likely having an impact on production value (No such thing as a 30-minute game with top-of-the-line graphics, unless someone would care to enlighten me) and my desire for longer, more fulfilling experiences. Short stints are nice, but that's the difference between novels and short stories as well - it's very hard to find a short story that has a big payoff at the end because it just doesn't have the same amount of time to build up. It's not the same kind of experience.

    Short games are in a good place where they are right now. Creative individuals make them (that's why they're even worth playing in the first place) and they're not going anywhere. Shorter experiences like this require a creative talent behind them to be worthwhile, and short of the talents within larger developers being diverted away from large-budget, large-profit projects (which would have an impact on the supply of AAA titles which I feel is already under some stress) indies are where you're going to get that.

    I just feel like this opinion piece lacks a solid point. It boils down to wanting more short games, which further boils down to just wanting more of something. Please, enlighten us on who you want to give us this something and how. Right now, it just seems like there's a statement on what you want (which any one of us can make with ease) but no suggestion on how one should go about that.

    The biggest problem I see with this is that an enjoyable short game requires a lot of genuine artistic merit.

    Long games often have something quantifiable that bestows enjoyment. Levels, puzzles, you can count them. If you enjoy them, then more is better, and a longer game derives value from that. Shorter games, however, have an innate lack of this, and often desperately require some kind of unique flair to make themselves welcome. Otherwise, they're just poor value for money with less production value than a big-name title.

    They can be good and time-effective, but they require themselves to have something that the bigger games don't in order to truly be successful in that regard. Otherwise, you might as well be playing one longer game a bit at a time.

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