Length Doesn’t Matter: A Plea For Shorter Games

I’ve set myself a goal of finishing a number of games in my “To Do” list this year, but I’m skeptical it can be done. Many of these games are massive. Right now, I’m playing my way through Chrono Trigger on the DS andZelda: Skyward Sword on the Wii. The former game has between 12 to 25 hours of gameplay while the latter has an estimated 50 to 100 hours of gameplay. While the longer times generally assume you’re completing every single side quest RPGs like these have to offer, even 12 or 50 hours is a massive time investment into a single game. Especially when important, real-life demands like work, kids and partners are competing for that time.

Some of the other games I’ve scheduled to play are just as big. Quick internet searches suggest the Mass Effect trilogy will offer me 75 hours of content, Assassins Creed 3 around 40 hours, and I don’t even want to think about how long Final Fantasy 3 & 4 are going to take me to complete.

So why are many games so massive? Partly, I think it’s a legacy of the 80s and 90s. As a long time gamer, I remember vividly the outrage that would follow should a game in the 80s or 90s have offered up a short experience. Gamers demanded value for money. A game experience that they could skink their time into. Anything less than 10 hours was seen as a rip-off.

In those decades I had a lot of spare time. I was 11 in 1989 and a teenager during most of the 90s. Back then I could spend hours on a game, eschewing Mario’s warp zones for a massive and thorough high score attempt instead. A plan to complete a play through of Zelda: A Link to the Past in just a single day was not unheard of. And if I hadn’t completely conquered my enemies in Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri before I needed to sleep, picking up the next day wasn’t a problem.

These days, I’m lucky if I can find even an hour to play during the day. I’m a married man with a one year old son who needs to work to pay the bills. I’m not sure if life was just less complicated for adults in the 80s and 90s, but demanding more hours of gameplay seems positively counter productive to me.

Put simply, games should be shorter. Indeed, I argue shorter games can offer greatervalue for money… if the price is right.

A few years ago, I downloaded a game called Journey on the Playstation 3. It took me around 2 hours to complete, which I did in a single sit through. At the end of it, I wasn’t angry. Indeed, I was stunned. I had just played one of the most amazing games I’d ever played in my life. Graphically stunning with a genuinely emotional conclusion, Journey was the game that made me realise shorter games are where it’s at.

Journey41

Think about it. Your average movie takes 2 hours to watch. If it’s a good movie, you consider the time well spent. In those 2 hours you are (hopefully) told a compelling story, and you get a beginning, a middle, and in most cases a definitive end. You get closure. You’ve seen the whole story and can reflect on it. You might even rave about it to friends and recommend they do the same.

Would you watch a movie that takes 50 to 100 hours to get through? Of course not. Because you’re sane. You don’t have that kind of time, even for a passive experience. You’d probably stop watching after 4 hours. You might come back to it, but why would you even begin when there’s a chance you might not? You get the beginning. You might get the middle. Only the most committed (take that word how you will) would get all the way to the end.

But yet Journey gave me a beginning, a middle and an end. The journey in Journeywas the payoff. The ending is left up to the player to interpret, and each player interprets it in different ways. In that sense, Journey is an experience and akin to watching a movie, albeit a movie in which you tell the main character what to do.

Journey also costs about $15 to download from the Playstation Network. For a 2 hour game, that’s about the right price. Any more than that and I probably would have felt a bit ripped off, despite the gameplay being nothing short of incredible.

So I’m begging developers; pleading with them, if I must. Make your games shorter. Compress your narrative into the space of 2 or 3 hours. Make it compelling. And then sell it at a reasonable price point. If you’ve done your job right, your customers will thank you.

What do you think? Are games too long? Are shorter games a good idea? Or do you think everything’s just right? Sound off in the comments below!

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Categories: opinion

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