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Length should never determine a game’s worth

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Price shouldn't determine game length feature

I tend to watch many (if not all) of Extra Credits’ video focused on game design, the industry and generally what certain games could mean for certain people. I find them on point most of the time, and last night’s latest episode was no different. Through it Extra Credits explored the weird way some consumers equate a game’s worth to it’s length – no matter what impact it has on its quality.

You can see the episode in full below, which I highly recommended.

It got me thinking about the same question, because it’s a facet of game sales that I’ve seen crop up time and time again. Just like Extra Credits, it’s easy to load up something like Steam and navigate over to bite-sized gaming experiences. Usually they’re attacked with claims of being a “rip-off” for not being long enough to (apparently) justify the cost. People who pay for a game want them to last longer – sometimes through the sheer determination to “get their money’s worth”, or simply because they don’t want the experience to end.

Both of which have major problems for the way games are made.

I’m not going to dive deep into some of areas in game development that prove this point in different ways, like how budgets and deadlines sometimes don’t permit a game to be longer than it already is. That’s a studio by studio thing, and is less concerned with how the game is made and what it’s trying to achieve. That, to me, is where the real problem lies. Demanding that an experience be stretched out to reach a certain gameplay milestone, to the detriment of the experience itself.

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Often when I discuss this with people who don’t agree with me – people who think a game selling for, say, R800 or $60 or whatever should meet X amount of hours as a standard – I think of Journey. Journey is a delightful little game from thatgamecompany that launched with an equally little price. It’s a short game, an experience that is easily over within three hours and doesn’t really entice you to visit it again afterwards. What’s the point of a game that you can finish in one sitting, right?

Speak to anyone who has played it though, and they’ll likely tell you that had it been any longer, and magic of it would’ve faded. I’ll say the same – because Journey is an example of an expertly thought out, well-paced game that so many other games could also be if they show constraint. But because of this desire to give people more of the same just so that there isn’t a complaint about length shatters that illusion. It turns great ideas into drawn out plodding ones, and ultimately games that are forgettable and lacklustre as a result.

It’s not that I don’t understand why we want games to last longer, because I do. I buy most of my games still (usually on launch day because I just can’t resist), and would like them to last more than an afternoon. I often recall the disappointment I felt with The Force Unleashed 2 – a terribly boring game that I finished the day I picked it up. It sunk my heart when the credits rolled, bringing to a close a game that really only started feeling goodat the end. I wanted more – or at least I thought I did.

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Because when I think about it now, what would I rather have played? If that day for some reason I had picked up Journey for the same full price as the Force Unleashed II, clocked it within three hours and let it sit, I think I would’ve been happy. The quality of Journey outstrips the importance of its length, because those three hours are just so good, so well designed that the sense of euphoria of finishing outweighs that of disappointment.

And for all its shortcomings, a short game like The Force Unleashed II wouldn’t have been better with more hours lazily padded on to the end. Its quality is the sole reason its sudden ending isn’t that terrible, and it’s the reason why you’d feel ripped off after throwing down full launch day money for it. Not because it was a spectacular game that ended to soon, but rather a disappointing one that didn’t satisfying the craving you had when purchasing it.

This is all a very different argument to many games that launch now with a sore lack of content, but there’s an argument to be made about getting angry at game’s you’ve inherently loved just because they ended too soon for your liking. Great games are extremely well thought out, and denying their calculated length as a reason for this is a crime.

Even Uncharted 4 suffers from over-extension

Great games come in all shapes and sizes, and often in a variety of different lengths too. There’s a weird sort of balance to pricing structures and “how much game should be here for your dollar”, but it’s a strange practice to look down on something that you loved just because there wasn’t enough of it. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s sometimes best to think about why what you’ve just played made you feel so happy, and ask yourself whether more of the same would’ve made the experience better or eventually stale.

We never want great games to end. But sometimes the reason we consider them great is because they do.

Last Updated: May 12, 2016

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