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COMMENT | No Such Thing As "Too Long" or "Too Short": Why A Game's Length Is Irrelevant

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Features
Tags:
Call Of Duty, Game length, Halo, Josef Fares, Journey, Portal, Sleeping Dogs

COMMENT | No Such Thing As "Too Long" or "Too Short": Why A Game's Length Is Irrelevant

Some of you may have read our recent interview with Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons' game director, Josef Fares. When we spoke last week, we chatted a little about consumer pre-occupation with the "length" of a game, that is to say, the time it takes to play the main part of it through from start to finish. Fares was unequivocal in his opinion on the matter: that this critical focus which attempts to determine "how long a game should be" needs to stop:

I think everyone agrees with me. It's just that someone said it, and no-one's stopped to question it. I think the press, the critics, even the community need to understand that it isn't important. Stop complaining about the length of time it takes to play a game. Why are we so focused on how long a game is? It's about the experience. You never question how long a movie is. It's a case of how good or bad it was, and that's it. The time it takes to play a game shouldn't matter in a review. Who's dictated how long or short a game should be? It's all about the experience.

It's a point I broadly agree with although, as Fares himself notes later on, that's not to say we shouldn't have large, expansive games, but rather that a game should only ever be as long as it really needs to be.

COMMENT | No Such Thing As "Too Long" or "Too Short": Why A Game's Length Is Irrelevant

Of course, the words "budget" , "commercial appeal", and "long tail" always crop up at this juncture, and perhaps rightfully so. After all, this is an industry, one in which commerce and artistic creation must cohabit together. Retail games cost several times more than one's average cinema jaunt, and it's not unreasonable to expect some sort of longevity for one's money.

But there are obvious examples of games that have been perfectly paced in all shapes and sizes. Sleeping Dogs is one that I like to return to because it falls into a genre - open world action games - that has long been the domain of excess. The simple act of making the core gameplay elements feel essential and restricting the main storyline to 12-15 hours meant everything felt impactful and nothing outstayed its welcome. It is one of the few open world games I've really wanted to finish, rather than reaching a certain middle point and becoming overwhelmed by the expanse or underwhelmed at repetitive quests.

COMMENT | No Such Thing As "Too Long" or "Too Short": Why A Game's Length Is Irrelevant

At the other end of the scale sit games like Journey, which offered a perfectly paced two-hour slice of emotive gaming wonderment, and Portal, which was expertly done. Though the latter came under fire for being too short, it's important to note that's not a stain on its quality. It was a complete surprise, bundled in with the Orange Box, and the only reason it got labelled as "too short" is because it was such a fantastic premise that we all wanted more.

Longevity can be measured in a number  of ways. Whether it's a game that stays in the disc drive for months because of its replayability or multiplayer appeal, or a game that sticks in the mind because it was so utterly excellent. It's easy to criticise iterative franchises in many ways, but we praise comprehensive content packages here on Dealspwn, and rightfully so. For me, the Halo series has always been worthy of high praise for making every facet of its content seem essential. I've enjoyed every single campaign, both in single-player and co-op, and have been thoroughly addicted to the numerous iterations of its multiplayer components.

COMMENT | No Such Thing As "Too Long" or "Too Short": Why A Game's Length Is Irrelevant

But whenever I think of "great games", I actually often skip over those enormous timesinks because they become default options, if you will. Games to fill in the gaps in between what I consider to be essential releases. It's odd to consider something like Call of Duty or Battlefield or FIFA or, indeed, the larger MMOs, or (in my default case) NBA 2K as underdogs. But that's because they're always there, ready to be played - a comfort blanket for when the release schedule has dried up.

It's important to remember that games in which you can invest large amounts of time are incredibly worthy, and setting up an  iterative franchise can be a positive. You always know what you're going to get, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Familiarity can be a comfort, especially if you identify games as a key source of escapism. But as we continue to explore the nature of the medium in which we operate/develop/consume/publish/nest the notion of what games are becomes enormously multifaceted, fundamentally subjective, and absolutely changeable.

COMMENT | No Such Thing As "Too Long" or "Too Short": Why A Game's Length Is Irrelevant

To understand that concept is to understand that variety is not just the spice of life, but of survival, and that longevity and value don't just come in one form. The rise of the digital marketplace and the advent of new routes to market have gone hand in hand with an indie boom that is becoming more and more fantastically innovative in places even as the other end of the spectrum appears to be growing more conservative and homogeneous.

The industry has been dominated for so long by a strict retail structure that has dictated a certain mindset when it comes to value and content and size. But we've seen so many challengers to that status quo (Steam, iOS, Android, XBLA, PSN) over the past few years that it's starting have little meaning, and that's rather the point. By themselves, discussions about game length are meaningless. If a game seems padded or truncated or rushed or bloated or interminably boring, then that's something completely different.

There's no such thing as "too long" or "too short", not really. Only games that are worth your time and money, and those that aren't.

Add a comment7 comments
Quietus  Mar. 13, 2013 at 19:16

I pretty much agree with the whole article. I don't care if a game is thirty minutes long, or whether it's a 100-hour time sink. All I want is to enjoy it. I'd rather play through a cracking 30-minute game than a boring 100-hour trawlathon. The only thing I'd add to the above is that it can be nice to have the OPTION of more. Take Skyrim as a perfect example. If you want, you can enjoy the story offered to you, and you can romp through this game in a handful of hours, but chose to become absorbed in the world, and immerse yourself in what it has to offer, and you will more than 'get your money's worth'.

I don't mind short or long games, and the only time I really hate a game's length is when it's filled with unnecessary bloat.

Breadster  Mar. 13, 2013 at 21:04

I agree to some extent, it depends on the type of game. I expect rpg's to be pretty long for example. It's mostly down to the price of games. I don't want to be paying £40 for anything less than 6 hours really. If it's shorter make it cheaper.

Also the comparison to films doesn't work. Most proper films are between 1 and 3 hours long, you always know roughly what to expect. If a film is short it's actually called a short film, and as you've pointed out, films are tons cheaper anyway.

I do agree though that a game should only be as long as it needs to be. I hate seeing things in games that are blatantly only there to pad out the length.

Cave Troll  Mar. 14, 2013 at 09:08

I agree entirely, a games length should be determined by the game itself, not dragged out with hours of grinding or meaningless quests that too many RPG's used to hammer in. Thankfully I think its becoming less of a problem these days with quality over quantity being recognised and not criticised, just look at how well Journey did at the Bafta's.

Late  Mar. 14, 2013 at 10:41

Largely disagree.
I love games, and I pay a fortune for them - it's my main source of entertainment. And I demand value for money.
I want a game to look good, I want it to have great audio, I want it to have a great story, I want it to have good multiplayer, and I want it to entertain me for a long time.

Of course not all games can tick every box. Most will struggle with half of those criteria. And of course if a game has most of the aforementioned qualities than I'm very happy. Probably all of my favourite games of all time have fulfilled most, but not all, of the above. It'd be nice if it'd gotten the clean sweep, of course, but I'm very happy when a game comes close to perfection.

But that doesn't mean I don't want the missing quality - in this case longevity. Of course I want it. If I'm thoroughly enjoying a game I don't want it to end any time soon.

Can a game be great, without being very long? Of course it can. There are any number of games that prove that.
Do I want good games to entertain me for more than a few hours? Yes!


Game length isn't essential, but neither are visuals, audio, campaign, multiplayer, or the other factors we look to in a good game.

Just like those factors, though, longevity is important.

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Incidentally, I could easily argue that the length of a film is important (why didn't Peter Jackson make the Hobbit as a single (nine hour?) film, for instance? And how many films have you seen where you've thought "good, but there were a lot of unnecessary scenes that were clearly just padding"? Quite a lot, I'd imagine), but I think it's a pointless comparison. Like comparing apples and oranges, to use the old cliché.

Yukes  Mar. 14, 2013 at 12:51

Fully agree with Late on this. I think it's ridiculous to completely disregard the longevity of a game in assessing its quality. Whilst I agree it should not be the overriding factor in rating a game, longevity should certainly be a component that should be considered.

Some games are just so sweet in every other regard: immersion, graphics, sound design, storyline, etc., that longevity isn't required (e.g. Journey). I would suggest that games like this are still exceptions to the rule, however.

stevenjameshyde  Mar. 14, 2013 at 13:19

I would posit that something like LA Noire had enough fresh, original ideas to sustain a 12-hour campaign, but nothing like enough for double that. It would have been a better game if it was shorter

It could be argued that the criticism should focus on the paucity of ideas rather than the length, but I think that both standpoints have their merits

Ilium  Mar. 14, 2013 at 18:16

I agree with the sentiment that a game should only be as long as it needs to be, but that can vary so much. How do you measure that need. I think it's a subjective thing and it changes from game to game.

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