Length Does Matter?
Video games are much longer than they used to be. It makes sense, the technology was originally geared toward coin-op experiences that wanted you to get as addicted as possible to pay as much as possible to keep playing. Arguably that still holds true today with “free to play” or “freemuim” gaming, mostly on mobile devices, but for most home console or PC games there has been a growth in how long you’re playing the game. I think the consensus is that with a longer game you are getting more for your money, which certainly seems to be the sentiment of everyone more concerned with The Order 1886‘s length rather than content. On the other hand I get much more enjoyment out of a five minute game of Donkey Kong or even a fifteen minute run in Rogue Legacy than I can speak for with all 22 hours I’ve spent with the Dragon Age trilogy. Personal taste aside, that last example speaks to the fact that this new dollar:hour ratio is shy of calculating actual value out of a game and thus suggests that longer is not always better.
When I ask people what their favorite games of all time are there are some consistent answers. Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog 2, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, Ico, Bioshock, God of War: Chains of Olympus, Portal, the list goes on. One thing all of these games have in common is that they are relatively short titles in comparison to all other games on their platform. Super Mario Bros. can be beaten in an hour even if you suck at the game, I’ve proven that. Metal Gear Solid spans two discs and barely six hours and without speed running I can get to the helipad in Resident Evil (PS1) in just around four and half hours. Ico is still considered one of the best PS2 games of all time and one of our most popular game clubs, it’s five hours long. Portal can be beaten faster than it takes to watch Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, and it’s much more fun too. My point is that a good game is a good game, it transcends the concept of how long you play it for by making up for that in memories or the urge to replay it, even if it wasn’t designed to be replayed. No one is going to be able to convince me that just because Silent Hill 2 is much shorter than most other PS2 games that it’s less of a game for it. How many games have an inexcusable amount of padding that begins to wear on you to the point of exhaustion. Ever played Half Life? In hindsight the game is far too long, has way too much padding, and whether it’s length or platforming, the whole Xen area can pretty much be avoided. That’s a concern when a game’s content doesn’t make up for its length.
I’m sure plenty of readers out there saw my list and wondered what happened to Skyrim, Final Fantasy IV and VI, Pokemon, Shenmue, Doom, Resident Evil 4, The Witcher 2, Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, and a whole slew of other games that are extremely long and more than make up for their length with solid content. Yes, I was trying to prove a point, and yes they were intentionally off that previous list. That’s because they are perfect examples of games that not only offer a massive bang for your buck in terms of length, the content is so rich that you’re enjoying every one of the 30-100+ hours you spend with these games. Each and every one of the games listed above – and the hundreds that aren’t – go to show you, above everything else, that a long game is far from a bad game.
What both paragraphs clearly demonstrate is that length is a poor, if not unimportant, factor in the value of a game. Granted, on this very site we mention how long games take to beat but that’s only so you are prepared for the investment you are making because no game is fun under a crunch or time commitment. With all the hustle and bustle in life, a parent of three who only gets 20 minutes to an hour of gaming in a few days a week is probably better off not jumping into Grand Theft Auto IV on a whim because he’s going to find a lot of wasted time just driving around and going on dates that the meat of the game may never be revealed. Then again, when I was fifteen there was a hell of a lot more value out of Phantasy Star II than Altered Beast. It’s all relative. Given that fact, it’s good to know how long you’re in a game for so as not to allow the length of a game to cloud your judgement of it. I’ve started playing The Witcher 2 and given that I only get in about 5-10 hours of non-GH101 related gaming per week, I realistically plan on spending a few months with that game, but imagine if I had no idea how long it was and spent every night just pushing as hard as I could to see the end. This would harm my love for it. So while I concede that the length of a game does affect what I play, when I play it, and how much I’m willing to spend on it, I don’t think it’s a good judge to the value of the a game.
A good game is a good game and almost never do you discuss the amount of time you have to put into it, or limited amount of time you’re playing it, to convince people of it’s worth. I think this is an important fact to remember when trying to decide, especially prior to release, whether a game is good or not. So the next time someone tells you that a game is “only six hours” or “over 40 hours”, be sure to ask them the more important question, “well is it any good?”