Are Video Games Just Too Damn Long?
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Games can be short with an option to be long. Mastery such as in Dark Souls. Or very challenging. But once it clicks, it can be a pretty short game. That can be replayed over and over again in new game plus. RPGs and open world games can handle this well, too. Lots of small stories to uncover, lots of things to explore.

Are video games too long? There are some who certainly believe so, while others want their games to be dozens of hours long. There is definitely room for preference here but, if I had to choose between one or the other, I’d say I’d choose shorter games overall.

Practically speaking, I think this makes sense. There are a large amount of people who simply don’t finish their games. To a degree, this makes sense. There are so many great games released in a year, and so many things to experience, that it is easy to be pulled to the newest thing while the old game falls to the wayside.

Beyond that, though, there is a discussion to be had about the value of games. Does a longer game provide more value? In a way, it depends on how you look at it. A longer game might not be of a higher quality, and it also is more expensive to make. A studio spending a long time on a game means projects take longer and there are fewer of them. Employees are also more likely to get worn out and, sometimes, long awaited titles get stuck in development hell. A higher cost of development would also very probably mean publishers are less likely to take a chance on a new or unique property. These are costs to consider.

On the other side of the token is the idea that a longer game means a consumer will get more hours of play per dollar. While that is one way of looking at it, it might be oversimplifying the matter. And even a short game has quite a bit of value when compared to most hobbies. In a very rare scenario, a game might be 6 hours long but launch at full price. Let’s say sixty dollars. That still equates to about ten dollars per hour of enjoyment. That’s not bad, and that’s about the worst the ratio can get. Often, shorter games end up cheaper, or their cost diminishes more quickly.

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Longer games tend to have a lot of bloat, too. It is often the case that players have to navigate gauntlets of damage sponges who pose little challenge and only serve to prolong the experience. There isn’t necessarily anything engaging about these sections and some games just repeat this kind of gameplay over and over. A lot of RPGs involve grinding, and sometimes this grinding is present in order to encourage microtransactions to alleviate the monotony. This can be especially tiresome if players are playing for the story. It can also detract from the story if the beats end up too far apart and the gameplay isn’t also telling a compelling narrative. But little can be done if studios are encouraged to make longer games, regardless of what their vision might be.

I don’t mean to imply that there isn’t room for long games in the industry. There certainly are. JRPGs are some of my favorites, and these games are often pretty long. Open world games can also justify their length. The reason for this, likely, is that they are so varied in their design. Players can undertake a lot of different tasks and experience a lot of smaller stories to complement the overall narrative.

It just seems as though an extended single player experience in a game can lead to diminishing returns. Maybe one solution could be to make some games more challenging. Dark Souls can be a very short game, but the challenge of the game and the way it encourages exploration can prolong the experience. Games with optional quests also help circumvent the problem to an extent, although they might not bring down development cost. If gamers valued shorter games just as much as longer games, things might change for the better. Studios could have more control. And more people could finish games their games.

Benjamin Maltbie
Benjamin Maltbie

Writing Team Lead
Date: 08/27/2020

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