OK. Before you grab up the pitchforks and call for my head on a spike, please hear me out.

I understand that there is a place in the gaming world for long-term relationships. Clearly, the popularity of Bethesda’s RPGs (Fallout 3, Skyrim), the time vacuum of Minecraft, the competitive play of online shooters and stickiness of MMOs proves that gamers are willing to sink countless hours into a single title. We’re nearing the end of a console generation, though, and the market is getting crowded. Very few people have enough time to devote to even one of these games, let alone the flood we’ve seen over the past six months.

During my leisure time, I find myself gravitating toward shooters, not because they are my preferred genre, but because it remains one of the few in which I can expect to complete the experience in a reasonable amount of time. I still love RPGs, deep mech simulators and lengthy third-person adventures, but they are so hard to stay focused on given my life. I’m married, I have kids and I’m in the process of buying a house. All of these things, in addition to working daily on RipTen, take up a significant amount of time.

It’s for that reason that I’m grateful for shorter experiences that don’t overstay their welcome. Some developers seem to understand this. Telltale Games has successfully championed the episodic model. Most recently, The Walking Dead’s first episode clocked in at about two hours, providing an intense, dramatic narrative with interesting gameplay. Not only did it last the perfect amount of time, but I’m hungry for more. I can’t wait for the second episode to arrive.

I’m almost finished with Max Payne 3. It isn’t nearly as long as other Rockstar Games epics like Red Dead Redemption or any of the Grand Theft Auto titles, but it still manages to pack a ton of excitement and a gripping tale without the filler or downtime that I’ve experienced in those other games. Does the shorter play time make it a less worthy expenditure for someone with only $60 in his/her wallet? Not at all.

There is a fallacy that exists in the gaming community that longer games are always a better investment than shorter ones. For some gamers, that may be true, but as there are more demands on our time as we get older, things have equalled out for me. I’ve found myself surprisingly pleased to find out a game is only 8 – 10 hours long. I know that I’ll see the whole thing and can put it back on the shelf without regrets when I’m finished.

I have to wonder if part of the decline in sales we’re seeing, in addition to the end of product cycle contraction, is in part to games becoming too long. Combined with an economy that is still challenging for many, people are gravitating toward fewer games that provide a deeper experience. The race to create the longest game seems like it might just be backfiring on publishers.

There needs to be a balance. Not every book is as long as War and Peace, there are plenty of movies shorter than Titanic and there is still room for the two-minute song on the radio. Publishers need to find a better middle ground if they hope to maintain an aging consumer base and regrow revenues in the coming generation.

 

Michael Futter is the Managing Editor of @RipTen. You can follow him on Twitter at @mmmfutter.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I can understand why you would want shorter games, but that just doesn’t work with all genre. I’m going on a limb here, but I don’t think you can make a great RPG with a playtime of about just 8 hours, that’s first to short to get a real story across, and second you have to build the whole world, and if they make a short game, they can’t bill you 60$ for it, but if they don’t they won’t make enough money, to cover there cost.
    And maybe you should try out RTS or games like Anno, or Port Royale, no big story behind them to forget, and you can play as long (or short )as you want.

  2. I get your point that shorter games can have greater immersion, and I understand that certain lifestyles entail less time to devote to a game that demands hours of time, however, when people (like myself) can only spare enough to buy two or three games in a year, the amount of content becomes way more important. For me, spending $60 on a game that will last me for months, or on a game that will last me a weekend is a big decision to make, and I know there are people like myself who are on a budget. Recently, I decided to buy Max Payne 3, which was a hard decision. Yes, the story and gameplay are both amazing, and I don’t regret spending my money on it, however, I do feel that spending $60 on a 10 hour story, compared to a 35 hour RPG, is a very different use of $60. At the end of the day, I wish retail games had different prices, just so that these inequalities weren’t so apparent. My favorite example of this was Splinter Cell Conviction, which reviewers were giving eight’s and nine’s for, despite its 5 hour campaign and complete lack of replayability. Based on that score, Conviction was worth as much as something like Fallout, with hours of gameplay and an immersive story. Now, when reviewing a game, there are a lot of factors other than content, however, for gamers on a budget, content is the deciding factor. I think the problem is that these shorter games cost the same retail price as their much larger counterparts. For books, short stories are immersive and fast, BUT they are much cheaper then longer novels. The problem with video games as a medium is that there is no price difference in retail releases, despite major differences in length. I think the middle ground you referenced will be found in downloadable games like The Walking Dead where prices are dynamic depending on content. I can guess that video game sales would go up if retail prices were as dynamic as their downloadable counterparts.

  3. Actually I felt cheated by Max Payne. 2 discs for the 360 and the whole damn thing felt shorter than the PS2 version.

    I get that you’re living out the white picket fence life and more power to you but f**k shorter games. May they be banished to a endless dark pit never to see the light of day again.

    When you put 60+ bucks down for a game there’s no way in hell you should be done with it two days later. At that rate weed is less expensive.

    My suggestion to you would be retro games. I won’t pretend that I know exactly when it happened, but the bar has clearly risen from skimpy little linear based games that you could probably finish in a day if you wanted to.

    Games like that have ZERO replay value. On the other hand I spent 60$ for Oblivion some six years ago and only lost interest once Skyim came out. That’s a damn good buy and that’s the only real standard that matters.

  4. shouldn’t games be shorter because think about it the story would not become bloated or to confusing, but then again a to short game (a couple of minutes) means for very rushed storyline, I think it would be better for most games if they were 7 hours long not 12 hours because usually end up being “oh no the princess is in the other castle) I believe gaming has outgrown that, this conversation does not include games like fallout or skyrim which are made to be 100 hours long but games like half life or bioshock which follow a linear path.

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