Are Shorter Games A Way Forward?
The topic of game length and value for money resurfaced with a vengeance in the wake of the Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes saga, and I’m so glad that I can use the word ‘saga’ now without cringing. I kid. After an in-depth analysis of the Ground Zeroes issue just before my actual review of it, I’ve had plenty of time to dwell on this particular issue. But what really spurred this topic in my mind, in combination with the Ground Zeroes debacle, was news out of the recent GDC conference where we heard that only a third of players finish the games that they start. All of this got me thinking that maybe shorter games may be, or even should be, a trend in the future.
Now let’s clear up a few things first. While the GDC news doesn’t exactly present the most damning of statistics, and we should always be wary of statistics since manipulation of them can pretty much result in any tale being weaved with them, it doesn’t change the fact that we’ve heard this story spun a million times in countless different ways. It’s basically a fact written in stone that plenty of gamers don’t reach the ending credits of what they play. Secondly, by ‘shorter games’ I am treading lightly because I know that value for money is a highly important ingredient in this industry especially when you’re paying $60 per game, making video games one of if not our most expensive hobby.
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You’re paying that much for a gaming system and its games, but you’re not finishing what you buy? Interesting. Understand that when news of games going unfinished emerged in the past it was never just damning of, well, crap games. There are plenty of bad or average games I myself have dropped and never gone back to. But the news has always involved some of the best games in any given year. With the GDC article you’re seeing games like The Walking Dead, Mass Effect, BioShock: Infinite and Batman: Arkham City going unfinished. Curiously even Portal despite its length showed heavy signs of going unfinished, but here I could make the excuse that it’s because of its niche appeal.
For me, this is one of those issues where the problem is such a complex and unpredictable science that a solution almost doesn’t seem to exist. So I’d like you to take this whole issue as simple brainstorming, and not really a condemnation of long games. While playing Infamous Second Son recently, I was thinking that with it being the PS4’s first major exclusive outside of launch it would no doubt be selling like free weed. I’m about to finish my second playthrough of the game. It’s not the greatest game ever, but it’s certainly pretty good and entertaining, and most PS4 fans will enjoy playing it. That got me thinking though. It’s not the longest game and feels shorter for an open world game, yet you can easily get 20 hours of it. And how many people of all those who are buying it will play it until the end?
At one point I found myself thinking of all the reasons to stop playing a game. Maybe you didn’t like it, you found it too long, you got bored, you got distracted with other games or other things, life got in the way, you got busy and forgot about it – there are surely countless reasons. But part of me feels that if you go out there and spend $60, you at least were quite sure that you wanted that game. After all, there aren’t a great many people out there who can splash $60 on a consistent basis and not feel a dent in their wallets. So my assumption is that people who spend that kind of money on a game genuinely want to play the whole thing through. At least that’s true for me. I’ve never not finished a game that I’ve bought myself, and those that I get from friends or free or on a Steam sale are usually the ones that go unfinished for whatever reason. Of course another curveball can be thrown in then that the stats over the years haven’t accounted for those who didn’t buy the game themselves.
For argument’s sake, let’s say that that’s a small percentage of gamers out there. Then I ask you, do you think that shorter games would help you finish more titles? Of course there will be games like your Skyrims and Dark Souls’ that absolutely need to be long experiences. But for all the popular games out there, is getting more people to finish it worth sacrificing length? Does it even matter if people finish the game? Maybe to publishers all that matters is the actual sale, but I’d like to think that to developers who put in all that hard work on a game, they’d want people to finish it. Being a recent self-published author myself, I can say that I’d rather someone read the book and gave me feedback than bought it and left it on a shelf to collect dust. But then, my writing endeavor isn’t exactly a multi-million dollar industry with a whole lot other than my time and personal ambition riding on it.
Going back to the beginning, no I’m definitely not suggesting that games start being the length of Ground Zeroes. That would be absurd. And despite what I’ve said above, I don’t think that simply reducing games length will help either. But perhaps a combination of shorter games and cheaper games is an ideal way forward. Sadly, we don’t live in an ideal world and I doubt game prices will change for quite some time. So we’re back to my proposal of smaller, shorter and more focused games. And really, the entirety of this debate rests on the matter of whether it’s actually important for gamers to finish the games they play. For the sales figures, I doubt anyone cares if the game gets finished as long as it’s a success. But for the gamers and developers, it surely must matter.
Other than shorter and cheaper games, what suggestions would you have on this? Or more significantly do you think it’s important that gamers actually finish their games?