Lost In: Game Length – Are Games Too Long?

Promo Art for the Tomb Raider reboot

Hey ya’ll, I’m back for another piece and this time we’re going to talk about game length.

We live in an era of unparalleled technological advancement. Video games were born as a by-product of this era and though their origins were humble, they have always been in the forefront edge of technology. For most of it’s history Graphics were the benchmark that the industry held itself against. The most photo-realistic car for someone to drool over [Watch the Video, it’s ridiculous]. Or perhaps the best generic Nazi to shoot. Through it all, we saw rapid forward advances in the fidelity and technology… until now. Sure games still look better but now, graphics aren’t a real benchmark. Art design has become more important and so games found a new benchmark. Now, a game’s true “awesomeoness” can be measured by how much of a “Fully Realized Open World” they can make. These days, that phrase doesn’t just mean map that lets you wander anywhere but a proper simulation where the squirrels plant acorns that grew into saplings that dragons burn down all well you wander the world without load screens, This has led to what I like to think of as the “100-hour minimum”, its the point where you have to hit in order to prove your game pushing the limit. The Witcher 3, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Batman: Arkham Knight, Metal Gear Solid V, just to name a few from this year There are countless other games that hover in-between 40-60 hours, which is just about the industry standard for normal games these days. 100 hours. That’s the 4 Days and change solid of your life, sunk into one game. 40-60 hours is a work week. This is often a considered great deal for the consumer, 60 dollars is a lot of money after all. Especially for us Millennials scrambling between random part-time and retail jobs, one game can last months.

Maybe I’m starting to get old [haha says me at 22] and, gods forbid, growing up but these 100-hour games are starting to become untenable. I have too many other demands on my time these days to feel good about playing through Mass Effect 3 as non-stop as possible [it was finals week] until I burst a minor blood vessel in my eye and finished the game [and aced my finals, cause yyeaaahhhh]. On top of that, most of these open world games demand your time in a fairly significant way. Play sessions seem to be intended to be  in the 3 to 5 hour length and story beats are portioned appropriately but even at regular 5 hour play sessions, you’re chipping at the behemoths 5% at a time. With a more industry standard 30-40 hour game that percentage sky-rockets to 16-12% respectively but even then, its hardly scratching the surface. I don’t have a lot of 5-hour time-blocks free and those I do, I try to wedge social events –board game nights and D&D nights– and chores into. Or writing. Or Homework [ew]. Ninety percent of gamers won’t finish any given game’s campaign but we keep making them longer!

Maybe I’m starting to get old [haha says me at 22] and, gods forbid, growing up but these 100-hour games are starting to become untenable. I have too many other demands on my time these days to feel good about playing through Mass Effect 3 as non-stop as possible [it was finals week] until I burst a minor blood vessel in my eye and finished the game [and aced my finals, cause yyeaaahhhh]. On top of that, most of these open world games demand your time in a fairly significant way. Play sessions seem to be intended to be  in the 3 to 5 hour length and story beats are portioned appropriately but even at regular 5 hour play sessions, you’re chipping at the behemoths 5% at a time. With a more industry standard 30-40 hour game that percentage sky-rockets to 16-12% respectively but even then, its hardly scratching the surface. I don’t have a lot of 5-hour time-blocks free and those I do, I try to wedge social events –board game nights and D&D nights– and chores into. Or writing. Or Homework [ew].

Now, I want to dig into the Witcher 3 realllllyy badly and Metal Gear Solid V sounds like fun game but I know that as my life is right now spending money on them is just going to add them to my pile of shame (my backlog). I also know that when X-Com 2 comes out, I’m going to probably put 20-80 hours into it. The Beauty of large 4X (Expand, Explore, Exploit, Exterminate) Strategy games is their inherent flexibility in play session. Sure, I’m going to play my entire Saturday irresponsibly because JUST ONE MORE TURN but I can make satisfying progress in a 30 min session squeezed between work and school. However, as far as story-based game go, I lament the slow death of the 8-10 hour campaign. The kind of game that takes just one or two sittings to burn through, leaving you with a well-crafted narrative paced completely and deliberately.

Last of Us, the Tomb Raider reboot, the Call of Duty or Halo Campaigns, are all these nice easily digested stories. These campaigns last around 15 hours, 14 hours, 3-6 hours respectively. Their campaign lengths all sit within  two or three steady play sessions and are paced much more naturally because of it. You get to experience the whole emotional arch of the story in a weekend or two of game play rather than stretching it out over two, or three, whole months. We need to respect these smaller campaign lengths because they offer richer, more tightly mapped narratives than their giant cousins in packages we as an industry can reasonably expect to people to complete. Really, I just absolutely loved Tomb Raider. Like irrational loved it for it’s shortness.

Thanks to anyone who made it this far listening to me ramble on about why games are too long these days. I know many people disagree and I love these behemoth games just as much as the next person but we’ve passed the point of reasonable length.

  • Norko Deo

    Totally agree with you! If the game is too long I usually lose my patience and just quit playing at all. If I can win the game within a week – it’s really good, because I’m interested whole time and I know I can beat that, but if it requires to play a month or even more – god no.