Game Length: Why The Moaning?

The prospect of a forty-hour role playing game fills me with absolute dread, but thankfully not every game requires a mammoth investment of your time.  In fact, when we broke the news that Journey could be completed in three hours that revelation brought a sense of relief and joy.

However, the comments that surfaced at the weekend after NowGamer suggested Killzone 3 can be beaten in four and a half hours completely baffled me.  Aside from not actually being wholly correct, the news that a AAA first person shooter could be wrapped up in half a day provoked a stunning response from the internet.

“Well its just typical isn’t it!” exclaimed the commentor on the NowGamer piece. “All the hype non stop hype about this game… and they end up giving us a measly few hours playtime. Bulls**t. ”

Some of the comments on the N4G article were similar in theme, with a few questioning the reviews published at the time based on the playtime reported by NowGamer.  Even if it was true, the question really should be ‘why does it matter’?

If you’re a die-hard Killzone fan, chances are you won’t be rushing through the game on Normal anyway (which should take between six and eight hours) – rather plumping for a higher difficulty level, but that’s not really the point – if Killzone 3 was just four hours long, why would that a) affect your decision to buy the game and b) affect any of the already published scores?

Game length shouldn’t be dictated by the current market, rather the other way around.  Developers that elongate their single player campaigns should only do so when they’ve got more story to tell, not artificially to please the baying masses, and whilst Killzone 3’s plot won’t win any awards, at least it’s concise and exact.

Filler is the plague of many a console game, fetch and collect quests peppering an otherwise enjoyable story bore me senseless – I no longer have time to hunt out anything that’s extraneous to completion of the story so if Killzone 3 asked me to fanny around looking for token collectables I’d have not been impressed: save that for the likes of inFamous – at least the blast shards could be done away from the main missions.

As it stands, whatever time it takes you to get through Sev’s latest adventure, you can be sure that there’s nothing in there that’s not meaty.  Sure, it’s far from perfect, but it’s the equal of any of the recent Call of Duty games with regards to exposition and – besides – isn’t Killzone 3 all about the massive online portion?

So why does it matter how long a game lasts?  The misconception that games are getting shorter is exactly that: my earliest memories of gaming include some really short experiences and I’m not alone: Peter said Sonic took him four hours back in the day and that’s with a lot of restarts.

And the perception of value?  £40 for Killzone 3 gets you (assuming you play it through more than once and try Elite) around fifteen hours or so of single player campaign, countless hours of co-op, the huge Botzone mode and then there’s online multiplayer, which will presumably run as long as Killzone 2’s did – that is, for at least a couple of years.

Games are, and always have been, good value for money.  Relatively or otherwise – think how much a ticket to the cinema costs and how long that lasts…

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45 Comments

  1. I could see myself getting very bored at a long, drawn out FPS that lasted 20 hours; stories need to begin and end somewhere.

    Each game should play to its own merits; RPGs work as long games because you invest a lot of time into it. Others are more pick up and play, drop, play again, and if it took ages it’s just get downright dull.

  2. I dont care how long the playtime of a game is, as long as I feel good after completing it. But this feeling is subjective and you can only find out by playing the game for yourself.

    I remember there was a challenge to beat Resident Evil 2 in under two and a half hours or so to unlock special items or new characters (Tofu and Hulk). I dont want to think about what could have happened if someone had told the gamers beforehand that RE2 can be beaten in under 3 hours…

    Sometimes I think those raging internet users are not the same as those, who actually play games.

  3. Great article Nofi, quality not quantity is the important measure and, as you rightly point out, too many games suffer filler for the sake of a few hours more game. The problem with that approach, is that reams of filler often spoil the overall experience, taking the edge off it and making it a less memorable experience.

    • The book about the making of Half Life 2 (raising the bar – iirc) shows just how much stuff got chopped out of that game as it didn’t quite work or didn’t serve the exposition and flow of the story. More developers would be well advised to follow that model in my opinion, though I do appreciate the financial constraints that smaller developers or IP’s face.

  4. You nailed it, as long as the story is absorbing and enjoyable then I don’t much care if it’s four or forty hours long, as long as the arc is completed.

  5. Agree 100% Nofster

    If you put your head down & run through any game it will probably take half the time it takes to play it normally, and who’s going to ruin their experience & play it like that?

    Using Uncharted2 as an example – Obviously great game & one of the highlights of this gen, but it really was at the upper-end of how long a game should last, through the last quarter of my game I find myself thinking – oh great another 100 enemies pouring through doorways or from behind trees and hiding behind cover, it was only the games strong narrative that prevented me from turning off. I think it took me somewhere between 15-20hrs to play through, whereas I never did once get that feeling in 8-10hr play through of something like CoD & found myself replaying it immediately.

    For me, game length is of much lesser importance than game quality.

  6. I like my single player experiences to be concise and action packed, I don’t have time to wander around or commit to anything too long. I dislike it when things get repetitive in a game, if I only have a few minutes then I want the story to have a clear direction and for something memorable to happen in that time.

  7. Npt everyone enjoys the multiplayer aspect. Me? I’m an average gamer who tires easliy of being shot within seconds.

  8. I said this the other day, but I’ll say it again. It depends what type of game you are playing, Killzone is a shooter with a huge online multiplayer component, which really offers unlimited playtime, so having a short single player campeign mode isn’t that big of a deal. But if you are playing a game in which the focus is heavily on the single player mode, I’d expect more than 4-8 hours of gameplay for my $40. The two games I was most disapointed with in terms of length were Resident Evil 5 and Tomb Raider Legend. Both as previous instalments of the series had offed mammoth playtimes!

    • It also depends on quality also, Like Chris says above if its repetitive, they may as well chop out a couple of hours.

  9. The key part here is it totally depends on the game type. Fps games are usually built around the online mp element these says, so a short story is fine as you’re still getting bang for your buck. Single player adventure games though need greater length as that’s all you get from the game. But I’d always rather short and quality as opposed to long and drawn out.

  10. though some people are overreacting somewhat, i don’t think expecting games to last more than a few hours is actually unreasonable.

    some people don’t like the ultra competitive nature of the online modes of some of these games but they may want to see where the story goes.

    campaign modes in these games has been getting shorter for a while now, they’re not as bad as some say they are, but they’re not as long as they used to be.

    if the focus of the game is the multiplayer, then just leave out the single player campaign mode, let people know what they’re getting into from the start, it worked for warhawk and mag.

    and i don’t like the idea that complaining is wrong.
    if you see something you think is against the best interest of the game buyers then you should have a right to complain about it.

    though on this occasion most of the complaining was from people reading a not that accurate article and not having played the game themselves, i still believe the length of games is becoming an issue, particularly in the fps genre, especially now that many of these games seem to be on a yearly release schedule.

    like i said if multiplayer is what the game is really about then focus on that, leave out the campaign and put all your efforts into the multiplayer to make that as good as it can be.

    • I agree. The calculation at the end of the article is not true for everyone out there. I’ll probably play through the game on normal in coop mode and not touch the online component or go for a second playthrough. Why do I have to play a game on different difficulties to get my money’s value out of a game? I’d much rather have a 10 hour campaign and no online multiplayer than have a 5 hour campaign + 10 multiplayer maps. I’m all for the story of a game. If I get through the game in a few hours it leaves a sour taste in my mouth, even if those few hours were good and enjoyable. Imagine Uncharted 3’s campaign to only be 5 hours long. Wouldn’t you be slightly disappointed? You can love the MP as much as you want but Uncharted wouldn’t be where it is now with a short mediocre campaign.
      I don’t expect much from Killzone 3 anyways (still not enjoying KZ2) but you won’t hear me complaining about it’s length either.
      This does not mean that I can’t care for the length of other games though. I understand that some people don’t have time time to play through games for hours on end. I don’t have that much time either but as long as the content is gripping I keep playing in short bursts.
      Games should not have lengthy campaigns that are basically filled with pointless tasks just for the sake of adding length to it but it also should not be the other way around. It is not OK to cheap out on the campaign and justify it with a lengthy online mode. If that is your focus then just got the route of MAG all the way.

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