Yesterday a whole bunch of folks blogged about the issue of game length, calling it Size Doesn’t Matter Day. The consensus seems to be that length doesn’t matter, quality does. But I think they are ignoring some important things.
First, let’s get these out of the way. They should go without saying but just in case:
- There are lots of great games that are very long. People should keep making those.
- There are lots of great games that are very short. People should keep making those.
- Game quality and having a good gaming experience are indeed more important than the length of the game.
- Replaying a game complicates the discussion a lot. How long is Counter-Strike?
- A game that takes one person five hours might take another person ten. The length of a game is often determined as much by the player as it is the game.
Of course size matters!
Most people seem to be casting the question in terms of how long games should be in general or in terms of price per hour. Neither of those have one answer that is right for all games.
Some ways size matters:
Games are an expensive hobby
$60 is kind of a lot of money. I suspect that a lot of indie developers are too busy making games to experience this, but imagine that what you do to relax in the evening is play these $60 games. So on Monday you start it up and play for a couple hours. Then on Tuesday you do it again. Then on Wednesday you have completed it. Uh oh, time to drop $60 on another one. This adds up really quickly. So you have to either put a whole lot of money into your pastime, or go without for a while. Wouldn’t you prefer that these lasted longer so that you wouldn’t need new ones so often? Can you blame folks for wanting to rent rather than buy the short ones?
Stories have different lengths
A lot of games have a story to tell. Not all of those stories are the same length, and how gameplay fits into that varies greatly. A game needs to last long enough to tell its story, and often it needs to stop once the story is done.
People play games differently
Not just different people but even the very same person plays differently in different times and places.
Imagine Johnny Gamer goes to work on Monday. When his lunch break rolls around, a 20-minute game might be about right. Later, when he wants a short break from his work, a 5-minute Flash game works great. Then work is over and he heads home. Oh but then he remembers that he’s out of bread, so he stops by the store first. While he waits in the checkout line, a 30-second game on his phone is perfect. Once he gets home, he eats dinner and hangs out with the wife and kids for a bit, and then is ready for some leisure activity. What works great here is the 40+ hour game that he has been playing through in small sessions over several evenings, like watching a TV show.
The next day is Tuesday, his regular MMO night. That evening he joins his guild in a raid in a game that he has been playing for years.
On Wednesday night, he wants to try out something that he has heard was great, and the length doesn’t matter much.
Eventually the weekend comes. On Saturday, he has a bunch of family over to celebrate Junior’s birthday, so Johnny picks out a game that people can jump in to play for a few minutes, then drop out to socialize, and return to later. On Sunday, his wife and kids are out of town visiting grandma! Johnny takes this opportunity to invite a couple of friends over for a few hours to co-op through a campaign.
So there is room for games anywhere from just seconds in length up to thousands of hours, but the length of a game is a big factor in how it fits into someone’s life. It’s going to be annoying to people when it looks like a game should fit into a niche, but is too long or too short for it.
Many games don’t and don’t need to, but some games are served well by giving the player a lot to learn and explore, or to let them build something up over time. Those things require time!
How long is too long?
Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop. That is, if it’s got more for the player to learn and new things to see, it should probably keep going, and if it’s run out of those things, it should probably stop soon.
To hit the main points one more time:
- If playing games is something that you spend a lot of time doing, then price per hour of play is important. It gets expensive.
- Games aren’t expected to be long because of something wrong with gamers. They are expected to be long because they are categorized, priced, and presented exactly like the long games are.
- There’s not a right length for all games, but a game can be too long or short for it’s role in the player’s life, it’s price, or what’s in it
The other articles
Rather than try and track them all down, I’ll link to one of them and you can use his list to find more.