The lights are on
The day before Grand Theft Auto V came out I could feel the knot in my stomach growing. I wasn't excited. I was nervous. I was worried that GTA would soon consume my life, and part of me just wanted to play something shorter.
I don't get game anxiety often, but when I do it's usually around a game that I'm looking forward to and know that I'm going to spend a lot of time playing. I love playing games like Skyrim and Assassin's Creed III, but they aren't small commitments. At the risk of sounding like an old man, when I was younger these kinds of time commitments weren't a big deal; I had all the time in the world, and all I wanted to do with that time was play games.
I also couldn't afford many games, so when I got one, I wanted it to last a really long time. Now my life has changed. I can afford nearly as many games as I want (and I want them all), but I've also acquired certain familial and relational obligations that eat up some of my free time. Basically I have more games to play, and less time to do it. Damn, that does make me sound a bit like an old man.
I hear this argument a lot, and even though I agree with it, I'm also tired of it. The simple fact is that we produce more entertainment than you'll ever be able to consume in your lifetime. While that makes the completionist in me cringe a little, it should fill the bored little eight-year-old in me with joy.
Back to my main point, I think there is space in the gaming market for larger games like GTA V as well as shorter experiences. Not long ago, I played Gone Home. It was a breath of fresh air. I loved the game's haunting atmosphere and relaxed, exploration-based gameplay. In fact, it wasn't much of a game, but more of an interactive storytelling experience. And I was fine with that, because the whole experience was extremely compelling.
Gone Home only took around 2-3 hours to complete, but I enjoyed everything I did throughout. Compare that to games like GTA or Skyrim, which are bound to feature a few lame-duck missions or periods where you feel like you're grinding. Shorter games get to the point quickly and can deliver an impactful experience without fluff because they're not worried what the clock will read when the credits roll. Short games can focus on a singular gameplay element and polish it to the extreme because developers don't have a dozen other systems to worry about.
Honestly, I'm not trying to complain about games like GTA V and Skyrim, which do a great job giving players massive worlds to explore and plenty of entertaining ways to do so. I'm worried about the games that feel like they have to compete with GTA V and Skyrim – the less-polished titles from developers that think no one will buy their game unless it is a sprawling 50+ hour experience. I'm worried about games that are full of fetch quests and repetitive combat arenas in an effort to artificially lengthen their playtime. All games don't need to be massive. In fact some of my favorite games over the last generation have been shorter titles, like The Walking Dead, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Portal, Plants vs. Zombies, Journey, and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.
But who can blame a studio for feeling the pressure to artificially lengthen a game when people complain about game length all the time?
We don't value short games as much as longer games – at least I know I don't support short games as much as longer ones. I spent $60 on Diablo III, because I knew I'd get my "money's worth" from the title, but I borrowed this year's Tomb Raider because I figured I could beat it in a weekend. However, looking back, I think I value my time with Tomb Raider more than I value my time with Diablo III. So was I wrong to borrow a game instead of buying it? I don't think so, but I know that I need to rethink the way I view the value of a game.
I've been conditioned to think that if I spend $60 on a game then it needs to last a few weeks or more. On the other hand, I'm willing to spend $10 to see a movie in the theater that's only an hour-and-a-half. So why do I cringe when I'm asked to spend $15 on a game that's twice as long? I'll easily drop $40 in one night out with friends at a restaurant; so why do I feel like a game with the same price point should last a week? There are games out there that I've enjoyed more than a trip to Disneyland, and yet I don't spend Disneyland money on video games?
We've all been socially conditioned to expect a certain price points and a certain completion length from our games. But maybe we should stop asking, "How long is this game?" and start asking, "Does this game deliver a meaningful experience? Is it a constructive use of my entertainment budget? Is it a valuable piece of gaming art?"
I think we've come a long way. Back during the PlayStation 2 generation, I remember people complaining that Ico was too short. The game took about six hours to complete, but it ended up being one of my most cherished memories of that generation. Can you imagine if the industry had taken gamers' reactions to Ico to heart? Would developers have felt confident enough to release games like The Walking Dead, or Journey, or Portal?
I know that some gamers have to be cost conscious, and I'm not saying that you have to spend more money on video games, but let's stop complaining about how long a game is, and start rewarding developers for making good games that have real value whatever their length.
Email the author Ben Reeves, or follow on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Game Informer.
I play game's for the stories and because of my entertainment level...I really don't have much time for video games myself speaking I work all the time even though my PSN tag shows me online a whole hell of lot. I enjoy short games...especially game's like Ico & Silent Hill's... While both are completely different both give off a sense of passion for my life. We all don't have the time to enjoy 50+ game's like the next person unless that's the only game we play. Enjoying Short to Long game's both have their advantages but neither make's the game any less enjoyable to me. Even Though Infinite wasn't that long..I had more fun with that game then I did Skyrim or larger games. It's all about what you enjoy and if it's a short game, then more power to you
I like long games because I go through periods of playing games like crazy like 1 hour to 2 hours every day then to no games for months.
I like to save money so....
I'd much rather go back to being a kid and having one or two games to play as long as they were long. If I was a kid right know. I would have GTA 5 and BF3. Another thing now is I don't believe in pre ordering a game anymore. For one there's one thing I hate about GTA rite now. The whole car thing witch there making a patch for. But before it probably comes out. I will most likely have the game beat. Gamestop pre orders I find most of the time are bogus and don't madder or you can download them. I'd rather save money and see reviews and make sure I'll be able to enjoy the whole experience with up to date patches before investing in it.
Wow, this article nailed it right on the head. I was thinking this yesterday while playing GTAV and lamenting the fact that I don't have enough free time to fully enjoy it. Meanwhile I played Machinarium about a month ago and beat it in a couple hours, then felt completely satisfied. I hate getting old.
Bravo! Great piece.
When I'm looking to buy a new game I look into how many hours it takes to beat it and if its good. I don't like to play one game for too long bcuz there's always another one that comes out that I want to play. Right now I'm playing GTAV and I know its a long game but I already finished most of my backlog of games and thats good bcuz I tend to play this until my PS4 comes in the mail. Online comes out next week so it'll be like a new game to play. There's been times when I've wanted to play several games but bcuz of the length it takes to finish them I've never bought them. One game for example is Skyrim. I've never played it and don't plan to since it pretty much never ends. I don't want to my waste time on it if I'm never going to finish it. I tried to play plenty of RPGs but had to return them after realizing I wasn't going to finish them. I get about 12 hours into them but there was other games I wanted to play by then. They're good games but are too long for me to finish. The max number of hours I'm willing to put into a game is about 50 or so to finish it but that's if I really like it. Okami is one RPG I put about 52 hours into and really enjoyed it. The Mass Effect trilogy took about 100 hours all together to finish but I don't regret any moment from that.
Especially with kids that don't have a lot of money or grown ups that don't have a lot of money. Long games are better and don't make you feel ripped off. But you should wait for the reviews. Kids especially wait for what there friends say about games or see reviews before buying a game.We could learn from are young childhood. Adult's say that's cool !!! And run out and buy it. It's like Hollywood that has to much money. Witch is sad because most of use adult have family's to support and should not be wasting money even tho we have it to spend. Wait for reviews screw the miss leading Game Stop pre order bounces
Length should not be equated with value, I agree. But there is a deeper fundamental issue involved, I believe. These long titles such as GTA are too completion focused from the design. Instead of a vast sandbox to have fun in, you have a world packed with artificial progress points that feel mandatory to get the "full experience" from the title.
I can only think of one game I played that I felt was too short: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. Not to mention it wasn't the best game either, nothing seemed to be improved on, but that's beside the point. I loved the first one so much more, as a Star Wars fan and Sci-Fi fan in general, it was a very fulfilling experience, yet people complained about its length and I didn't even understand that a game COULD be too short. Until I got TFU2. Anyway, I agree completely with your opinion, and I wish other people would be able to see it too.
In a way I know that feel. I probably have more freetime than you, I'm only a lowly little freshman in high school, but I do have less time for gaming then I used to. But like you said, kids are broke, I'M always broke, so I do like my games to last a bit longer, especially if they're $60. If they're cheaper I'm fine with them being short, take Outlast for example, not necessairly a short game but not really a long one either, but still a good horror game for $20. Anyway great article! I enjoyed reading it!
don't worry ben, I can let you borrow some of my time
I can relate to this article. I often gravitate to shorter games now just to keep things fresh. It took me 6 months to beat Skyrim and I had to quit Borderlands 2. Right now I'm playing Hitman Absolution and its so refreshing to see storyline progression every play. GTA V will be worth picking up even when considering the overwhelming commitment it requires.
Idk where you were going with this article. I put 29 hours into GTA V and then sold it to a friend for $35. I know, I know I could have gotten almost all of my money back through craigslist or Amazon but I wasn't looking to make money I wanted someone I know to be able to play the game without having to pay the full price tag. This worked out for me because it cut the cost of FIFA 14 in half. Short games, long games, skinny games, fat games, does it really matter? Most people don't buy more than 3 games a year. I haven't touched BioShock or Tomb Raider because I bought The Last of Us and Assassins Creed III. Now that the time has passed I can pick up both of what I missed for less than $60. To think people are buying everything at launch for full price is ridiculous. Unless you're rich, then purchase my copy too please. I think this article would have been better if you gave examples of "short" or "long" games that didn't pan out instead.
Man, it must be awesome to have problems like Ben does. Unfortunately,I can't afford every game out there, so I read reviews. And I don't know if editors have to pay for the games or not,but when I read a review that gives a great score to a game like "Brothers" and I pay for the game, and it only takes me 2 hours to beat with no replayability whatsoever, I feel cheated. Thumbs down to Ben and this article. Not all of us have infinite resources to play every game.