Modern video games are getting boring. It's a trend you see across genres and franchises. Developers seem to think if a game is longer, that means it's better. I get why they do it- players love feeling like they're getting good value for their money. If you're a kid with only a little disposable income, wouldn't you spend your $60 on the game that lasts longest?

And yet...

Games have gone too far. There is too much padding, too many fetch quests, too much content that exists simply to exist. Our industry makes games that are boring.

I felt this most acutely while booting up Mass Effect: Andromeda. Full disclosure: I could stand only 45 minutes of Andromeda, so grain of salt here.

The worst design decision I saw comes on the first world. The game does basic tutorials for moving and shooting, then turns you loose. At that point you're presented with four options (I think. It's been a couple months). Three choices are non-mandatory sidequests. The last is the next main story mission.

Right away, I took a mental step back. Old Mass Effect didn't have this. Old Mass Effect stayed laser-focused(*) on delivering a fantastic sci-fi thrill ride. Old Mass Effect wouldn't regurgitate a mess of quests at the player this early in the game.

So I did a side quest. I walked into a bunker, pushed a button, and fought my way out through a couple enemies. One of my teammates said something about the bunker technology, but that was it. No cool world-building, no unique scenarios, no unknown aliens.

This is what I call a filler quest. It has no reason to exist save to pad the playtime.

Filler content is everywhere. It's there every time you knock over a tower in Far Cry, face a map of icons in Assassin's Creed or collect animal furs in Horizon: Zero Dawn. It's there every time you complete a daily quest or collect a login reward or receive a free loot box for leveling up.

Filler content is a plague on game design.

  • It artificially lengthens games that would be better shorter
  • It is often used to slow down the player and push them to buy microtransactions
  • It can feel like a crutch to boost engagement over fun
  • It is often a misguided attempt to add depth

I'm not judging players who participate in these systems, to be clear. Lots of fun games are built off filler content! Destiny is supposed to be cool. I've sunk untold hours and dollars into Hearthstone. I still do the quests for free gold regularly.

I just wish these games were faster. I wish playing them didn't feel like wading through quicksand. Everything takes three times as long as it should. Even a franchise that used to be a focused, linear experience like Mass Effect gets stretched out into something far too long.

Not to knock long games or open worlds - some games could only exist as sprawling experiences. The Witcher, Grand Theft Auto and Horizon: Zero Dawn are all born to have tons of quests and take dozens of hours to beat. Inevitably, some of those quests will feel like filler.

More content is worth less

And yet.. I look at new franchises and new entries in old franchises and can see the bloat. Assassin's Creed, Far Cry, Dragon Age, Destiny and The Division all look way too grindy. I look at these games and think, "This is not how you do depth."

This, the fourth problem with filler content from my list above, is the only one that feels like a genuine misconception by developers and consumers. Gamers say they want more, so developers fill up their quest logs with endless Things To Do. Doesn't matter if any of these things are fun. The main campaign is 40 hours!

This is the wrong way to do things. If you give gamers a pond and they ask for more, the answer is not to make the pond a mile wide and an inch deep. The answer is some balance of widening the pool and digging it deeper.

Putting more content into a game usually makes it worth less. Missions don't get as much direct attention from devs. Content tends to be built from reusable pieces, with few unique assets or cool novelties.

Not only are these missions boring in and of themselves, but they homogenize games. The grinding in Destiny feels kinda similar to the Division which feels a little bit like finding towers in Far Cry. Filler content makes a game taste the same as every other boring big-budget title: bland.

What Resident Evil 7 does right

This is why Resident Evil 7 felt so refreshing. Among the many other admirable creative decisions Capcom made, it stripped out the filler. The game is a focused, lean 10 hours of pure horror.

By taking away sidequests, grinding, levels and whatever else they'd need to hit 40 hours, Capcom could make RE7's mansion is a hand-crafted masterpiece. It drips personality (and worse) from every corner. There's a real texture to the place I never felt in that Andromeda side quest.

Game devs, follow Resident Evil 7's example. Stop making more and start making better.