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This subject has proven to be a tough one for me to turn into a blog. I've thrown the idea around over the past few months, and have found that there are so many exceptions, and circumstances to take into consideration when judging the length of a game. The main thing that makes play time length such a hard topic to debate, is human diversity. Each person faces fatigue at different points with each game they play, and to say that there is a specific point when a game is too long or too short is made all the more difficult to prove due to this fact.
I finally decided that to really make sense of the whole issue, the argument needs to be broken down into categories, as genres would only present a new set of questions. While there might still be some exceptions left after breaking the argument down, I feel it'd be a bit easier to get a grip on when a game is too long, or when it's cut too short. It might even be a little simpler to tell when a game is the perfect length. Then again, this whole process could be quickly debunked, and we can all go back to square one. Bear with me.
The Downloadable Title
I guess the first question that needs to be answered before diving into the main issue is, "How do you define downloadable title?". Well to make things simple I define a downloadable title as a game that you can only purchase/retrieve through the Playstation Network, Xbox Live, or Nintendo's virtual market. For example, as of right now Bastion, Journey, and Ilo Milo, are all titles that are only available through download. At least at the time of this writing anyways, there is no physical copy that has been published by their respective publishers, and are all digital purchases.
Now that that's out of the way, we move onto the fun part. I've never played a downloadable game that was too long. Not once. However, I have played many titles that others have found to be too short. Journey and Limbo are often thrown into that category, as it only takes a mere two to three hours each to beat.
Now it's tricky - at least for me anyways - to criticize a downloadable game for being too short, as I've never felt that way about any of the titles that I've played. Usually when playing one of these things, I find that the developer that cobbled the title together is trying to make a statement. You could say that they're throwing absolutely everything they have into the game in question. Take SuperGiant Games' 2011 hit Bastion for example. The game wasn't particularly long by any means, but it felt like a 30 hour epic due to its quality. Supergiant basically through every bit of magic they had into the title due to the fact that they weren't entirely sure that they'd get to make another game ever again.
How about Journey? I'm sure you're all tired of hearing about it, but this masterpiece is being thrown onto the front lines as an argument for video games being art, and it was only two to three hours long. When you finally complete your "journey" you exit the game with some clear cut thoughts in your head, as well as some new emotionally stirring monologue.
Limbo is another title I want to point out. Yeah sure you can get it as a hard copy in a combo pack with a couple other notable downloadable titles from the last couple of years, but it found its start as a digital download. The game itself was disturbing, and scary. I have this insane fear of spiders, and I was truly terrified during a segment of the game (those of you who've played Limbo know what I speak of). Audiences were stunned into the silence by the cruelty, and ambiguity put on display in the games short run-time. It established itself as a powerful, yet open-ended game in a few short hours and easily made its way onto many "best of" lists.
Really, my point is that, the only way you can judge a downloadable title on length, is by what you drew from the experience at hand. The game doesn't necessarily have to have hidden messages, or any poetic meaning, but if the game doesn't make it's short stay worthwhile, then it fails the time test. Yeah, sure, that can be said even with retail games, but it holds true more often in the downloadable market because of the games price tag, and the space that the download takes up on our precious hard drives. If you're playing a downloaded game, and you walk away from the experience thinking about length, then the game wasn't worth it.
The Retail Game (Physical Title)
Once again, I'll take a bit out of this blog to explain what I mean by "retail game" so there isn't any confusion. I'm defining a retail game (or a physical title) as something that starts out as a game that you can only by in-store at places like, GameStop, Best Buy, or Wal Mart. These titles eventually make their way to the downloadable market, but they begin as a disc inside of a plastic box, with a sweet cover.
Realistically it's a lot harder to pinpoint whether a game is too long in the sixty dollar market, as a game at that pricing can heavily disappoint if any feature feels lacking. The reason being, that there are so many different genres, with different standards. A ten hour FPS is considered acceptable these days because that's become the standard set by games like Call of Duty, and Battlefield. That statement also draws a bag of exceptions, as there are also FPS' like Bioshock, and Fallout 3 that require thirty plus hours of playtime.
Then you have your open world titles, which demand your entire life to reach completion. Games like the colored Pokemon titles, Skyrim, and Red Dead Redemption require hundreds of hours to see everything that the game has in store for you, and that's without having to grind to get better items and levels.
If a game says "open world" in an advertisement, or even on the box cover, the buyer automatically assumes that they're in for some heavy playtime. But if that game fails to meet the players sky-high length expectations, then the game, along with its studio is going to be berated and cast aside. Also with today's graphical, and gameplay standards, our virtual worlds are expected to feel more "alive", meaning that more time is spent by developers trying to flesh out their worlds so they don't feel so stale.
Borderlands is a game known for its grand amount of missions, and even grander amount of gadgetry, but it's constantly looked as a weak in narrative, and environmentally dead game. The same goes for Dead Island. The title was looked upon early on as a game with great potential, but ultimately fell too short for many fans due to quality, despite its lengthy playtime.
Ultimately the line can be drawn at the same point as the Downloadable title conclusion, which is that it's all about the experience that the player has while playing the game in question. If a game is narratively weak, or lacks some crucial gameplay element, then length is set aside as a non-factor. My conclusion is that, it's all about the experience. You could have two games that are the same length. One perfectly made, and the other with some bright spots, but many flaws, and the game with the lesser quality could be judged as a "shorter" game, if that makes any sense.
If you walk away from a game concerned with how long it was, then the game failed, and was either too long, or too short. If a game is a masterpiece then the playtime shouldn't matter...at least that's my viewpoint anyways. What do you guys think?