Is Telling Players How Long a Video Game Takes to Beat a Bad Idea?

The complexities of adulthood, combined with the unending crunch of parenting, means I’m constantly seeking to maximize my limited free time. It also means I’m regularly checking the ever-resourceful website HowLongToBeat, which does exactly what it says: tells you how long it’ll take to beat a video game. It’s a beloved resource, and interestingly, one that Microsoft has now integrated into the Game Pass section of its Xbox app on Windows.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/k7bg8n/is-telling-players-how-long-a-video-game-takes-to-beat-a-bad-idea
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I get where indie devs are coming from here, but like, I’m never going to be on the side of giving customers less information to base their purchasing decisions on. I suspect that the people turned off by low hour counts are going to be evened out by folks who are precisely looking for games that don’t “waste” their time. Not every game has to be for everyone, and obscuring the fact that a game is short just comes across as devs being not confident enough in their game that they have to lie by omission to their customers. Like, yes, games financially fail all the time, but How Long to Beat isn’t the reason why. Sometimes there are just too many games to play, and some games lose out.

Anyway, I think this is a great feature and I hope more storefronts adopt it.

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Indeed: I’m generally in this camp as I get older, and I’ve definitely rejected games for having ridiculous many-tens-of-hours plus playtimes, and selected ones because they have short ones.

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Maybe I’m just not a typical gamer, but a lot of the time, a smaller HLTB is the reason I will pick up or start a game. Jane Ng is dead on when she talks about 60 hours being exausting to contemplate for some of us.

The data is out there, and I think Microsoft is being extremely smart by deciding to present it as part of Game Pass. I’m often looking for shorter games there, since I want to be confident that I finish them before they dissappear.

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Something that I just thought about, the people who won’t buy a game for being too short are often folks with more free time, and therefore more engaged with online discourse and more likely to publicly state their reason for not buying a game. The people who want shorter games are often busier in life and less likely to engage devs online. So I suspect the devs are getting a very skewed perception about what players prefer in terms of game length.

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I am a little torn.

On the one hand, there are plenty of dark stories out of Steam of people buying a short indie game, blowing through it under the Valve refund time limit, and then getting their money back. And it’s not hard to imagine a game listed at $30 with a 2.5 hour “How Long To Beat” listing getting review-bombed into oblivion.

On the other hand, Game Pass notwithstanding, video games haven’t really gotten any cheaper. It’s not hard to imagine “hours-per-dollar” being a very real metric for people (Skyrim is still selling). And as other people have pointed out here, a 200 hour count does not bode well for me trying your game.

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I feel some kind of way about Microsoft just using the data from a website maintained by fans from a labour perspective, and I have issues with how HLTB categorizes the information - I pretty consistently take upwards of twice as long as their ‘completionist’ time in a JRPG simply from going back and talking to NPCs after major story events, because they do have something else to say and story is just as much part of 100%'ing a game as getting the fanciest sword - but, like, yeah. It’s nice to know going in ‘is this a game I am beating in a lazy weekend or is this game my primary hobby for the next couple of months?’

The issue of gamers hating short games is absolutely an important one to try to tackle. And I think sites like HLTB, in particular, contribute to that. How long does it take to beat Hades? It’s possible the best answer is ‘however long it takes before you get bored of it.’ There are HLTB pages for every game in the Jackbox Party Pack series. What does it even mean to ‘beat’ one of those? And absolutely, I got more out of my one hour in A Hand With Many Fingers than I did my hundred or two in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

But, still, I do kind of want to know before I buy a game where in my life it’s going to fit in.

And integrated into Gamepass, since people aren’t generally buying the games outright, I think it skirts the issue of the Steam refund ‘ah this game is under 2 hours so I don’t need to pay for it’ nonsense. I have many issues with Gamepass, but I assume you can’t ‘refund’ the hour you spent playing Gone Home.

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Every streaming service displays the run time of shows and movies. You know how long a book is when you pick it up. Music players say how long songs are. I understand that there is a unique discourse about the “value” of games but every other medium gives you this information.

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I very much like the idea of this feature, I’ll often look up the numbers as a rough estimate for various reasons, especially if I’m streaming something or am thinking of diving into it on a whim.

Then again I’m completely fine with a nice short experience, 2-5 hours is a wonderful length for something on game pass, but I understand for many length = value, which I guess is why there are games marketing themselves as being 500 hours long or actively padding themselves out with generated content.

It’s interesting that they’re tying it into the OS though, feels like whoever wants to know will look up the information themselves.