Most Video Games Are Too Long


#1

After more than 30 hours of God of War, I needed a break from the game’s blood, violence, and self-serious parental musings. Minit, a game about exploring the world 60 seconds at a time, seemed like the tonal palette cleanser I was looking for. In-between my kid’s naps this weekend, I chipped away at Minit, one death at a time. Three hours later, it was over. It stuck around just long enough to make use of its gimmick, before realizing it was time to move on. Not enough games know when to stop.

God of War, by contrast, is extremely long. It justifies its length for a while, but towards the back half, when you’re sent on an errand for the billionth magical McGuffin, it can feel it's spinning its wheels just because it can. (The strength of the game’s combat goes a long way to mitigating that, but still—it’s too long.) But given the way gaming fans often judge (and reward!) games based on how long they are, it’s hard to blame developers who fall into this trap. There’s often more danger in shortening a game.

As someone who writes for a living, I know how hard it can be to trim things. You spend an hour trying to articulate a point, only to discover it doesn’t advance your argument—maybe it hurts it. This must be exponentially worse when you're talking about a game a group of people have been working on for years. And yet, editing is the toughest part of writing, especially when someone else points out your mistakes. But it’s also how you land the strongest punch.

Minit is at its best when the player always has something new to discover. A new screen, a new item, a new enemy. That way, when the 60 seconds are up, it doesn’t feel like a waste. The rigid structure is most frustrating when you’re trying to accomplish a specific task, and there’s not enough time to work out how to accomplish it. In my case, towards the end of Minit, I needed to track down one last item for a quest, and it was unclear to me on where to find it. I’d trolled the whole map multiple times, but I remained at a loss. I messaged Austin for a hint, he pointed me in the right direction, and I was able to keep moving. 20 minutes later, I’d finished the game. Rad!

Minit knew what it wanted to accomplish, and how long it took to accomplish it. Done. But it also left me wanting more. If they announce a sequel—may I propose Another Minit?—I’ll be there with bells on. Too many games leave me exhausted, as if my dozens of hours have only made a small dent. (This is especially true for open world games.)

Waypoint reviewed both God of War and Minit, if you’re interested in more. I reviewed God of War last week, and not long before that, Danielle took a look at Minit.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have a tip or a story idea, drop him an email: patrick.klepek@vice.com.

Have thoughts? Swing by Waypoints forums to share them!


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/a3ya54/most-video-games-are-too-long

#2

Since like, 2013, I’ve been slowly moving away from the sorts of games I used to enjoy, the kind I could (and was encouraged to) sink hundreds of hours into. There’s still a few of those - I still play Spelunky after hundreds of hours, for instance - but I’ve come to value short and sweet experiences like Gone Home or Firewatch or Minit.

Chris Franklin did a really good Errant Signal episode a while back about how video games are too dang long, and I 100% agree with what he says, both about how we rarely ask if a game justifies its length and about how it’s a real disservice to the medium that most storefronts still don’t give time estimates for how long a game will typically take to finish (it’s worth noting that itch.io does let developers specify how long a typical playthrough will be, because itch.io is great and everyone should buy and sell games there.)


#3

coughDarkSoulsIIcough


#4

howlongtobeat.com is a godsend. I never start a game until I check the site first and know approximately how much time I have to dedicate into finishing it.


#5

I sometimes get a time sinker, like a really good WRPG with some graphical flair (Mass Effect 2 and 3, Alpha Protocol), but I normally just want a game to end. I found taking a break from a long one for a shorter one is a good idea, so while I’m about a third through Septerra Core, I’m only getting back to it this week because I stopped to play some Daedalic point and clicks that are waaaaaaaaay shorter.

When I look at a lot of modern open world games, I wonder how anyone finds time to play these empty things.


#6

Here’s another video (by George Weidman) about game length, if anyone looking for more thoughts to chew on.


#7

It is so genuinely rare for me to finish a game and find that I was disappointed it wrapped up too soon. It’s so rare in fact, I can’t actually recall the last time a game left me this way. Conversely however, it is a regular occurrence to find myself ready for a conclusion, for the curtain to fall. I should probably note that my ADHD most regularly manifests itself in wanting to try a wide range of new, different experiences. It’s hard for me to stay focused on one game for prolonged periods. With that in mind, it’s probable I’m a little biased when it comes to game length, and growing increasingly tired of chewing on the fat of a bloated experience.

I’m sure nearly everyone can relate, as its a commonly expressed notion, but when I was younger, I was drawn in by games that promised double to triple digit hour counts, games that I could lose myself in wholly for long(ish) periods of my life. This phenomenon is almost certainly linked to the scarcity of resources one experiences as a child, where they simply lack the purchasing power to dive into shorter, tighter, often more meaningful experiences.

Now, as a (mostly) adult, I am mildly repulsed by games I know will take me tens of hours to complete. It would be easy to say that I simply lack the free time to pursue these long experiences. I work full time and attend university full time, so I feel like I’m allowed to make that claim without raising suspicion. That argument is rendered null when I look at a game like Breath of the Wild however, where in the last week, I’ve racked up over 50 hours of playtime (pls send help).

So no, it’s not just the time commitment that scares me off from these expansive titles. Well, what is it, then? I think that it is the fear and presumed knowledge that at some point, I’m going to encounter the moment(s) where it seems that too little meat was stretched over too little bone, and I’m going to bounce. HARD.

Shorter games, specifically those interactive narrative experiences like Firewatch or the under-discussed Turing Test, are implicitly more attractive to me for often no other reason than I am confident I can make it through them. It’s a lot harder to have moments drag on when the experience only runs for 4 hours, rather than 60+.


#8

I’m gonna be the devil’s advocate here and say that long games are very good and I like them.

In November I played through Dragon Age 3 with all the DLC. Anything approaching a comprehensive playthrough of vanilla DA3 will rack up about 50-60 hours of play. The 3 DLCs add another 20 hours to that. In the run up to Trespasser I was genuinely unhappy at the thought of that story ending. The sheer amount of time I’d spent in that world meant that the revelations at the end of Trespasser had real emotional weight.

That couldn’t have been achieved if the same story content had been packed into a 30 hour game. It needed the scope, the slow burn to have that effect on me.

Long games can be a pain if you don’t have the time to put into them, but I think there is value in any medium in making the audience invest the time in the experience. It’s like what they say about parenting, it’s not about spending quality time with your kids, it’s about spending time.

Critic’s consensus that games are too long is accurate, I think, but I sometimes feel like it comes from a place of wanting games to respect their time rather than whether they think it serves the game or not. To me, this is an extension of the “games as consumer goods” argument and that has been one of the most pernicious ideas in games crit to date.

The game is as long as it is. Critique it on how its lengths serves or doesn’t serve the narrative structure, the themes, the plot rather than on whether we think we could be doing something more interesting. Sometimes the edit that leaves game still at 30 hours is that way for a reason.

EDIT: here’s David Lynch on the length of a scene. He gets it.

https://youtu.be/80eMhhWnWbk


#9

Minit is $14. God of War is $80. Hearing about God of War’s length is the main thing that has had me considering buying it day one–in contrast to many major AAA releases, which I feel like I usually just beat in a weekend and then end up trading in to try and get some value back.

This isn’t to say that God of War couldn’t be a tighter experience (something that I couldn’t really comment on one way or another at this point), but, yea… I’m at least glad that it’s not another 10 hour long thing that I’d wait a year and a half to buy.


#10

That’s a good bit of Lynch, especially with how his work clearly reflects that - I’d also point at the recent Hannibal for doing great work pushing back against aggressive cutting of scenes. Hannibal may not have the same longing to draw out every scene but also didn’t feel like it needed to cut everything down: the lingering shot that allows the focus to take everything in and the extra beat at the end of some dialogue that allows the emotions to percolate. Of course, that response only comes from the establishment of a very specific “right” way to cut a scene from which we see differentiation as stylistic.

I think that we’re possibly seeing the same start to happen for games where there is a move to a “right” length - both in terms of the cinematic cut of cut-scenes/in-game action and standardisation on the pace of narrative progression (which will cause a backlash from creatives who want to do things outside of those limits). The way games are different is that they can play a lot more in the scale of story. Lynch can decide to make a 3 hour movie or a 17 hour TV show season but there are a few blocks that most of that work are intended to fit into. You make a movie which can be 1.5-3 hours (good luck not having the studio cut it down if they want it to make more money with more showings a day) or you can run a TV series that has to cut into 1 hour or 40 min blocks and you’ve only got a few standard lengths (so a 10-ep limited run on ad-break TV is 7 hours; 22-24 ep standard is 15-16 hours). Games are typically season-length but also devote significant time to mechanical development of the game systems that makes it hard to compare to movies. But also you can make the game as long as you feel it needs to be because we’ve not yet locked everything down. Even if the pacing is becoming standardised, the total length isn’t yet.

Oh, and that brings me to my final point: games are reactive. A 15 hour game can also be a 30 hour game. The structure around optional content and variable speed of play causes difficulties in defining pacing (as Dragon Age recently found with the MMO structure) but also means you can make games that have a core defined arc and allow players who want to spend more time doing that (getting more systems mastery and accessing additional narrative content that further fleshes out the core story). Wildlands may be a bad game (in several ways) but one of the interesting things it does mechanically is that on top of the open world optional content, it also has a weird structure. The game unlocks as you play, giving zones a partial order that funnels into the “boss” regions. But the final boss, the story’s wrap, that unlocks when you’ve defeated any two of the four underbosses. The game offers players the end of the story for playing about half of the core narrative. There is a slightly different “real” ending for doing that mission only after doing 100% of the other narrative content but really that’s an easter egg bonus rather than what would seem to be expected play. That’s an interesting layer on top of the standard side-quest optional content all open games lean on to allow players some narrative-light, mechanics-heavy extension to play time.


#11

Don’t get me wrong, certainly many games are too long - we have entirely too many open-world action-adventure games with the same 10 hours of content repeated ten times over. But I don’t think game length is the problem described here. The problem is with the attitude that if you play games, you should strive to

  1. Play as many as possible; and
  2. Finish every game before you form an opinion on it.

Because length isn’t really a problem, right? If you’re tired of a game, stop playing it. If you like a game, there’s no reason to rush to finish it to pick up something else. I spent three months playing Yakuza 0 almost exclusively and had a blast. Then I got tired of Minit after an hour and stopped playing it even though I knew I only had like another hour to go.

Then again, I don’t blame people for being effected by 1-2 - I myself am heavily influenced by them in a number of ways. It’s an attitude encouraged by the industry, which benefits from people buying more games than they actually need to fill up their spare time, and also by a lot (though by no means all) of games media, which sees this as a way to keep their audience’s attention.

What we should be doing is calling attention to it and breaking the cycle - by stressing depth of analysis over quantity of games analyzed, and by not giving credence to 2, which admittedly, people have been less insistent on in recent years. But the idea that everyone should play a lot of stuff just to be part of the conversation is wrong, it makes people enjoy games less, and it makes game critique in general less strong.


#12

I don’t know what the actual “consensus” is, but Patrick specifically said:

God of War, by contrast, is extremely long. It justifies its length for a while, but towards the back half, when you’re sent on an errand for the billionth magical McGuffin, it can feel it’s spinning its wheels just because it can. (The strength of the game’s combat goes a long way to mitigating that, but still—it’s too long.)

He’s not arguing that the game should be shorter because it’s disrespecting his time – he’s saying that it being shorter would make for a better experience.

Also: claiming that the “game as consumer goods” argument would lead to shorter games is the complete opposite of how that argument always plays out. People who argue from the standpoint of play hours per dollar will always want longer games, and that’s the argument you see time and time again when people complain about a game being too “short” for the price (which then completely ignores the actual cost of developing said game, and the fact that game production under current conditions is unsustainable, and is actually only sustained by burning developers out.)

For me, it’s a case by case sort of deal. Some games lend themselves to longer or shorter formats. I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into the Project Diva series – a game where the actual gameplay is a song’s length, but the challenge is doing a better run. RPGs can lend themselves to extended storytelling over the course of many hours, which is great when they take the time to really develop character arcs. It’s hard to know what sort of combination of mechanics and storytelling equates to what sort of length, because it’s going to depend a lot on the player and audience. But it’s easy to spot when a game is throwing a bunch of cookie cutter fetch quests at you, because it’s trying to pad itself out.

Anyway, if we’re shouting out games with a short time mechanic, go play Half-Minute Hero. It’s great, and I don’t know how many people missed it because it was originally a PSP game.


#13

With regard to the games as consumer good argument, I’m specifically highlighting its implicit use in critical spaces. Yes, if that was the argument of consumers at large, games would be shorter. What I’m saying is that when critics make the “games are too long” point it feels like they’re stepping into that arena and arguing for their preferences as consumers.

I think Patrick’s criticisms of God of War’s pacing are specific and made well, but the comparison to Minit is… weird? God of War is a game about a journey where a relationship is explored and it paces that poorly. Minit is a game about pacing. The fact that it accomplishes what it set out to do in a short period was kind of the point.


#14

I’m someone who prefers a good arcade style game so I often find a lot of games unbearably long. Hell there are some SNES games that I think drag.
At the same time I’ve got tons of play time out of games that I enjoy the core play of, even if they maybe don’t earn it.

At the end of the day a lot of games have to contend with being considered as a product and so for most people a long game won’t bother them. But from a sheer artistic standpoint few games feel like they use that time meaningful or pace it well and it drags a lot, especially if you’re someone trying to look at it from a critical standpoint instead of someone who’s gonna play it for a whole year.


#15

So Mark Brown of Gamemaker’s Toolkit recently made a video which is somewhat relevant to this discussion if anyone wants more information on what non-scummy solutions games implement to keep people playing.

This is exactly it for me. For a game to justify it’s length, it should do one of two things:

  • provide enough mechanical depth to support continual mastery through the length of the game.
  • If the mechanical mastery of a game plateaus, provide enough other reason for the player to play, and it needs to be paced well.

A run-based game like Project Diva lends itself to a longer playtime because of its mechanical loop and it has the depth of mastery to support longer lengths of play. I’ve been playing XCOM 2: War of the Chosen recently and I’ve sunk more time in it than I would most AAA campaigns because the game’s mechanical depth lends itself to more time investment. I feel like I’m still learning and getting better at the game and those improvements in understanding encourage me to move forward despite every mission still seeming daunting as they throw new problems my way.

On the other hand, I also keep going back to 80 Days every now and again several years after first playing it because while mechanically it isn’t all that deep, the variety -and more importantly, quality - of story draws me time and time again. I also look at my experience with the NieR: Automata where my curiosity about the world drove me to even complete sidequests despite the game mechanically plateauing around the middle of run B.


#16

A game’s length is a matter of mood for me, sometimes I’ll get lost in a game for dozens of hours at a time, and enjoying the hell out of it, other times I just want to jump into a single run of Battlegrounds and call it a day, which is why I was into short term multiplayer games for a short while not too long ago.

Games can mitigate this in a number of ways, often with interesting combat (like the Souls series, or God of War (allegedly)) or a satisfying repeatable loop ( such as Destiny 2’s loot, or Souls shortcuts) that keeps it engaging throughout its runtime, but ultimately I find it to be a very subjective point, sometimes a game is just paced badly.

I might be weird in this sense but a lot of games drag in the last third for me, I’ve dropped a lot of games 80-90% through because of poor pacing or just having my fill, so I don’t disagree that most games can be shorter than they are. Often the games that drag on for me are shooters, I don’t think I would’ve finished the Wolfenstein games had it not been a topic of WP101, I never finished Dead Space 2 despite enjoying it, replaying Mass Effect 2 started dragging because while there was interesting stories worth re-experiencing, it was just another room of chest high walls with not a lot of interesting things happening in the combat.

I think shooters are hard to pace, as they eventually become quite monotonous. How many different ways can you frame a scenario where you round corners and blast someone or stand and try to get headshots from a distance?
In contrast, Destiny 2 had a brisk campaign that is easily run through and missions are paced quite neatly; when it’s finished the game’s purpose turns into something you can hop in and play with outside of a larger linear structure, and that’s compelling in a different way.
Destiny justifies its run time by not really having a long runtime at all, the extra time you put into it are based on your own interest in optional challenges like Strikes and Raids.
As a different example, the smartly designed AI in F.E.A.R. kept every single encounter interesting and engaging, particular aspects of a game can keep you from getting bored with it and dropping off along the way but ultimately it’s not that simple.

Minit is a game smartly built around chipping away at progress in 60 second chunks, it’s not got a spectacular feel but it very nicely compels you to keep poking away at it simply because it bases all its levels and puzzles around navigating and figuring out short term solutions quickly.
I haven’t finished it yet, since it wasn’t something that grabbed me for the full 3 hours or however long the average runtime is, but compared to some games it’s not a particularly daunting task, like games that make it a point to litter the map with collectables and side content, or pad out a main story to drag out an already long runtime.

Regardless of length games just need better pacing in general, I think if more devs had the time to do what the devs of Breath of the Wild did, replaying a game every few months or so, they’d sooner catch if things needed to be cut down for pacing’s sake.


#17

As someone who doesn’t make a lot of money and can rarely afford to buy games at full price, long games are actually really valuable to me, but only when they are so well designed as to remain interesting even 50-100 hours in. I’ve put over a hundred hours into each soulsborne game in the last year and a half, and I honestly feel like I could keep going on all of them except for Demons Souls (and DS2 I could take or leave tbh). Bloodborne and DS3 feel like I could literally play them forever at this point. But games like that are rare, and most Big McLargehuge games I end up wanting to be over somewhere around the 75% mark. Playing through the first two Witcher games was like that, though I still had a good time with them. Witcher 3, funnily enough, I’ve been putting off playing more of due to being intimidated by how much of my free time I know it’ll consume, something that for some reason doesn’t happen when I think “oh I should try out a new build in DS3 and put in another 50 hours.” so whooo knows lol :skull:

I’ve found playing short games as a sort of palette cleanser between longer games works well for me, but I probably don’t play as many different games per year as most people on these forums due to the aforementioned gaming budget concerns. Plus sometimes starting a new short game can be just as intimidating (if not even more so) as starting a game you know will consume you for weeks, because there is so much more intensity and new information/experiences packed into a much smaller amount of time, and you have to learn all new control schemes and mechanics that you’ll just never use again after a few hours. Which sometimes just triggers my anxiety, and who needs more of that in fucking 2018? :upside_down_face:

Sometimes I just want to sort of sink into a game and live in it for a while, and short games are rarely comfortable in that way. On the other hand it’s unhealthy to only eat comfort food. So I guess it’s all about finding the right balance for me.


#18

From a general standpoint I think most video games are too long. I find they rarely justify their length either through mechanics and/or the story. I just finished Assassin’s Creed Origins. It took me 40 hours to finish. A bit over halfway through my playtime, I wanted to just end the game, but the main story quest locked me out because I was too low level. Even before that point I had seen everything it had to offer mechanically and the story never lives up to the potential of Bayek and Aya — the plot and how its paced is so pathetically standard and cookie cutter. Also, my favorite part of the game was exploring Egypt, but that’s actively discouraged because most locations on the map are also used for sidequests, so if you explore a specific location on your own, you’ll have to come back later and do it all over again for a sidequest.


#19

Definitely agree. Most games just pad out their story and gameplay far too long, erring on the side of adding another level, challenge, or combat encounter instead of cutting everything except what is absolutely necessary. Even cinematic or narrative-focused games tend to be 5-10 times as long as actual movies. I’m playing Uncharted 4 for the first time now, and loving what they did with a lot of the game, but the gulf between levels that actually tell a story and ones where it’s just a long series of combat encounters or jumping puzzles standing between you and the next story beat are huge.

Open world games suffer from the double problem of an overlong story and a glut of side content, and put the onus on the player to self-curate or find the fun. Which isn’t a terrible idea in concept, since then you allow players to adjust the game length and interaction with the world as they want. But most of the time the tools to point you in the direction of the actual interesting content aren’t really present, and it varies widely from game to game.

Though I also played Minit this weekend and didn’t nearly enjoy it as much as everyone else seemed to. Not a length issue, just a design one. I spent about half of my time with that game more frustrated with the concept than enjoying it, and beyond a few little things they didn’t do anything interesting with the concept besides putting a timer on exploration or adventure game-style puzzles.


#20

I just stopped by Patrick’s Twitter and laughed a little at this tweet:

Because when I read this article yesterday The Witcher 3 was what came to my mind as a game that would be better off at like 1/3 the length. (Absolutely no disrespect intended; I know my take on that game is way against popular & critical consensus.) Any given hour is produced to an astonishingly high standard for the genre. But over time annoyances like the shallow combat, structurally repetitive quest design, quirky character progression and clumsy UI multiply themselves. Flaws I can overlook in a 15 or 20 hour game (which, let’s be clear, is already a lot of time) become harder to forgive when I have to deal with them for 50-80 hours.