Game length is not an absolute variable, it needs to be appropriate for the experience the developers are trying to provide. Some games are better suited to shorter sessions, some to longer. Furthermore, the quality of the game is closely tied to length but not wholly dependent on it. Short games with high quality content are better than long grindfests with a lot of filler content. But these two things are not always mutually exclusive. There are plenty of really short games that have no quality at all, and plenty of long games that consistently provide high quality entertainment. There is no objectively superior option, even if you could have the same quality experience but for longer, that doesn't make it better. Nor does necessarily having a higher quality experience for a shorter time make the game better than a long one that is more mediocre and even. Different people like different things and purchase games for different reasons. Some people want a game that will provide a blistering two hours of pure fun on a plane journey, others will want something that will stretch out for three months playing every day on the metro for half an hour during a commute. Other people will want a game that provides a solid, meaty chunk of entertainment for a solid week and will excite them like a good movie or book will. While others don't mind a somewhat fractured experience that might have one or two good ideas amid a sea of filler content and padding. Sometimes that satisfies because it provides curiosity and innovation. To quantify this discussion is impossible. There are as many right answers as there are people to offer them. Personally, I prefer a longer experience. The way I play games is in short bursts over longer periods. I don't have the spare time to put in a solid weekend of playing, nor do I have enough of a chunk of time to play through an entire shorter experience in one sitting. So no matter what kind of game I choose, it's going to be splintered, so normally I go for the more robust, larger scale performances. I'm not ashamed to say that I like a more blockbuster type game. I have nothing against smaller, indie titles that condense quality and purify it. I just appreciate the professional presentation of so called triple A titles more. And they fit better into my schedule. But that brings me onto the second point. Game length can be irrelevant for some genres. Have you ever quantified how long a game Battlefield 1942 is? It's endless. I've been playing Quake 3 in various forms for over a decade. I'm still playing it. Does that mean that Quake 3 has more 'content' than something like Bastion, or Portal? I think it is disingenuous to say so. All you can say is that both games have an appropriate
amount of content, which I think is the important metric here. Games can either be too long or too short for what they are
, not what they could or should have been. There are no short games or long games, in that sense, just shorter games and longer games. It's a sliding scale that relates directly to the game itself, not to games around it. Battlefield 3 costs the same as Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. But they are entirely different experiences with entirely different lengths. No-one could ever say BF3 was a short experience, because it is exactly the length that they get out of it. Similarly, if you play Uncharted 3 for eighty hours, enjoying every minute, even if you repeat content, does that not count? Can you only count the amount of game length on a first play through, or a new game plus at a stretch? What's the limit here? Who decides what the artificial cut-off point is? I guess what I'm trying to say is that only you can decide if the game is of an appropriate length. Mass Effect 2 is much longer than Modern Warfare 2, but to say that ME2 is better because of that is silly. And it is sillier too to say that more is more. Sometimes less is more. The minute to minute quality of the MW2 campaign is higher than in ME2. It is a tightly focused linear rollercoaster of cinematic beats. There is absolutely no filler, not by comparison. No backtracking, no fetch quests. No dialogue sessions. It's pure content. But that is what it was trying to do. That's the point of that game. So to criticize it for having less length than ME2 is ridiculous. Just as ridiculous as saying that ME2 is better because it has more content. Even if the content is of the same quality. Case in point: look at Portal 1 and Portal 2. Take any puzzle room between them and the quality of the content is exactly the same; very high. But Portal 2 is double the length. It has twice as much content. Does that make it inherently better? Identical levels of quality, double the length? No it doesn't. All you can say is that both are good in different ways. And neither is too short or too long. See that's the point I'm trying to get across. Game length is not absolute, you only ever notice it when it is wrong. There is no objective scale of good to bad. An eight hour game is not twice as good as a four hour game. You have to take each game individually and consider them on their own merits. Some games have certainly been too short. Some have been too long. But no game has ever been bad because it was short. Bastion is an eight, nine hour game. At no point did it feel too long, like it was being artificially stretched, or too short, like a lot of content was cut for time or budgetary reasons. It was the right length for what it set out to do. Lots of games have the right length but are still bad because the content itself is flawed. And lots of games have the wrong length but still end up being good because the content shines through. Mass Effect 1 is an incredible twenty hour game stretched to forty hours. Does that make it a bad game? No. It makes it too long. You can absolutely say the game length was out of place. But you can't say the game is bad. So I guess in the end, game length is completely irrelevant. It won't improve a game in any meaningful way, nor really harm an experience either. Quality content padded with lots of filler material is still quality content. And you may feel some regret and annoyance but I don't think for anyone it will be a deal breaker. Similarly, a game that is too short but full of stellar gameplay is going to interest a lot of people, and maybe turn a few away. But it's not going to radically change the overall impression of a game. Unless it is priced inappropriately. You see, games are quite expensive and I think it is entirely fair to expect a certain amount of value in a game. Too many people have expressed this as a qualitative measurement of content. Mass Effect 2 is two dollars per hour of content. Thirty hour game. Sixty dollars. Two dollars an hour. Half-Life 2 was only an eight hour experience. So does that mean HL2 is seven dollars fifty an hour? That's a higher rate, is the game of less value? This is far too personal an opinion to make any overarching statement about. Because a game is not providing time to you. It's providing fun. And games can deliver fun at different rates. Take my last example. While ME2 might be cheaper as a direct cost to session length comparison, some might argue that HL2 provides more fun per hour. If fun could ever be quantified (it can't). See what I'm getting at is that when you start getting into economic fallacies over something as subjective as entertainment experiences, you end up in a black hole of misery and regret. You ignore the purpose of the game entirely and treat it as a utility, rather than a luxury good. Developers are not heating your house, there is no fixed rate of commerce here. Only you can decide if a game is too long or too short and there are no right or wrong answers. This entire discussion is moot, a waste of time. A waste of my actual time. It is about as useful as discussing which colour is best, or whether green grass is better than purple elephants. It's madness. It's a mess of an argument. It's completely irrational. Game length is as subjective as game quality, or game content. Shorter games are not any better or worse than longer games. And games with higher quality content that are shorter are not to be considered of more value than longer games with perhaps less value over time but shorter experiences on a per fun metric scale over time. What I mean is that long games that have a lower rate of quality because it is stretched a bit thinner are not worse than shorter games which maximize fun rates. It's like when you go to a theme park. Sure, some people like the roller coasters. That two minutes of exhilaration and excitement. But some other people like the river rapids or the log flumes. The rides which take much longer but provide a different experience. It would not be appropriate for a log flume to last two minutes. It would be too short. But it would also be ridiculous for a roller coaster to last twenty minutes now wouldn't it. They're not appropriate lengths for these experiences. So you have to gauge whether the game is at an appropriate length before you even go beyond that and talk about overall quality. Of course I guess that some people would want a twenty minute roller coaster. Some people achieve that aim by going on a two minute roller coaster ten times in a row. That's perfectly analogous to how many people play video games. I've played Uncharted 3 perhaps three or four times. So in that respect, I've gained as much value from the purchase as someone who bought The Witcher 2 and played it once? Have I though? It's too complicated an issue to simplify in that manner. It depends on what you want as a whole. Some people abhor repetition, I know people who will never even watch the same movie twice, let alone play a game again. So for those specific people, a longer game is probably better, even if the quality is slightly less. It's that or keep buying short games, over and over. Lots of small ones. Lots of little tiny games, every week. Episodic in nature. But the tools you need to produce to make games don't allow developers to really do this on a regular basis. Look at the Sam and Max episodes. They were good but they had to all use the same underlying mechanics. For many people, the mechanics are
the game itself. So the repetition comment still holds. They're playing a slightly altered version of the same game. I've never met any of those people though, most people I know who play games prefer a more monolithic experience. A totemic game for every three months of the year. When Christmas rolls around, they have to choose one of many and pick up the others months or even years later. But they're going to go into the thing knowing what to expect. Few people blind purchase anymore. I mean, I've already bought Mass Effect 3, it's on pre-order. And while the specifics of story and content are a mystery to me, I have a good idea of what the experience is going to roughly be like. And how long it will take. You see, that's what I want from a game I buy. A solid chunk of content that will satisfy me over time for a couple of months. That I can dip into like a TV show every couple of days between working. Other people might want something they can get done in a weekend. A solid weekend of like 12 hours days playing games. You could probably get Portal done in a day. In an afternoon. That doesn't mean it's inherently better or worse. Then you have to consider games are not in a vacuum. Some people want to augment a bigger title with some smaller, more innovative indie ones. Like, as a breather between sessions of triple A game number one, they might want a two hour blast through indie title number two. That's reasonable. And in that sense, the games and how their lengths are perceived by their owners changes because they form part of a pantheon of titles they currently own. To someone who just buys one game and one game only, the relative consideration of game length is going to be a completely different choice and experience than for the person who buys two or three at once. The latter might want two short ones and a long one. Maybe. The style of game would also change. Look at MMOs. They have huge quantities of content, hundreds even thousands of hours. But it's all mediocre. All very grindy by it's nature. That's the kind of game you play slowly over a long period. Maybe an hour a day, two at most. So it's reasonable to periodically put in a shorter, more blistering experience among that ocean of content just to change the tempo. In that respect, a shorter game increases in value for that person because of the wider circumstances of their gaming habits. That's what I mean by everything being flexible, everything having context. It's crazy isn't it?