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Quality vs. Quantity: The Growing Dilemma of Video Game Length

January 12, 2015 Written by Zarmena Khan

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An increasing amount of people in the gaming community have been bemoaning AAA video games for their short campaigns. I’ve encountered an abundance of critic and user reviews in which certain games have been criticized for their length as if this aspect has become one of the benchmarks for an overall quality assessment of a game. However, on quite a few occasions I purchased games that were lamented for being too short, and found that the campaign’s length had no bearing on my overall experience irrespective of whether I enjoyed the game or not.

I’ve been asked numerous times how I see “value” in a game that lasts under ten hours. In principle, it’s not too much to ask for a video game to last you a long time when you’re forking out $60 for a copy, but the danger in trying to overemphasize on a game’s length is that we end up prioritizing quantity over quality, and creating the perception that more is better. Here on PlayStation LifeStyle, we discussed with people the definition of a “gamer,” and understandably, every individual had a different response. And the one thing that repeatedly comes out of such debates is that gaming means drastically different things to different people. So who gets to decide how much is too much and how little is too little?

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Value Perception

A lot of people compare modern games to those from yesteryear. Like many, I’ve been gaming since the time when video games were mainly played in short spurts. Game was over if you died, and if you wanted to play again, you started from scratch. I’m not just talking about arcade games, but also console games that only offered you a few lives and no option to save your progress. Most games now come with a story, and have an end. You can also save your progress instead of trying to finish the entire thing in one sitting. Therefore, I think comparisons are rather vague sometimes. What determines the value of a game for me is the answer to these questions:

Did I have fun?

Was my experience worth it?

Did the game leave a lasting impression on me?

Did I enjoy the story and like the characters?

Did I find myself immersed in the game world?

Personally, none of my answers to any of these questions relate to a game’s length. The truth is, I get incredibly bored of games that seem never-ending. I’ve never cared about the “map size” in any in-game world and I barely go off track to do a gazillion side-quests, although I like having the option to do so. Therefore, if my answers to all the above questions are positive, I’ve got my money’s worth. Not everyone feels the same way, though, and that’s perfectly fine. But value is indeed different things to different individuals.

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Varying Play Styles

Certain stereotypes portray gamers as bored individuals who have no jobs, no social life, and have absolutely nothing better to do with their time. Of course, I disagree. But I can’t deny that a significant proportion of gamers can beat games within a span of a weekend even if it meant spending majority of their day with a controller in their hand. Countless YouTube videos and internet articles teach you how to cut corners and beat X game’s campaign in X amount of time. Is it possible for a developer to determine if its primary audience consists of people who can beat a game in one sitting on a fine afternoon?

Like many people I know, I can easily spend weeks playing games that take people a day to beat on average. In recent years, the maximum amount of time I’ve spent playing a video game on a single day is roughly three hours, generously speaking. Lengthy games usually end up getting shoved into my backlog halfway through, and I know I’m not the only one who is guilty of doing that. It’s safe to say that how much time people spend with a game depends on their play style, too.

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According to data compiled in 2011 by the video game networking site, Raptr, people using the service spent less time playing games with lengthy campaigns and spent more time playing games with shorter campaigns. Furthermore, the campaign completion rate of lengthy games was considerably lower than the campaign completion rate of shorter games. Raptr’s data isn’t 100% accurate and doesn’t represent the entire gaming community, but it does offer some food for thought.

Lengthy games have their place just like short ones. Skyrim, Mass Effect et al are great games. However, it’s impossible to apply the same formula to every project. Plenty of game campaigns have been marred by tacked on content because developers apparently lost focus somewhere along the way. Let’s face it, sometimes there’s only so much you can do with a story, and slapping on all those extras to prolong a game isn’t always a great idea.

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The Middle Ground

Despite researching, I admittedly don’t fully understand why the $60 standard in the industry also applies to games that should evidently sell for less. People have varying opinions and some sound arguments on this, but there’s no concrete answer. Does every AAA game have the same development budget? Do all companies incur the same costs besides standard expenses? Who knows. I’m of the view that flexibility in pricing structures can go a long way. Developers and publishers should be able to slightly lower the price of their product instead of forcefully trying to justify the $60 mark by expanding their game beyond the point of boredom and announcing on Twitter that it will take “roughly XX hours to complete.” After all, those who want to continue playing have the option to do so via DLC.

I personally prefer a strong campaign and extras that leave more of a lasting impression and offer replay value than a hodgepodge that many probably won’t even bother with. The only exception to this are games that are solidified by additional content.


Note: The view expressed in this article is solely that of the author’s and does not represent that of PlayStation LifeStyle and its entire staff. However, we’d love to hear our readers’ opinions on the topic so feel free to chime in.