Videogame length is not the problem you think it is

Once again the issue of the length of a videogame has reared its ugly head. This is an argument that seems to come and go every now and again, but often it is the result of a big AAA release not containing as much content as some would expect for the price they are paying for it.

The thing is videogames should not be valued based on price determining an expected length. Admittedly it helps if a game that is designed to be a shorter experience is cheaper, but I only feel shortchanged by a game feeling short is when it feels rushed. Like I haven’t got my fill. The single player for Call of Duty 2 and Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 both felt short, despite the inclusion of multiplayer. Especially because when those games were released online console gaming was still in its infancy, so for many single player was the only mode. The stories were admittedly both engaging but both fizzled out at the end, leaving the same feeling of an abrupt ending, leaving you wanting more, but the only option the game had left was to dangle the prospect of the online modes.

Portal 2 was not a long game, though it was longer than its predecessor. but I feel like I got everything out of that game. It was perfectly paced, and all of the ideas that the game presented to me were given adequate amount of time without it being rushed or dragging on. There was a satisfying ending, both in terms of gameplay and narrative, and I felt rewarded for my time with the game. What’s more the game also includes a generous cooperative mode which functions in a similar fashion to the single player, but this time the puzzles require two people to work together. Then again it should not be a surprise that Valve knows how to provide good value, as The Orange Box (which included Half Life 2 and episodes 1 & 2, Team Fortress 2, and the original Portal) is still considered by many to be one of the best videogame deals to date.

The source of the recent controversy regarding length is The Order 1886 which apparently has between 6-10 hours worth of gameplay, and it is single player only. But because it is a full price game ($60 or £40-50 [UK prices for new current gen titles are fluctuating]) people feel they should get more gameplay for their money. This is regardless of how much money has been spent to create the game and fund it during its years of development. Reviews for the game have just started to emerge and they have not been good. Yet despite the furore prior to this the reviews have not focused on the length and have instead criticised the game on tangible faults, such as weak narrative and dull repetitive gameplay.

Now I’m going to do something that we try to move away from, and that is compare videogames with the film industry. In this circumstance, consider the price of a cinema ticket. In the UK the price for a normal adult ticket is roughly around £10 (VIP seats cost more and the prices vary on different days). That £10 does not change regardless of what film you see, so whilst you could see a three hour epic for that price, or you could just as easily end up watching an hour and a half comedy for the exact same price. Using that same costing formula, the length of The Order actually matches the cinema pricing if you work out an £ to hour ratio. Considering that the aim of The Order is to provide a cinematic experience makes this seem very apt. You also have the added bonus that the game is yours to keep, allowing you to play it again or even sell it.

Despite using the above price ratio, this is something I would rather get away from, but it does serve to prove a point. The focus should always be on whether the game itself was good or not, was it well paced, did it feel complete? The number of hours should not be the the sole element to focus on. There are some exceptions to this, the main one being Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeros, some called it a glorified demo but it is a bit more than that, however it is by no means a full retail price game by any stretch. It is titles like this that derail the argument that price should not be taken into account. It is especially odd that Konami (publisher of Ground Zeros) released another Kojima title P.T. (playable teaser) for free, a game that for many offered a similar length experience which people enjoyed so much that it even appeared on many game of the year lists.

I’ve said before that videogames should be viewed as something more than mere “products”, and I also said that I realise that in these times money is still an issue (despite what the government might say), so I get that people want to get their money’s worth. In which case my advice would be that if a game is known to be shorter, don’t discredit it, keep it in mind for when it drops in price or when you are looking for a shorter experience. I have often found that these shorter titles are excellent to play during the usual summer drought. So don’t be discouraged by a game being of a shorter length, as you just might miss something worthwhile.

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