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Monday, September 25, 2006

Do We Still Want 40 Hours Of Play?

I think the first time I heard the notion that "games should deliver at least 40 hours of play" was when I was getting a copy of Ocarina of Time. Later, I was talking to a industry insider friend of mine about how short I found one game ... and he responded that they didn't think people wanted week long bouts of content anymore. An aspect of the aging gamer market is that we have less time to devote to finish epic storylines.

Wired just posted an article on the same note:

At some point, I sadly realized I just couldn't afford any more time. I've got a life to lead: Books to read, a day job, my infant son to hang out with, other games beckoning. That's why I've collected a shockingly large mausoleum of unfinished games over the years. Kingdom Hearts II? Stopped halfway. Kameo? Three-quarters through. Enchanted Arms? Eh -- I'm this close to bailing out.

All of which makes me wonder: Who the heck actually finishes a story-based game in 40 hours? Who are these mythical 40-hour gamers?

They certainly exist. Whenever I wander onto the boards at 1UP or Penny Arcade, they're crammed full of hard-core gamers bitching in all caps about how the games these days are too easy, too sucky and over way too quickly. They have the precise opposite problem as me. Dude, I spanked that game in, like, nine hours. What's your problem?
-- The Mythical 40-Hour Gamer

First, I can sympathize with Clive. I always take longer to finish games than it seems the rest of the gamesphere. I'm very much the sightseer player - I'll hang around environments just to poke at the scenery. I rarely resort to cheats or guides so puzzles and boss fights can sometimes hang on for days. Plus - I'm actually pretty busy. If I can squeek out an hour or so to game a night, I'm lucky.

Still, I like the epic games. Well mostly. Here's my modern day requirements for feeling the need to finish a game:

1) Gameplay that doesn't grind you down. I don't have a lot of time for frustration. I certainly don't have time for inane puzzles or worse - puzzles that I know the solution but can't solve because your jumping physics suck or you expect pixel perfect reflexes.

2) Fresh content. Resident Evil 4 did this almost perfect. Just when the scenery or monsters seemed to get old - they would throw something new at you. Goldeneye: Rogue Agent did this horribly. Super powers don't cover up shooting the exact same henchmen over and over again.

3) A story. Preferably a good one. Now this is optional if the above two are accomplished with enough fervor. Shadow Of The Colossus had very little story to it ... but I'd play that game to the ends of the Earth. Lego Star Wars I was based on three movies I hated, but I played it to death.

The short version is that there has to be something to look forward towards in order to justify loading that game time and time again. MMO's survive largely on #2. Actually, #2 is usually the favorite. Is this because the other two are much harder?

Possibly - and therein lies the answer why we will likely see less and less 40 hour games. Content costs development money and in this generation of games ... often a lot of development money. If they can push them, developers are much more comfortable with a tight core gameplay that doesn't need to change up, a decent story to hum along and enough to content to suffice half of the old axiom.

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Weefz said...

I'm not gonna spend 40+ hours on one game unless it's an RPG on par with Morrowind, but equally, 9 hours is too little. I think my ideal is probably around 20-25 hours. If I can squeeze out an hour a day on average (not unreasonable during a quiet week or weekend) I don't want to be finished in just over a week.

Not for £50 at any rate. Or even £30. Sin Episodes from Steam was okay at about 10-11 hours for £10. (My first FPS, okay?) It did throw out the same henchman a hundred times but it was short enogh that it wasn't too boring.

I think the sense of progress is most important part of longevity. Most well-rounded adults like yourself probably can't find more than an hour in a day to play regularly. You're not going to look forward to that hour if you know you're going to spend most of it timing jumps and perfecting reflexes. I think every standalone game should be made with a significant sense of progress after an hour's play.

(And no, 15 minutes of cut-scene is not progress)

Jeff Freeman said...

Oh, I'm right there with ya. Used to like those long long games. Used to MAKE a long game out of what wasn't really a long game by design - rolling over the score in space invaders, playing Adventure long, long, long past the point of it having any point to it (and for that, discovering the easter egg without anything even remotely like the internet to tell me that it was there, and how to find it - a reward! for being a crazyass!).

But these days I kinda just want to wrap it up in about the same amount of time it'd take to watch a movie, maybe two. If it's longer than that then heck, make a sequel.

That is incredibly stupid on my part, considering how much games cost - but meh... I rent 'em. So no it isn't.

I like to pretend that I am the average guy, so this all makes perfect sense to me - but not so much to I guess everyone else, given the length and cost of most games.

Josh said...

Rentals can make all the difference with this, I think. Being able to just return a game after a couple hours of play and not feel guilty about the cost really lowers the need to finish them.

Greg Tannahill said...

I'll say again - I still consider the eight hours of gameplay that I got out of Fahrenheit to be a superior use of my game-buying dollar to the going-on 150 hours I've gotten out of Guild Wars. And I love Guild Wars and all, but if I saw those two things side by side for the same console I know which one I'd recommend to a friend.

Game length should be regarded as just a deliberate design decision. There's a place for the 100+ hour Final Fantasys of the world, and there's a place for the ten-hour Lego Star Wars thingies. As long as you get a complete, rounded experience within that game length, and the game's appropriately paced, then it's all fine. Short games are only really a disappointment when they don't have a resolution, like Zone of the Enders or Halo 2.