Does Size Matter: Video Game Length

There are a lot of people who play games that finish a Heavenly Sword in a single afternoon. They look at the controller and ask it, tears in their eyes, “What the hell? Is that it?” It’s no secret that the average length of a videogame, especially the FPS genre, has decreased in recent years. You used to be able to say that a game running about 12-15 hours is about average, but now you’re hitting that 8-10 hour mark. But how do you quantify the importance of length in the value of a game? There is no definitive marker to use, and games of the way back when like Pac-Man were essentially indefinite. The reason we’re here is to look at the qualities that make up a games’ worth relative to price, and hopefully to come to some sort of conclusion.

Dollars To Hours

The easiest way for a consumer to evaluate what kind of bang they’re getting is by analyzing how much it costs per hour to play. Your average packaged game now runs at about $60 when purchased new. So if you played Heavenly Sword and finished in 6 hours you paid $12 per hour. That’s not too far off the price of a movie ticket, which is typically a 90-100 minute experience. If you’re trying to compare two vastly different mediums (movies and video games) it can be difficult to assess what makes a $10 movie ticket worth it, and a $60 game feel like a rip-off. With Heavenly Sword you’re getting one of the finest presentations in video games, but the gameplay is mediocre at best. It’s here where you start seeing a problem with length and value of a game.

With videogames there’s an x factor with the player. Even a quick game like Heavenly Sword can seem properly priced to the player who really enjoys the game mechanics, and the frustrating – yet still one of the best implementations – sixaxis controls. To that person, the $60 was worth it. Your own acceptance of paying money for an entertainment product comes down to preference. I gladly handed over $10 to watch the lengthy, and brilliant, Return of the King. But when I walked out of Van Helsing there was only the risk of arrest that kept me from charging the box office and demanding my money back. It’s all relative to the experience attained.

In terms of dollars per hour to play games, developers do have to be careful. When you start treading near the 6-hour mark for a $60 title you had better deliver some amazing gaming. There’s no reason it can’t be done, and if you ask a consumer to pay more for less content the least you can do is ensure it’s great. Perfect your hack n slashery and the consumer will be happy, and even line up for the sequel.

It Goes On, And On, And On, And On…

While quick games may leave you feeling shorted, the issue of 50+ hour games might be more problematic. The value of a game that takes a ridiculous amount of time to complete the main quest can degrade after awhile. We’re not including side quests in this, as those are optional just like multiplayer. But if you’ve been playing one game for 23 hours and it becomes tedious to continue there’s a problem. Instead of being a great value for so much content, you start to look at the next session with trepidation. It’s the “Super Size” factor. Sure, you’re getting a ton of fries with the meal, but at some point you start feeling bloated and sick.

In case the rest of the world wasn’t aware, even in America we started getting tired of the mass amounts of food being shoved onto our plates. No one can finish that crap, and most people I know have the same problem with games. There are the rare titles like Oblivion that are just so damn good you enjoy the entire experience. But today I just can’t finish a game that runs longer than 20 hours in any reasonable amount of time. By the time I get home, make dinner, clean up, say hello to the family, and settle in for some gaming I might have an hour or two most nights to play. If you put me in front of two games that I know nothing about except one is an 8-hour simplistic adventure game, and the other is an epic 40-hour RPG, I’ll more than likely choose the adventure game. There was a time, known as childhood, where I could finish one of these epic games in less than a week. The cutoff for me was Final Fantasy X, which I played not long after college and actually finished in 2 weeks. That was also the last game I played for nearly a year because I had to make up for lost debauchery time.

Just like the short game, a lengthy title only retains its worth when completed if the game was good. Once again it’s the quality more than quantity that is a factor on whether a game is worth the money paid for the content.

This Is How The Game Ends

For the sake of completion, games that have no true conclusion need to be included in pricing value as well. PGR4 has just come out for the 360, and for all intents and purposes has no end. You can play a racing game until you’re tired of it. The only real measure is getting 100% of the medals, cars, and extras available to unlock. But aside from the rare completionist out there, no one really does that. A racing game is something you’ll play for a year not because the experience is new and fresh, but simply because it’s fun to race your friends.

Fighting games, racing games, and arcade titles like Geometry Wars exist in a realm where they live and die by how good the gameplay is. These games are boiled down to the essence of the game, and no one complains when you finish playing through the Soul Caliber “story,” because that’s really just a way to pass time until you get to the real meat of the game, one on one battles with friends. The difference between a racing game and a Final Fantasy game is that you can play the former for just a few hours and feel that it was worth your time and money. Or you can spend countless hours and the value remains essentially the same.

This One Is Just Right

If you look at game length one simple fact becomes clear, it really doesn’t matter. Movie critics don’t get up in arms about a film’s length when reviewing movies. Perhaps you’ll get some commentary on length if the movie numbs your ass after 3 hours, but that’s the extent of it. The reason is that the quality of a film is judged on the content itself, not how long it takes to get to you. To me, there’s more being made about game length than needs to be.

How can anyone finish Halo 3 in the approximate 12 hours on Heroic and think it was too short? The game had amazing pacing and was damn fun to play through. The story, cliché sci-fi though it was, was summed up beautifully with a classic third part telling. The satisfaction comes in the refined gameplay. And be honest, do you really want to play a Halo FPS game for 40 hours? No one would finish it because it would be a chore.

Instead of looking at how much you’re paying per hour of gaming, maybe a look at how much fun you had is a better approach. I had an amazingly great lunch at a little pub in London a few years ago, and it was cheap and easy. A Guinness and roast beef sandwich for just a few dollars was well worth the time and money. But I’ve also spent an inordinate amount of money at restaurants in NYC where my satisfaction for the food and atmosphere was equal to that pub. If the quality of the game is high, then it will not matter if you finish in 6 hours or 37.

Steve West

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend.