In my last post (it’s been a while), I wrote a glowing recommendation for Persona 5. With its bold, stylish design, deep combat system, and living, breathing interactive world, it has captured my heart and put itself on my list of best games of 2017. While I do love Persona 5, no game is perfect. It has its flaws, and the biggest may be its length. As absurd as it sounds to criticize a game for being too long, just hear me out.
A few months back when I started the epic that is Persona 5, I came across an A.V. Club article making the same complaint. At the time, I was only several hours into the game and completely enamored. I couldn’t fathom how the writer could make such a statement. All I wanted to do was fulfil my duty as a Phantom Thief by stealing the distorted hearts of horrible people and making them atone for their crimes. Also, I only paid $45, so I thought I was getting a lot of bang for my buck with 100 hours of content.
However, my feelings started changing around the 70 hour mark. Even though the story took a few interesting and unexpected turns, I found myself feeling exasperated by the massive amount of unnecessary filler dialogue. Clayton Purdom, the writer of the aforementioned A.V. Club article wrote, “Every other plot point throughout the game was hammered into the player’s head via text thread, overheard conversations, and chorus-like reprisals from each of the many party members.” He’s absolutely right. Filtering out all of this repetitive nonsense could easily make this game 20 hours shorter.
Also, while the boss fights near the end are super fun and brilliantly designed, they are grueling. They’re not necessarily difficult, they just really long. Most bosses at this point don’t have weaknesses and are damage sponges, so battles take way longer than they should. This may have not been as much of an issue if I wasn’t so underleveled; I’ve read many people whom were five to 10 levels higher than me didn’t have nearly as much trouble. However, fighting my way through several mini bosses only to die on the last one and start all over again started to get to me after the third time it happened.
When I triumphantly landed the finishing blow on Yaldaboth, Persona 5’s final boss, I felt overcome with relief that I finished. Finally, after 95 hours, I knew the fate of the Phantom Thieves of Hearts and had the closure I so desperately sought. I wasn’t upset that long journey was over, I was overjoyed. Although I had grown attached to the characters and story, I wasn’t sad to see it all come to an end because I had been ready to put the controller down for 25 hours before the credits rolled.
I’m sad to say that this wasn’t the first time I felt exasperated by a game’s length. In recent memory, I can think of a handful of massive titles that I was ready to put down before I finished – Dragon Age: Inquisition, Bloodborne, and Kingdoms of Amular: Reckoning to name a few. All of these are fantastic and worthy of playing, but didn’t offer enough variety to keep me interested for 50+ hours. As with Persona 5, my interest began to fade with these titles hours before I reached their conclusions.
Time is a Precious Commodity
With this consuming my mind, I decided to take to the internet to see if others felt the same way. As expected, I found mixed opinions. Gamers with less free time cried for shorter, more meaningful experiences, while those on the other side of the spectrum yearned for worlds they can get lost in for hundreds of hours. Some were alright with bailing on games before finishing and others couldn’t bear the thought of not finishing what they started. If you couldn’t already tell, I belong to the former.
Eventually I stumbled upon a video from PBS’ defunct YouTube series Game/Show. In the first several minutes, Kill Screen founder Jamin Warren discusses games with extensive lengths and how the older generation of gamers is finding it hard to finish them. One of the most compelling arguments he makes is that in the 276 hours one Tumblr user spent playing CoD, he could have watched every movie on the AFI 100, finish the works of Tolstoy, and listen to most of the major works of 20th century pop music. He then goes on to present a surprising statistic that only 10 to 20 percent of gamers ever finish single player campaigns.
Immediately after blowing my mind with those tidbits of information, Warren asks a question that is still swimming around the depths of my mind: At what point to games just become too long? Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a study to provide any concrete evidence on the topic. All I could find was research on how much video game time kids should get. Basically stuff I could give a rat’s ass about because I spent several hours at a time gaming when I was a child and turned out decent.
However, I did come across a CNN article from 2011 that had some fairly interesting insights. In the piece, a production contractor for Activision named Keith Fuller states that he’s been told as a blanket expectation that 90 percent of players never see the end of a game unless they watch a clip on YouTube. In the same article, John Lee, VP of marketing at Raptr and former executive at Capcom, THQ, and Sega states that he heard only 20 percent gamers ever reach the end of a campaign.
While those statistics alone are pretty mind blowing, the real bombshell comes later in the piece. By tracking the gameplay metrics of over 23 million of its registered users, Raptr uncovered that only 10 percent completed the final mission of Red Dead Redemption, the widely regarded “Game of the Year” of 2010. How can that be? Why would 90 percent of people who roamed through the vast, beautiful landscapes of Rockstar’s cowboy western hit abandon it before reaching the conclusion?
The answer is simple: Gamers, on average, are getting older and assuming more responsibilities in their lives. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the average gamer is 37. At this age, most people are too focused on their careers, retirement plans, and families to sink 50 hours of their life into a video game. Time is a precious commodity for these people, so if they’re going to see a game through to the end, it’s going to have to be worth taking time away from responsibilities and other hobbies.
Too Many Games, Too Little Time
Because the average gamer has limited time to play, there’s no doubt that they’re having trouble getting to every game that piques their interest. According to MobyGames, a company that keeps a database of every well-known published video game, just over 3,000 games have been released every year since 2010. Before they finish that 50-hour campaign they’ve been trekking through, chances are several other games they’ve been dying to get their hands on have released.
“In the last two decades the growth of video games has produced a huge influx of games,” said Fuller in the aforementioned CNN article. “There are more players today, but there are also more games per player. Since you can’t spend as much time on each game, you’re less likely to finish the one in front of you.”
It’s a conundrum all gamers face at one point in their lives: To continue playing something they’ve sunken hours of time into, or set it aside to play a game they’ve waited years for? It’s the leading creator of backlogs, causing gamers to shift focus away from a campaign they’ve devoted much of their precious time to, only to never finish. Unless, of course, there is a drought of new releases that allows them to circle back and finish what they started.
The insane amount of digital offers doesn’t help with this. I’ll admit that I’m guilty of stocking up on a bevy of games during a Steam sale, only to not boot them up until a year after purchasing. It’s part of being a gamer in the digital age, and it makes unnecessarily long games all the more frustrating. Too many times I’ve spent several hours dragging my feet to the end of a game instead of playing something I’ve been dying to get my hands on. Sure, I could have just stopped playing, but I find it hard to not see the end of a campaign after paying for a game and putting countless hours into it.
A Question of Quantity or Quality
Of course, this experience also had me thinking of games that I put the same amount of time into without dying to finish. A recent example is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a title in which I clocked over 50 hours of playtime. Although I only spent half the time I put into Persona 5 playing this masterpiece, it’s still a considerably long campaign, and unlike Persona 5, it left me yearning for more instead of sprinting to the finish line. I was so bummed when it came to an end that I immediately purchased the DLC to extend the adventure.
Ultimately, this was a result of Breath of the Wild’s puzzle and mission variety, and its dynamic open world. Sure, the Divine Beasts were nothing compared to dungeons from other installments in the series, but they were still entertaining. Also, although shrines were shorter and easier than I would have liked, they were varied enough to keep me wanting to complete more. I also like how you could take the game at your own pace. Theoretically, you could skip the Divine Bests and fight Calamity Gannon in the early hours of the game, it would just be incredibly hard.
There were no infamous fluff objectives, like finding all of the pieces of the Triforce at the end of Wind Waker or solving 250 riddles in order to launch the “true” Nightfall Protocol in Arkham Knight. Nothing felt tedious or boring; I was entertained from the moment I started until the ending credits rolled. It’s a shame that this doesn’t seem to happen more often. It’s almost as if studios believe that cramming hours of bullshit into a game ultimately makes it better than a shorter campaign that’s satisfying and entertaining from start to finish. Some people may feel the same way, but I don’t.
Think of it like an album: Would you rather have a disjointed 90-min epic with only a few memorable songs or a succinct record where every track complements the next to create a more cohesive and enjoyable experience? Ten times out of ten I’m going to take the latter, which is why you’ll often hear me say Pet Sounds is the greatest album of all time. In just 35 minutes, it fills your ears with psychedelic pop bliss that you can play on repeat and find something new to appreciate with each listen. There’s absolutely no fat. From the opening notes of Wouldn’t it Be Nice to the barking dogs at the close of Caroline No, your ears are touched by gorgeous vocal harmonies, riveting orchestral arrangements, and unconventional instruments like bicycle bells that were all thrown together by a mastermind to make something beautiful and groundbreaking.
Another thing you’ll hear me say often is The Last of Us is the greatest game of all time, and for similar reasons. Where its campaign lacks in length, it flourishes with emotion-evoking storytelling, intense enemy encounters, and fleshed out characters that you actually care about. And for anyone who complains that its 16-hour runtime is too short, there are solid multiplayer modes to extend the fun. My point is, shortness shouldn’t be frowned upon. I’ll take a 10-hour game that’s incredible all the way though over a 50-hour game with more lows than highs any day of the week.
The Bottom Line
It’s time for developers to take a better look at their projects and cut out the crap. Industry trends show that gamers are getting older, which means they have less time to spend on entertainment that fails to entertain. I’m not saying that games need to be shorter; there are plenty that I’ve sunken 100+ hours into without getting bored. I’m saying that if you’re going to make a game 30+ hours, make sure that extra time is filled with interesting content, not tedious fetch quests or filler dialogue that drive us gamers insane.
The fact of the matter is there are too many great games to play and too little time. Unlike me, there are plenty of gamers out there that have no problem ditching a game halfway through if they feel it isn’t worth finishing. Sure, the studio still makes money off the purchase, but what does this mean for their next release? Will a gamer still be inclined to purchase something made by the same developer of a game that bored them to tears? I, for one, will be more wary about purchasing the next Persona installment upon release. Although I enjoyed the greater majority of Persona 5, I’m getting older and don’t have time to trudge my way through hours and hours of filler.
Sooner rather than later, I hope some of these studios realize that a long game fluffed up with boring crap isn’t more worthwhile than a 10-hour experience that is fun throughout its entirety. The industry needs realizes that longer doesn’t necessarily mean better. With the increasing popularity of indie games, it seems like we’re trending in the right direction. Only time will tell if this will ever happen. Until then, I’m going to make sure I do better research before jumping into my next epic adventure.
How do you feel about game length? Are there any games that you love, but feel should be shorter? Do you have trouble quitting on games you’ve spent hours, or are you good about doing away with them once you get bored? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!