Cut the Crap: Game Length and the Modern Gamer

fo4In 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.

dragon age inquisition long
Dragon Age Inquisition is another game that is too long for its own good.

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.”

moby games game database
That’s a lot of games released so far this year…

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.

arkham knight riddles
Riddle me this: Why did Rocksteady think it was a good idea to put 250 riddles in Arkham Knight?

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.

inside game length
Inside can be completed in 2-3 hours, and it may have been my favorite game of 2016.

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!


13 thoughts on “Cut the Crap: Game Length and the Modern Gamer

  1. It’s a question of quality content. If you give me a 100 hour long game with constant engaging and interesting content then I’m all for it. Sadly most long games tend to have stupendous amounts of filler content, either through pointless busy work, endless grinding, or meaningless travel times. I’d love to play Dragon Age Inquisition, but I’ve heard there’s a ton of dull filler so I’ve passed. Personally these days (obviously age/work are a factor) I prefer a succinct game that I won’t get fed up of after the 20th hour.

    Having said that, I enjoyed FFXV!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. It’s just sad that so many longer games are only long because they are crammed full of filler. Don’t get me wrong, Dragon Age Inquisition is fun for the most part, it just starts to become a grind the last 10 hours or so.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve hit a point in my life where time is more valuable to me than anything. Films and games that overstay their welcome and have me wishing I was done already are huge pet peeves of mine. They feel like they are wasting my time and sour me on the experience. This isn’t to say that short games are the answer, I still enjoy strong, well-made games that have a long play time, provided they keep me engaged throughout.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Same. I think I just need to get better about putting games down when they start to bore me. It’s just hard to do after spending $40-$60 and putting hours of time into it. That’s one of the reasons I love Netflix so much. I spend $10/month on it, and I can watch a few hours of a series and bail on it without feeling ripped off. Makes me glad to see that the industry experimenting with subscription-based services like Xbox Game Pass and PS Now.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with the too many games too little time. I remember when I’d replay any and all of the Final Fantasies because I could. Now I have to schedule my game play, which is fine. I schedule my reading and show watching, too, but while I understand the desire for shorter and more meaningful experiences, I’m okay with a long game if it needs to be longer. I feel the same way about any media; however, I don’t want a game to be 100 hours just because they pad it with unnecessaries just in the same way books or movies with ending fatigue should be avoided.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep. We are on the same page. I’m all for a long game if it is fun and exciting all the way though. I feel like I become more immersed in the world and I save money because I don’t see the need to purchase another game for a long while. It’s just unfortunate that more often than not, I find myself getting bored because I’m either repeating the same thing over and over or sitting through filler dialogue that doesn’t progress the story in any way.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Filler dialogue is bad no matter what medium it’s in. That’s one thing you learn with writing. Every bit of dialogue should do something, mean something, or progress the story in some way. Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle with that, but it’s a good thing to remember!

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  4. I think the biggest gripe with wasted time comes with JRPGs in general. But JRPGs are made for a different audience. Japanese players like the tedious collections and the way they absorb story lines is different than the western world. Where we see, “Oh come on, get to the point!” They see, “Oh nice, they are building the suspense.” It’s the same thing they do in Anime. It’s only recently that American companies have gotten into the business of 100+ hours of game play. I remember on the PS2 one of the Xenosaga games had a 2 hour cut scene. That’s crazy! It’s has good rpg game play but I am not sure I want any game to be interrupted by a movie. That being said When the the western world did venture into those areas they decided the way to do it was collections. Assassin’s Creed (1) comes to mind when they wanted me to collect like 100 flags, collect 100 chests, and kill 100 Templars for minimal reward. That too, to me, was the wrong way to do it. For me the games that do it right are the ones that when I look at the save file and see, 71 hours. I am surprised, shocked, and not at all concerned by the time wasted. Because essentially, Time enjoyed is not time wasted. Sadly, those games are few. Metal Gear Solid 2 was a game like that for me. The game play was fantastic and the fact the Hideo Kojima went to school for film making really shows itself in the story line and wonderfully shot cut scenes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You make a good point about JRPGs and Anime. It’s funny to think that what one culture sees as building up suspense, we in the Western world see as nonsense filler. I agree that the games that do it right are the ones you’ll look at think “100 hours! I’ve really played that much?”. I feel like this rarely happens to me, but I really appreciate when it does. Recent games that had this effect on me are Witcher 3 and MGS V; I’d could play both for the rest of my life and be content.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I do agree that there were a few AAA games out there that could’ve benefited from being shorter. I played through Dragon Quest VII last year, and while I think it’s a good game, quite a lot of it involved backtracking through old dungeons with no new content to justify doing so. I think if someone can make an epic game that lasts nearly one-hundred hours and earns every single minute, they should, but Persona 4 is the only title I can think of offhand that meets that standard. Otherwise, it’s one of the reasons why I think Undertale was the best game of 2015 (and indeed, the decade); it managed to do in ten hours what 99% of AAA titles from around the time couldn’t in fifty – tell a compelling story that takes full advantage of the medium’s oddities.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have yet to play Undertale, but I’m definitely going to make a point to check it out now. It’s amazing how some indies manage to be better than a majority of AAA games on the market, especially when you consider that they were made with a much smaller budget and team.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Excellent idea. The indie scene was pretty interesting in the late 2000s, but in this decade, it blossomed into a force capable of standing toe-to-toe with the AAA industry – sometimes even surpassing their efforts. I think in the case of Undertale, it was mostly developed by a single person (some others contributed art) with help from Kickstarter. A little focus goes a long way, doesn’t it?

        Liked by 1 person

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