Tobold's Blog
Monday, January 21, 2013
How long should a game be?

I played 10000000 on the iPad this weekend (where it costs $2 instead of the PC version on Steam for $4), a match three puzzle dungeon running game with retro graphics. I got the required score of over ten million to reach freedom in under 5 hours. There is an endless mode after that, and on the iPad you can reset 10000000 by uninstalling and reinstalling to restart from scratch. But for all practical purposes I got a 5-hour game for $2. And I was thinking that this was good. I probably spent over $1,000 on World of Warcraft and got over 6,000 hours of /played time out of it, so WoW cost me less per hour. But then if you play a MMORPG for thousands of hours, you inevitably end up with lots of hours spent that were less than enjoyable.

In a way MMORPGs are an aberration from the norm when it comes to game length. Most PC and console games can be finished in well under 100 hours, and of the newer ones there are a lot which are just about 10 hours or so long. Of course you can play Civilization for 10 years, but how many people do that? In fact research revealed that 80% to 90% of people starting a game never even finish it once.

Unless we are prodded on by Skinner Box reward system, we tend to play a game until we get bored with it. If time to boredom is less than length of game, we stop early. If time to boredom is more than length of game, we restart. And replayability isn't always good, shortening time to boredom on the second playthrough. Even on the first playthrough, in a game with a story, we usually end up doing the same type of activity over and over, and that can well lead to boredom before the story is over. Especially in a MMORPG where the story has no end anyway, and between daily quests and repeated dungeon runs there is a lot of repetition.

Thus I appreciate the option of cheap, short games, of which there are a lot on mobile platforms like iOS or Android. Switching games frequently means less boredom from repetition. And if a game costs a few dollars, the risk of regretting the purchase is a lot lower, because there is less initial investment both in cost and in organization. Compare that to buying a new MMORPG, choosing a long-term subscription, organizing your guild to move there, only to lose interest after a few weeks.

Do we really need games that we are supposed to play for thousands of hours? Or, in a world of abundance of games, are we better off with shorter games? How long should games be in your opinion?

Long games or short games? We need both, because they can target different players.

Young people have a lot of spare time and can spend hours in a MMO. On the other hand, someone in his/her 40's with children, family stuff and a job surely has few hours/week to spend on a videogame.

To each age its own, I'd say.
'as long as they need to be'.

Length has been one of those selling points to put 'on the box' for ages, especially with RPGs.

Linear games should last as long as the story, without being padded excessively just to make up length.

Sandboxes? Games with no particular plot or end point? They're just there until you're done with them - claiming a particular length is nonsense.
Not that we necessarily spend less time on "short" games: 10 million was extremely addictive (and brilliant!), so the hours it offers it happily takes in intense chunks. The kids can eat later!
The thing is, I'm not really interested in playing games. I rarely play any kind of games, online or offline, video or board. Not my thing.

I "play" MMOs because I want to pretend I'm living in a world where magic is real. If the world is beautiful and big enough and the magic is intriguing and fascinating enough then I can spend an indefinite period of time there.

As for your proposition that "if you play a MMORPG for thousands of hours, you inevitably end up with lots of hours spent that were less than enjoyable" I refute it absolutely. I am very clear on when I am and am not enjoying myself and unless I am being paid or made to do otherwise I will stop doing anything the moment I cease to enjoy it. Why would anyone not? If I've played thousands of hours of a given MMO, and there are several that I have, I was enjoying myself for the vast majority of that time or I'd have stopped and done something else.
The more you play a game, the more you are repeating content (grinding) which doesn't do much to your brain because of the repeating pattern. Yet we have games which stay relevant and fun, like chess poker scrabble volleyball cricket.

While the amount of time you play is relevant, it is also relevant in what time frame you were allowed or able to spend this time. For example, in a subscription-based game you're stimulated to play by the fee and grind, and in a social game where you go to pub every friday evening to play poker or chess club you're stimulated by the peer pressure and social interaction whereas if you want to play tennis competitively you'll need to invest a lot of time in training at the risk of never earning a dime with it.

Price should be in relation to amount of playtime.

Apparently, 50% of all MMORPG players considers themselves addicted
I just love finishing games. I get a terrific kick out of reaching that final cutscene. With this in mind my preference is for shorter gaming experiences, perhaps 8 to 16 hours. I will put 100 hours plus into a great game like Skyrim but 8 hours is perfect for a weekend while 16 hours will keep me entertained for about a week.

Mind you I am not prepared to spend €60 for 8 hours of entertainment but online sales have solved that problem.
I've played my share of browser games. I also played soccer casually, but on a team made up of more or less the same people for around 8 years. Two half-hour practices and one hour-long game a week times about 10 weeks per season makes for only about 160 hours, but spaced over the course of 8 years still makes it pretty sizable. So is that comparable? I'm not sure, but I think the continuity of a longer and more stable game has the potential for an experience that can't be replicated by a short solo game.
My buddy and I evaluate a game based on "The Ed Factor," named for a mutual sort-of friend who came up with the very simple concept: a game should provide 1 hour of entertainment for each dollar it costs.

By that measure, so many games fail. All the new shooters that only last 5 hours but cost 60$ are a terrible bargain. Your 2$ for 5h game is a good bargain, then.

I've been pretty happy with this formula in my dealings.

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