Tobold's Blog
Sunday, November 05, 2023
Game length vs. fun time

I you look at a website like How Long to Beat, it will tell you how long it takes on average to play through the end in any given video game, depending on whether you just do the main story or do a lot of side content. What that doesn't tell you, is how long a game is fun for, because that is obviously a much more subjective number. Now in an ideal world the game length is about the same as the fun time. In the real world, it often isn't.

The easier case is if a game is fun for longer than it takes you to play it. Especially if it is a strategy game, like Civilization, where you can simply start over on a new map with a different civilization. But that kind of game is a bit old school, and most modern games have a main story to them. And then it gets kind of annoying if you are only half way through the game and the fun runs out. Do you press on, and play a game that isn't really entertaining you well anymore? Or do you stop playing, never getting to see the end of the story? Do you leave the game installed on your computer, promising to "finish it later", which you will never do?

I had this experience with The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria. This is a game that has some fun elements to it, especially if you are a fan of the LotR setting, and haven't played too many other survival crafting games already. But it certainly isn't a great game, and has some rather obvious flaws. And so, somewhere in Dwarrowdelf, the last-but-one zone of the game, I ran out of fun. The latter part of the game feels a bit like they ran out of budget, and constructed the last zones out of a mix of empty and previously used tiles. So, what should I do?

I realized that the reason Return to Moria takes rather long is the game loop of going out to explore, and returning when inevitably you health runs low and your inventory is full. It's a constant back and forth, returning to base during the night, either by running back, or by teleporting back. Which is a bit easier with the latest patch, that increased the drop rate for the Black Diamonds that are needed to build mapstone teleporters. But if you didn't run out of health, and didn't collect everything, you could skip that back and forth, and progress significantly faster in the story. So I used WeMod to basically turn god mode on, with infinite health. And using that, I rushed the last two zones, killed the final boss and got to the end-of-game cutscene. It's cheating, but it makes it easier for me to now uninstall the game and be done with it.

This is a personality thing. If I'm playing a game (Or reading a book or watching a movie.) and find I'm no longer enjoying it, i just stop. Somethimes I might come back later, if my mood changes, mostly I don't.

I have no concerns over finishing or not finishing anything I'm only doing for entertainment. It's self-evident to me that if I'm no longer being entertained that's the end of the activity. If it was a chore that needed to be completed or work I was being paid for or a practical project with a meaningful and lasting outcome, then obviously I would carry on until it was done, but the same simply doesn't apply to entertainment and I find it very hard to see why it would. If it's not entertaining, stop. Or, as you describe, do something to make it fun again. Either way, plowing on while not enjoying yourself is not an option that makes sense to me.
The majority of folks that buy a game never finish it. Even relatively short games are like this. In Armored Core 6 you can reach an ending in about 10-12 hours and less then 40% of players have made it that far. Less then 30% have done all 3 endings. With longer games it seriously drops off. Baldur's Gate 3 only about 15% of players have stuck with it until the end despite the high praise and millions of copies sold.

If I'm not having fun with a game I drop it these days. I used to compulsively buy games on Steam during sales but I stopped as I realized it was a waste of money to buy a game I wasn't interested playing at the moment.
Indeed it is unfortunate when game length is not equivalent to fun time. But with fun time being very subjective, I understand that it can be a difficult target to hit.

For story driven games, I have difficulty dropping it due to diminished fun if I get midway through. I want the closure of getting to the end, so I often then use cheats to plow on through. As much as I understand that for entertainment purposes this makes little sense. An unfinished game or movie often nags at me in my mind while I'm away from it until finished.
I note that you still felt a desire to finish the game even though the fun had run out. To me this indicates that there is a third factor at play in addition to game length and fun time. For want of a better phrase I am going to call that third factor the "compelling goal". A simple example is a story based game where the compelling goal is to get to the end of the story. A different example would be a strategy game where the compelling goal is to finish a single campaign before moving on. I think you sum up the concept of the compelling goal very well when you say that "it makes it easier for me to uninstall the game and be done with it".

Unfortunately a lot of modern games turn this compelling goal into a never achievable carrot on a stick. Obviously this is a design feature of cash shop games to keep people playing and paying but it has crept into many modern games even those without heavy monetisation. There is always another mini game just over the next hill or a new game plus mode with added features of some set of extra achievements to collect and there is never a comfortable point where you can feel you have beaten the game and can just move on.
Yes, I liked the "compelling goal" of Return to Moria. Both for the LotR lore aspect, and because a main story with a goal is relatively rare in survival crafting games.
I have almost never "finished" a game but I tend to play non story games where your often collecting almost forever.

even Diablo 2 back in the day which I played for years, I think I played a sorc to 98 and 3 hardcore chars to 8x all of whom died 1-1.5 zones from the "end"
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