“Size Doesn’t Matter” Day

By Kieron Gillen on August 18th, 2010 at 11:30 am.

I'm going to play Limbo sober one day. I'll probably like it more.

I learned through Quarter to Three that yesterday was Size Doesn’t Matter day where, organised by Jamie Cheng of Klei (Shank, Sugar Rush), a series of developers apologises to their partners for their ineffectual genitalia share their thoughts on the issue of what is “too small”, in terms of games. It’s been a theme in games discussion for a few years now, and seems to have been brought to a head by the few shadows cast on Limbo‘s generally triumphant reviews by people complaining it was “too short”. Which is silly. They should have complained it was just trial-and-error-nonsense with pretty graphics. Anyway, this lead to over 15 essays on the topic, which seem determined to precipitate the issue. Sample quotes plus links to all the ones I could find follow…

Ron Carmel, 2D Boy (World of Goo)

Saying Too Short is like using words like Should, Good, Bad, etc. These are lazy words. Socially acceptable shortcuts that allow people to speak superficially about what they really think and feel. Using lazy words is not a big deal in casual conversation, or if you’re speaking with someone who knows you well enough to understand what’s behind the shortcut. But if you write about games for a living you should not take these shortcuts you do your readers an injustice by seeding their mind with a negative predisposition that reflects your laziness instead of helping the reader learn about your experience of the game.

Chris Hecker (Spy Party):

The typical analogy made by defenders of game pricing and value is to the cost of eating out at a restaurant. When the price being discussed is $15, the food being discussed is usually fast. And, while it’s true you will pay more for a pizza these days than you will for a “AAA Indie Game”—or you will if your pizza is any good—and, yes, a $15 game will give you more direct hours of content than a $15 movie will, I claim if you’re even engaging at this level, you’ve already lost the argument.

Jonathan Blow (Braid, The Witness):

Gamers seem to praise games for being addicting, but doesn’t that feel a bit like Stockholm syndrome? If you spend 20 hours playing a game, but the good parts could have been condensed into 3, then didn’t you just waste 17 hours? If you waste 17 hours a month for the rest of your life, what is the cost of that, socially, quality-of-life-wise, economically, or however else you want to measure?

Cliff Harris (Kudos, Gratuitous Space Battles:

As an ‘older’ gamer, I recall a time when the whole idea of game length was silly. How long is pacman? how long is space invaders? As long as you have time for, clearly. Now you may argue (and some do) that the only reason that early games worked this way was the artificial constraints caused by a lack of processing power and file storage. These days we can have games with hand-crafted, bump mapped worlds made in incredible detail, and this is clearly better and more immersive and thus games should be measured in this way.
Now I’m not vaguely going to suggest that more-detailed, more immersive worlds are not a good thing. They clearly are. What I’m against is the weighing up of a games value (both artistically and in monetary terms) by sheer length and content.

And a list of most of the ones I can find, in the order Jonathan Blow put them in…

Ron Carmel of 2DBoy (World of Goo)
Chris DeLeon (Kerzillion of things)
Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Eye Games (Shivah, Emerald City Confidential)
Matt Gilgenbach of 24 Caret Games (retro/grade)
Michael Todd (Go Go Dream Samurai)
Eitan Glinert of Fire Hose Games (Slam Bolt Scrappers)
Cliff Harris of Positech Games (Kudos, Gratuitous Space Battles)
Chris Hecker (Spy Party)
Scott Macmillan of Macguffin Games
Noel Llopis (Flower Garden, Lorax Garden)
Peter Jones of Retro Affect (Depict1)
Lau Korsgaard (Copenhagen Game Collective – and this one’s cheerily NSFW, but worth clicking through to see the splendid webgame that’s found. It’s discussed a serious debate about the rendering of spunk in the RPS chat room)
Martin Pichlmair of Broken Rules (And Yet It Moves)
Greg Wohlwend of Intution Games (Hundreds)
Jeffrey Rosen of Wolfire (Lugaru, Overgrowth)
Steve Swink (Enemy Airship)

…But there’s probably a few I’ve missed if you scour the links at the bottom of all of them.

And to open it to the floor… what do you think?

, .

88 Comments »

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  1. TheBlackBandit says:

    Ah, Kieron. Clearly a Rock Paper Shotgun man to the end: Little Shorty does not want to reach that. He wants to run away from it, very fast, in the opposite direction.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Yeah, I know. But you try illustrating a story like this.

      KG

    • TheBlackBandit says:

      Forgiven. After I thought hard, fruitlessly, for 5 minutes.

    • Premium User Badge

      AndrewC says:

      A boy stands in a dark, furry place, confusedly staring at a glowing nubbin. He has no idea what it is for, but is filled with an ineffable fear.

      Just like the average RPS reader! Woooo!

    • Premium User Badge

      P7uen says:

      Couldn’t think of short+game related gags even after Postal 2 was already mentioned today?!

    • Dawngreeter says:

      “Yeah, I know. But you try illustrating a story like this.”

      A woman, sitting up in her bed, cigar in hand, rolling her eyes?

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Including a grab of Limbo.

      KG

    • Dawngreeter says:

      Uh. Okay. I’ve got nuthin’.

      No, no, wait. Maybe there’s a monitor showing Limbo on the pillow next to her?

      Maybe I should’ve stuck with nuthin’.

    • Premium User Badge

      AndrewC says:

      Well, from GISing ‘Limbo Xbox’, the 2nd image does suggest the usefulness of length, and the 7th, with the kid looking at two strangers over a spiky chasm, does seem to compare short and thick against long and thin.

  2. Premium User Badge

    AndrewC says:

    Ron Carmel’s paragraph = good!

    • Shimarenda says:

      Agreed. Carmel’s was my favorite quote because I think he really hit on a central problem in this debate. Cliff Harris makes a good point, too.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Tom-INH says:

    I forget who it was now, but I remember reading a quote on this subject which resonated with me: “a game is very rarely too short, but may be too expensive”. I think it was originally referring to Modern Warfare 2.

    I can see the argument the indie developers are making, and despite the fact that I find myself with less time to play games nowadays compared to a couple of years ago, but I do have limited money to spend on games and hence still want decent value for that money. Particularly with the rise of the Steam sale, which leads to many of my purchases being a fiver or less, I feel reluctant to shell out 15 quid for a game I may only spend a couple of hours playing.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Saul says:

    Games, like films, are far more often too long than too short.

    • Premium User Badge

      P7uen says:

      The difference is that you will invariably finish a film no matter how long or short or crap it is.

      Portal wouldn’t have been ‘too short’ if it was shit and no-one bothered playing until the end.

    • A Punctual Nord says:

      A good game is always too short.

      A bad game is always too long.

  5. Paul Wilkins says:

    There is sound financial reasoning that says you should spend your money on experiences, rather than on collecting baubles.

    How often do we go to see the same movie over again? Not very often because we already know the story, and we rarely enjoy the experience.

    Games that are primarily story-based tend to be played through once. We play through to get to the next bit of the story, and when we’re done we look for some other game-based story to play through.

    This is why games that provide an enjoyable experience, rather than a story-line, are the ones that people tend to go back to again and again. So that they can enjoy the experience all over again.

    Early games became successful primarily because of their gameplay, due to having little-else at the time that we have today. We can learn from those successful older games and reincorporate those lessons into todays games.

    I like being the hero for Alyx, I like saving the world from demons from hell, I like gobbling up all of the yellow dots before the ghosts get to me. Some of these do have a storyline, but primarily the reason why I return to those games over again is because I enjoy the experience.

  6. Choca says:

    “If you spend 20 hours playing a game, but the good parts could have been condensed into 3, then didn’t you just waste 17 hours?”

    If you spend 3 hours playing a game, but the good parts could have been condensed into 10 minutes, then you wasted your time too. What a lousy way to defend your point of view.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Chocoa: The implicit part is “whatever the length is required to optimise entertainment”. As in, it can’t be condensed into 3.

      KG

    • Yargh says:

      Choca, if the enjoyable parts of your 3 hour game can be condensed into 10 (non repeatable) minutes, then it is a terrible game.

    • Sonic Goo says:

      I thought this was a very good point, actually. Because people have ever more games (thank you, Steam!) they have less time and patience for filler. I would rather buy a cheaper shorter game that doesn’t overstay its welcome than a huge game which only gets good after 12 hours in.

  7. Dominic White says:

    Personally, I have much love for short games with high replay value. Starfox 64 is one of my all-time favourites (tangentially, it was my favourite rail-shooter until Sin & Punishment 2 came out) and could be beaten in an hour or two. However, it had so many branching routes, secret areas, score-attack challenges and general cool details that I must have played it through at least a dozen times.

    • Soundofvictory says:

      This. Also Sin & Punishment 2. It takes what, an hour? An hour and a half to get through Starfox 64’s campaign? IIRC on that one runthrough you play just under half of the levels.

  8. Dean says:

    I actually thought Limbo was too long. As in, it runs out of good ideas about an hour before it ends. There is a single good reason that game length will always matter though, and that is that children are a big part of the videogame audience. And children, generally, are more limited by money than time. For the rest of us, when it comes to games we’re more limited by time than money. I don’t mind that a game is short. I’ve so many games I’l never play half of them, and while I buy a lot all you need is a little disposable income at Christmas and the Steam sale and you can fill all your gaming time for the next year with ease.

    But for kids it’s different. 1200 points / ten quid probably is too much for 4 hours of Limbo, as they’re going to have to wait three weeks until they can afford another game.

  9. mrmud says:

    Also saying limbo is “trial and error nonsense with pretty graphics” is selling it terribly short.

  10. cjhyde says:

    games take too long, absolutely. But so would reading all those articles.

  11. Tei says:

    There are very long books, and very short ones. But one can’t judge a book for his lenght. And… very short books are not succesfull because very few people will buy a book with only 20 pages.

    • Loomchild says:

      “And… very short books are not succesfull because very few people will buy a book with only 20 pages.”

      20 pages is a bit extreme.
      However, Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s adventures in Wonderland” is approximately 100 pages which would be considered short by most.
      I daresay it has been quite successful.

    • Premium User Badge

      AndrewC says:

      Children’s books are often 20 pages are less, though the pages are usually very nice.

      Stories that are 20 pages long are usually bundled with several other 20-page-long stories as a collection, which is something I wish the games world would do more of.

    • malkav11 says:

      I submit that until recently, the costs associated with making a 20 page book were not substantially less than that of making an 800 page book, so the price would not, could not be commensurate to the difference in length. Ebooks ought to make a 20 page book perfectly viable, I would think.

    • Premium User Badge

      P7uen says:

      Roadside Picnic is a cracking read that I know some RPSers have enjoyed and that cant be more than 150 pages.

    • Sonic Goo says:

      One of my favourite writers is a Dutch writer called Nescio. His entire life’s work is about 300 pages.

  12. airtekh says:

    For me, I think a lot of it has to do with expectations of a game’s length.

    I can’t lie. I was bitterly disappointed at the length of Portal. I just wanted to see more of the facility, more puzzles, more GLaDOS. I had to install a couple of mods to get the rest of my Portal fix.

    Perhaps because it was a first-person game from Valve, I expected it to be longer, and that’s where my disappointment came from. Don’t get me wrong, the game is ace, and I love it to bits. It’s just that I had a sad feeling upon completion that didn’t have anything to do with a lack of cake. It was slightly mollified by the delightful credits song, though.

    I also bought VVVVVV recently, and I completed it in just over two hours. I was slightly surprised at how quick I finished it, but I wasn’t expecting it to be much longer than it actually was. The same has held true for most other indie games I have bought.

  13. BigJonno says:

    Contrary to the rather patronising assertion that it is mainly children who make game purchases based on value for money, there are plenty of adults for whom value for money is an important factor. Children, as a rule, tend to base their purchasing decisions on what looks cool, which is why my Spectrum collection included many shoddy licensed titles.

    I’m a newly-single mature student, previously I was a husband and a father. It was only in my earlier singleton man-child days that I could spend what I liked on games and even then it was heavily balanced against all the other things I wanted to spend money on.

    I can’t say that I’ve ever not bought a game because of it’s length, but I have taken it into account when deciding how much I’m willing to pay for a game. I totally agree that it’s better to have a short, good game than a long, okay one, however I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t take a long, good game over either of them.

    Forget comparing games to movies or eating out or anything except other games. It’s pointless; if someone wants to play a game, they’re not going to order a pizza instead. If a game doesn’t offer as many hours of quality entertainment as other games at the same price point, it is a valid criticism, especially in reviews that serve as, amongst other things, buying guides for the consumer.

    • Chris D says:

      I think the comparisons to movies or pizza may have been by way of analogy rather than claiming they were direct competition to games.

    • BigJonno says:

      I’ve seen plenty of direct comparisons between the cost of games and other forms of entertainment. Either way, I don’t find it a good comparison at all.

    • Dean says:

      Not trying to be patronising. Just that anyone that can afford a games capable PC (I know, they’re only a few hundred quid these days but still) and an internet connection can probably afford more games than they have time to play. Not that the cost/length factor can’t be a decision in buying specific games that you’re specifically interested in, but if you’re willing to play whatever is cheap and available then don’t need more than a couple of quid a month.

      Case in point – most people with a full-time job, if playing it exclusively, will probably just have got around to finishing the Humble Indie Bundle around now I imagine.

    • Chris D says:

      Dean.

      A PC with internet access is becoming pretty much a necessity for everyone these days. Especially given the number of jobs that require you to apply online. If you have one anyway then gaming is still pretty much the most cost effective form of entertainment around. There are people for whom time is the limiting factor rather than money but there are an awful lot for whom it’s the other way round.

    • BigJonno says:

      It all depends on priorities, really. Personally, I don’t watch a lot of TV, discounting watching cartoons with my son, only a couple of hours a week, tops. Neither did my wife, so a lot of of the time that other couples would spend watching TV, we played games. I guess my situation was a pretty uncommon one, my wife was disabled, so I was the sole wage earner. All of our gaming hardware came from occasional windfalls, careful use of credit or were remnants from when we were both working, so we had those things while at the same time having little in the way of disposable income. My entire spend on gaming for 2009 was around £170 and that far exceeded anything I spent on any other hobbies.

      I think there are a lot more people than you believe who work full time, can devote an average of a couple of hours a day to playing games, but still can afford to spend much on them.

    • Dean says:

      My point being, £170 is a huge annual spend on games if spent well. Stick to really cheap online sales, let’s say £5 being the average price of a game (which if anything, is higher than it needs to be) and that’s 34 games over the course of a year. Or one every week and a half.

      Of course priorities enter in to it, but you can game well with some awesome stuff and only spend £100 a year by using stuff like the Steam sales. £2 a week. You’re probably spending half of that on the electricity to run the PC. It’s less than the price of a pint in most cities.

      I’m not denying that a) there are some people that don’t go out to the cinema, pub, restaurants, etc. and still have very little disposable income. There’s all sorts of reasons for that: minimum wage jobs, debts and dependents are just a few. Nor am I denying b) that some people have very specific tastes and prefer to spend their money on newer stuff that really suits them rather than cheaper stuff from other genres.

      My point is simply that, spent well, you can get more gaming than you have time by having one less pint down the pub on a Friday night every week.

  14. Chris D says:

    I would generally consider the length of a game to be the time it takes till you get bored and don’t want to play it again. Therefore a three hour game you replay ten times is longer than a hundred hour game if you get bored of it after ten.

    If we wanted to be borish and try to measure a games value numerically we could do it by Time x Enjoyment. Of course, given that how much you enjoy a game varies we’d be looking at some sort of curve that you’d need to use calculus on to figure out. I’d also suggest that time spent thinking about the game even while not actually playing it also counts. Eg: talking about it in the pub, reminiscing happily years later count as well.

    So for a gamer on a budget looking for an index of which game is the better purchase it would be (Enjoyment*Time)/Cost. Of course you don’t know how much you will enjoy a game until you’ve played it so we have to approxmate it to:

    ((Critical consensus*How much I like this sort of thing)*(Perceived lenth/ How likely am I to get bored))/Cost.

    Which is all a long winded way of saying size does matter unless you are particularly good or particulary cheap. The corollary being that if you are boring then being long doesn’t help you either.

  15. Ricky Haggett says:

    Another post in defence of Limbo.

    A pretty decent number of those puzzles were terribly clever. Some of them were even approaching Braid-clever, and that’s just using simple physics – without the need for any time manipulation complexity. I loved how there were no red herrings, and nothing was hidden. When I finally worked out the solutions to the ones I was stuck for many minutes, I never felt like I’d finally hit upon it through ‘trial and error’ – rather that I had worked out a clever, new way to manipulate the physics.

    It felt about the right length for me – I don’t think it ran out of ideas anywhere near the end. In fact, some of the last puzzles were some of the most satisfying to solve.

    One thing that did annoy me though was their management of expectation. When you went to check your progress, it gave you a % completion. And you actually complete the game at 80% (the remaining 20% presumably for the achievements). This was a bit naughty of them I feel.

    Way too many AAA games feel cynically padded for length and I get bored. But ‘padding’ is all very much in the eye of the beholder. For example, I got bored with Mass Effect 2 after about 12 hours. Whereas I became obsessed with Fallout 3, and scoured every corner of that game for 50+ hours. And I can’t justify why that is, in any useful analytical way – I just dug the world of Fallout 3 way more, I guess.

    • SomeGuy says:

      I was the other way around compleatly, loved mass effect 2 and did everything possible in it, yet gave up on fallout 3 after abouth 3-4 hours.

  16. Red Scharlach says:

    “Which is silly. They should have complained it was just trial-and-error-nonsense with pretty graphics.”

    Maybe you just weren’t very good? I found the puzzles surprisingly organic.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      I suspect my back was up when jumping off the first log in the game kills you. It’s a very funny game to watch someone else play, in a Dragon’s Lair way.

      KG

    • mrmud says:

      But the deaths are so gruesome in a wierd cute kind of way!

    • Red Scharlach says:

      “I suspect my back was up when jumping off the first log in the game kills you.”

      Gravity kills.

      You play a sickly child in a Grimm fairy tale turning ghost story. Sorry your legs are brittle.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      mrmud: Hence Dragon’s Lair. Very limited interaction, funny deaths, very pretty.

      Dracko: Not the problem. It gives you a log and urges you to jump off – because that’s the most fun thing you can do – and then kills you for it. It’s a wonderful sign of “This is how this designer thinks”. You didn’t need that knowledge at that point in the game. They kill you because they think it’s funny – “oh – what a prick you were for jumping off a ledge”. It’s lucky that they *did* make most deaths funny, because otherwise it’ll be all too apparent how dislikeable and contemptful a design it is.

      I mean, I don’t hate it hate it. It’s a strong 6/10.

      KG

    • Red Scharlach says:

      “Not the problem. It gives you a log and urges you to jump off”

      If anything, it arouses suspicion.

    • GHudston says:

      Interesting. My first death was the pair of bear traps near the start. It gave almost the exact message that I expect the developers wanted to send, i.e. Be careful, everything in this world wants to kill you. I loved it for that.

      I do love how different people can interpret the same thing so differently! How boring a world we would live in if that weren’t the case.

  17. Jamesworkshop says:

    After I few playthroughs I found Bioshock 2 to be a little on the short side, not in a value sence but that I felt their really wasn’t enought time to spend abusing all the plasmid combos to torrment helpless splicers

  18. RagingLion says:

    I will personally just judge it on a case by case level. End of.

    Inform me of the length of a game and the amount of content within it and the nature of that content and I’ll just make up my own mind.

  19. Dawngreeter says:

    Here’s a thing on length, I don’t think games being shorter than some designated bang-to-buck industry standard is a bad thing. I like that Portal wasn’t longer. It was a perfectly calibrated gaming experience and adding length to it would’ve only made it less awesome. On the other hand, I am still angry at Mirror’s Edge because, like, what? That’s it? Entirely too short. I am not sure how these two compare, but I think they are about similar in length. So, obviously, actual length has nothing to do with it.

    Also, first Bioshock is about 33% fat. Two thirds of the length would’ve been a much more satisfying experience.

  20. Risingson says:

    I’m also one of the “but it’s too short” haters. Yes, I would say at first that I disagree, but now I’m a hater. First, because contrary to what you are saying, the film or book or food comparison is not valid: I know many many people that complains about a book for having less than 300 pages, a film for being “only” one hour and a half, and a restaurant for having small dishes for that money. I’ve always tried to ask those people if they put monetary value to their spare time and enjoyment, and it seems so: something is better if it is cheap. Because it’s money what we are talking about.

    And I liked MW2’s campaign as it is now. I also try to discover all the tiny details in all the corners – and replay a part in case I have the slightest feeling of having missed something – , so a game usually takes me longer than normal.

    • Chris D says:

      Surely it’s value for money that’s the issue, not cost as an absolute quantity. Hence why people buy six packs of crisps rather than individual bags.

  21. Hides-His-Eyes says:

    addicting

    AHEM

  22. Bowlby says:

    It’s about value of money, not just length. So, I think what people are trying to work out is whether they got a reasonable amount of enjoyment (using the term loosely here) for the price, compared to other similar products.

    This would have to be examined on a case-by-case basis, and ultimately there’s a lot of subjectivity in the mix to render any absolute conclusion meaningless. Personally, there is very little on the market like Limbo, specifically on consoles, and I felt that given its unique look and atmosphere, the clever puzzles, etc., it was worth my £10.

    The same could apply to Inception, which I watched last week. I paid £8 to see that at the cinema, and it delivered an exceptional cinematic experience; whereas, if it had been Knight and Day I’d gone to see, I probably would have considered it a gigantic waste of money. They cost the same and aren’t that much different in length, so what gives? It’s the content of the movie itself, obviously.

    The same applies to games.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I completely agree with this. It is also completely affected by your financial situation. When I was at school I would have found Limbo to be quite disappointing to be honest, whereas now I would thoroughly enjoy it. Back then I could only afford to buy maybe 3 games a year so they had to last.

      As to you comment about Inception, I can’t justify spending that amount of money on the cinema. Personally I find the picture and sound to be fairly poor compared to at home and I hate strangers being loud. Plus in six months I can pay that and own it. But again it is completely personal and to say it is silly to be put off by a game being short is arrogant in my opinion.

    • Kadayi says:

      Also let’s not forget the watercooler aspect to these things. Games make for great talking points esp when there might well be different paths/storylines or a particular brand of distinctness with the game. More so when people can enthuse or speculate about them.

  23. deadsexy says:

    It really just depends on what you’re playing, how you play games and especially what you are looking for in those games. It took me about 20 hours to complete Bioshock, friend of mine rushed through it in about 7 hours. I listened to all of those audio recordings, just standing there, worried I might trigger enemies that could drive my focus away from listening, if i moved forward.

    What I like about that concept, is that it’s there if you want it and there’s no particular reward within the game for you wanting it (aside from those terrible achievements in Bioshock 2).

    Some devs try to stuff their games full of bonus items and give you achievements for doing this and that to extend playtime which wouldn’t be too bad by itself but it’s implemented in a way where they try to make you want those things. I actually feel terrible for buying into it. (Yes I bloody collected all the feathers in Assassin’s Creed II, after searching the interwebz for a map and guide to find those. And it was no fun at all. Zero entertainment value.)

    I know the general consens is to call out “generic!” whenever a new shooter is announced but I’m actually surprised everybody is fine about the way open world games work and resign to the same old mechanics again and again. I’m glad Mafia II isn’t buying too much into all that, even if some reviewers will criticise it for exactly that. (That doesn’t mean I won’t hunt down everyone of those Playboy posters. *sigh*)

  24. groovychainsaw says:

    Hmmm – With the book analogy, I tend to buy bigger books, because I tend to pick books that I like, and the bigger ones are the same price as smaller ones. I’m assuming the books are the same quality (like I said, I tend to pick ones i like). I also prefer a film to be longer if I’m enjoying it, assuming the additional material is just as entertaining

    ie I’ll prefer to pay the same price for more content, assuming equality in the content. Longer does not equal better from game to game, but portal maintaining its quality over a further 3 hours for the same price would have been awesome. I think everyone would agree with that.

    I think there definitely IS a cost vs length element to games. Naturally this will be different for people on different incomes. The film length analogy is sound for finding people’s perception of a good length for a game. The cinema is about £7 to see a typical 2 hour film. Which could be of varying quality. But bear with me. I think at around £10 or less, the game any length over 2 hours and I’m happy as long as it gives a good experience (a bad game is still a bad game, regardless of length). This is probably why I buy so many damn games in the steam sale. Even if I have no intention of playing to completion, if I didn’t spend much then I feel satisfied with my time.

    Once you start charging people £30-40 (console price, really), I expect more from my games. A straightforward 6 hours run down a corridor, no matter how brilliant, is no longer worth that sort of money for me and ocmapres badly to other entertainment choices. Generally I rent those and complete them in a week. Total cost to me ~£4. Suddenly they look much better (and provide me with experiences like Mirror’s edge, which I really enjoyed, although was uncertain about due to the concept and the short advertised length). Something like fallout 3, with length (and proven gameplay that I suspect I’ll enjoy), I won’t hesitate to pay full price for. Something like battlefield, with a compelling multiplayer component and woeful singleplayer, I resent paying full price, but do anyway.

    Randomness, procedural content, emergent gameplay. These three things are worth more to me and I will pay more to experience them (they all increase replayability, and hence the sense of ‘value’ even over a short game). Scripting, set-pieces and cutscenes (albeit brilliant in some games) do not increase the value of the title for me and therefore length becomes significant. I’m sure we all have exceptions to these conditions (The team ICO games are the classic examples of superb games that were both pretty short and give up very little additional content in a replay), but on the whole, a story that can only be played through once has to be truly stunning/groundbreaking to be worth the high price of entry, particularly in this day and age, where you can expect that same game to be down to 20% of its full price in under 6 months (often this is when a ‘short’ game comes into a new lease of life for me. Add randomness, scale, replayability, multiplayer (sometimes) and this can make the value of the game go up immeasureably and make it much more likely to be a day 1/full price purchase for me.

  25. DrGonzo says:

    So it’s unreasonable to expect a game to be fairly long/replayable if it costs a lot of money. I think that was a load of bullshit to be honest.

  26. internisus says:

    I loathe the arbitrary length requirements that the mainstream as well as amateur gaming press (who generally make for awful critics) have collectively come to wave at games. The main reason is that quality is (supposed to be) more important than quantity, and we get more than enough inane filler material and content clearly designed to waste time as it is. I can’t remember whom it was (perhaps someone associated with insert credit) who said that the worst thing a videogame can do is assume that you have nothing better to do than to play it; spot on.

    The other aspect of this issue is the pricing math. If you figure that a $15 (sorry; American here) movie on DVD/BD gives you 2 hours of core entertainment value, that’s $7.50 per hour. A $60 game divided by $7.50 means that you deserve 8 hours of good times. When was the last time you read a review of a new, full-priced game with an 8 hour single-player campaign that didn’t complain that the game was “too short”? It’s simply thoughtless. And I don’t need “replay value,” either; if a campaign is of high quality, then I’m quite happy to be able to play through it again someday even if it’s exactly the same, with almost no emergent experience.

    My other big objection is the similarly constant insistence that every game needs to have some form of multiplayer; I suppose that is a topic for another time, however.

    • internisus says:

      Ah, incidentally, I did not mean to say that only amateur reviewers make for poor critics; the remark was intended for both sets. Usually, amateur reviews emulate the format, style, and points of mainstream websites, so you can guess whom I’d fault more. We really need a prominent, level-headed, intelligent critic, like a Roger Ebert sort of figure. Spend a little time watching amateur video reviews on Youtube and marvel at the way they all break down into equally weighted separate segments for Story, Design (this often means Presentation, apparently),Blah, Blah, and finally Gameplay. This sort of reductive approach is appalling and continues to provide merit to games that lack overall direction and clearly would prefer to be movies.

  27. Jake says:

    I dislike games that have an unreasonable amount of hidden things that you need to collect or tasks you need to do for 100% completion. I mean, these things are fine and add content, if it’s a game you like then there may as well be some extras like this, but some games go to extremes. I can’t imagine how long it would take to get Just Cause 2 to 100% completion, hundreds of hours at least. And I can’t imagine many people ever wanting to do that. I’d rather a game was a bit too short but let you get everything out of it than it was impossibly long and you have to leave it feeling incomplete.

    And I’d rather games would give an incentive to replay instead of inconsequential hidden things. Like if the second playthrough added a timed mode, or extra enemy spawns or something. Or even just extra skins for your avatar. Much more fun than finding 89/100 biscuits or whatever.

    I don’t think I have ever found a game too short though, games are always value for money compared to the cinema>rental>purchase system for films. But then films desperately need a new pricing system if cinemas are going to stay open.

  28. Elite says:

    If gamers are saying that something is too short then an alliance of developers shouting “Nuh-huh” really isn’t going to change anything. At the end of the day I really don’t think they’ll change any one’s minds no matter how eloquent or articulate their reasoning, but personally I didn’t some of the articles.

    Point is people have an idea of how much something should cost and how much they should get from that.

    In this case of indiegames there have been many discussions about $10 being the ideal pricepoint though Braid’s success might change that a little.
    http://www.penny-arcade.com/2008/8/8/

    With mainstream games I remember much messageboard uproar about talk of raising game prices (even though with the ballooning cost of games development it doesn’t seem all that unreasonable)
    http://www.next-gen.biz/news/activision-ceo-would-like-to-raise-game-prices-even-further

    Whether right or wrong people have ideas of how much games should cost and how long games should last and it’s difficult to change those ideas. If a game provides better value-for-money than a movie but less value-for-money than a competing game then it’s still going to lose out because the movie isn’t a direct comparison and the game is. People aren’t perfectly logical and if you look at all their standards and expectations then sooner or later you’ll find something that doesn’t make sense. Now I do think the established mentality can be detrimental but I think it’ll take a helluva lot of work to change it (the best bet is to soldier on whilst not bowing to price/length conventions.)

    Also lot of the comparisons used to justify their point just didn’t work to me, I expect different things for games and books and movies. Games really don’t compete with food either, though maybe it was intended to trivialize the amount in question. In any case games have brought me up to be a stingy git.

    “However, you see this “value debate” about game prices and game play length all the time. In fact, it’s the usual way of talking about game value on the internet, as far as I can tell.

    Why is this? What’s different about films, books, and music, as compared to games?”

    I don’t think comparing games to movies or books helps at all because games vary in length much more than the others. I mean limiting our view to fairly recent AAA titles there’s a massive range.

    MGS4 : 3-20 hours
    Oblivion / Fallout 3 : 20-100 hours
    CoD4: MW : Potentially infinite hours

    Movies don’t alter their price based on length but the shortest movies are usually around 70-90 minutes and the longest movies are usually around 180-200 minutes. Actually in a sense movies can charge more based on length. Look at Grindhouse or Kill Bill. Examples of films that were originally intended as one movie getting split into two movies each charging standard price I believe. Obviously there are arguments to be made about what’s a long movie expanded and split in two and what are legitimately two movies but that’s getting off track.

    Books too have separate pricing schemes for short stories and full novels (usually a number of short stories are collected together and sold as one book). Even with the highest praises you’d be hesitant paying full price for something flimsier than a pamphlet.

    Twice as long or ten times as long are obviously much smaller differences compared to potentially a thousand times as long, so the length becomes a more relevant concern when looking at games.

    Also with games you have to work to progress. Now the merits and problems of that are for another place but the point is the time spent reaching the end can make the final reward all the sweeter and that can influence the length-vs-value idea in a way that doesn’t really apply to other media.

    That said I really agree, “What’s the right length for the material?” is more important than “What length should a game be?”. Take Portal, I consider Portal to be a short game but I think it would’ve been worse off if it had been any longer. It did everything it could really do with portals (hence why Portal 2 is looks to be introducing many other things) and dragging things out would’ve just been detrimental. It’s short when measured by time, and the perfect length when measured against what it’s trying to do.

    So I thought Portal was a really good game, however I really can’t justify spending much money on it. It has optimised itself but it’s not substantial enough for me to spend full price on it (as a budget title or packaged in the orange box it works great though).

    I suspect the reason game length is considered along side game value stems from game rentals. If a game was really short you could rent it for a fraction of the price of a purchase and you’d get the exact same experience. So the question of “Is this game worth buying?” came to rely in part on “Is this short enough to be beaten in a rental?”.

    As it is now I could never feel happy spending £40 on a 4 hour game, even if those were the best 4 hours of my life. The mindset of relating value to length is simply too far ingrained. Longer doesn’t mean better but longer means I can better justify spending more money.

    I’m not saying games should always hit a certain length, but I am saying length should be reflected in their price. Of course if there was some matrix of price points for length vs production values then I guess you’d still have games with padding and filler.

    Also I think “What’s the right length for the material?” only applies to games telling a story or exploring a theme. For games that are trying to provide fun then longer is simply better. If you’re just trying to entertain then being able to stay fresh and interesting for longer is a clear advantage. Okay most games aren’t focused entirely on that these days, but you still get a few.

    Anyway with these articles it seems they’re trying to prove a point rather than debate the issue and I disagree with some of the logic used even though I half agree with the end point. I don’t think they’ll change the world overnight and whole idea of it bears a slight hint of devs whining that people don’t understand their work. If there were one or two opposing points of view I think I’d receive it much more warmly or if they had condensed everything down (though some of them do go into wildly different areas, but I haven’t read all of them yet). Also am I the only one who sees the irony in having 20 different blogs trying to highlight the merits of brevity?

    • Chris D says:

      Interestingly the Pocketcyclone entry argues that game length can be an important factor.

  29. Pantsman says:

    “They should have complained it was just trial-and-error-nonsense with pretty graphics.”

    So it\s like Another World, then?

  30. Dervish says:

    “As it is now I could never feel happy spending £40 on a 4 hour game, even if those were the best 4 hours of my life. The mindset of relating value to length is simply too far ingrained.”

    So what you’re saying is that your reasoning sucks and you’re too broken/lazy to correct that bias. Nice. This is the “value for money” position in a nutshell, and it’s dumb because not everyone has the same amount of money. “Value for time” only requires comparison with the pool of available games (“I only have 4 hours–I want to play the best game possible”), which is much closer to being a constant for all players.

  31. Jimbo says:

    I don’t think it was so much “too short” as “too short for $15″. It’s an important difference, as the former could be a valid factor in judging the quality of a game (ie. if it feels rushed), whereas the latter is obviously a judgement on value.

    “Too short for $15″ is a statement I think anybody is entitled to make on their own behalf, but not one that has any place in a review. ‘Value’ has no place in a reviews at all in my opinion – they should concern themselves exclusively with quality. I don’t need financial advice from a game reviewer, I just want their opinion on the quality of the game. If it’s four hours long then say it’s four hours long, but I can decide for myself whether that’s “too short” for the price or not.

  32. Urthman says:

    It’s disingenuous to compare games to movies or pizza. When gamers complain about a game being too short, they’re comparing it to other games.

    If you’ve played Half Life, Thief, System Shock 2, NOLF, and then play COD:MW2, you’re going to think that was a disappointingly short game. It’s prettier. It is more polished (in the sense of benefiting from 10 years of game evolution). But it’s not a better game, and it’s much, much shorter.

    Or if you go from Prince of Persia: Sands of Time to Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands. Very similar games, but Sands of Time is both better and much longer. A gamer who enjoys both games is probably going to find Forgotten Sands disappointingly short.

    I’d be surprised if Deus Ex 3 is more than half as long as Deus Ex. It almost certainly won’t be a better game. It will probably cost more than Deus Ex did when it was released. But at least it will be prettier.

    I don’t think Portal belongs in this discussion because it is so clearly an outlier. Are there any other games that are that short and yet feel so perfectly complete? I can’t think of any. And Portal was released as a budget title – only $20.

    I think we’re getting to the point where games, especially indie games, are going to be competing against great games of the past. The back catalog is getting deeper and deeper and there are more and more younger gamers who’ve never played some of the greatest games ever made.

    If you’re an indie developer and can’t spend millions on cutting edge graphics, then your $15 six-hour Limbo game is going to be competing with, say, Psychonauts, which is $10 on Steam, lasts more like 10-20 hours, and is at least as much fun and artistic.

  33. yyr says:

    I feel that value has every right to be in a review…and absolutely SHOULD be there.

    A complete review’s job is basically to inform a gamer whether they should buy game X for Y dollars. Lots of different criteria figure into it, of course, but at the end of the day, they’ll need to spend Y dollars if they want game X.

    There are $1 titles on XBLIG that contain literally 10 minutes of gameplay, or less. There are also $1 titles on XBLIG that can be played, replayed and enjoyed for many hours.

    I have felt ripped off after buying a game for $1. Conversely, there are games I’ve paid $60 for that I’ve played for hundreds of hours, and beyond that, there are arcade games that cost between 50 cents a $1 per play that I’ve played for years and continue to play, even after spending well over $1,000 on them. The value contained within a game varies wildly depending on the kind of game, how well it’s executed and how a player feels about the game’s genre, and it’s extremely useful information to have when making a decision to purchase.

    I believe that statements like “if you enjoy arcade-style games and local multiplayer thrills, you will find great value for your $3″ or “Unless you enjoy replaying this sort of game for score, your $1 won’t last very long” or “it’s great fun, but it’s ultimately not a lot of content for $15″ are completely valid, make a review more complete and provide good information. If you don’t care that “it’s ultimately not a lot of content for $15,” you can go ahead and buy the game anyway.

  34. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    I think VVVVVV really underscored this one for me – I’ll take ‘shorter with more densely packed content’ over ‘longer and heavily padded’ any day.

    And since we seem to be using it as a point of reference, I’ll say that I think Valve were absolutely spot-on with Portal’s length. I’m kind of dreading that they’ll bow to pressure and make the sequel longer, which will be fine if there’s enough ideas in there to justify the length, but if they just make it longer for the sake of making it longer….

  35. Dean says:

    Is the best analogy for games actually holidays?

    As in, you could get a month in Skegness for the price of a week in New York, but some experiences are just better.

    But with that said I might take a week in Skegness over a day in New York as the latter just wouldn’t be long enough to be worthwhile…hmm…

  36. TeeJay says:

    Max Payne was a relatively short game (within it’s genre) but no worse for it IMO as it crammed a lot in – it felt like it had a ‘high density’ (ie of design/levels/artwork/ideas) compared with longer but more ‘padded-out’ games.

    Everyone has their own “sweet spot” for how long they want to spend running around an open-world/sandbox – for me the best games allow the main story to be pursued faster, while still offering a lot of additional/optional content for completionists – eg. Oblivion, Fallout 3, Just Cause 2, GTA:VC.

    Even a slightly more ‘linear’ games like the Hitman or Thief series is set up so that a ‘completionist/perfectionist’ can re-do missions taking a longer and slower route to try and meet tougher targets, while others can take a more quick and brutal approach.

    So I’d argue that a game is more likely to be “too short” or “too long” if it hasn’t got this kind of flexible and clever design – it could either end things prematurely and simply dump you onto the “next mission/event” (also things like endless respawning enemies, ‘dumb triggers’ or lack of secret areas, loot and easter eggs may negate any attempts at ‘clean slate’, ‘stealth’ or ‘perfect’ gameplay styles). Examples of “too long” might be games padded-out with endlessly repeating cut-and-paste levels or any game where you are forced to spend a long time on the stuff you don’t enjoy to finally get to the bits you *do* enjoy.

  37. Elite says:

    Human beings are not perfectly logical and rational. Would you rather I dressed up my reasoning trying to hide that, or can you see the point in being direct? And how exactly would someone go about trying to change the way they think?

    Also it is easy to see how this ‘bias’ can arise. Games cost £30-£40 to buy. Games cost much less to rent. Long games cannot be completed over a rental period and you have to buy them to get the full experience. Short games can be completed over a rental period so you can get the full experience by renting them. That is how people can come to associate length with value whilst still following the accumulation of experiences motif. Not wishing to pay more than required doesn’t really rely on the amount of money at your disposal either. Are you truly unable to see that chain of thought?

    I think different people have very different mindsets with regards to money. People who see spending a lot of money on something that is nice but short lived as wasteful and people who see it as worthwhile. I guess both viewpoints have their advantages but if you’re unable to accept that then it’s a failing of yourself more than anything else. People just have different approaches to money and time.

    It might be easier for you to understand if things were taken to silly extremes. Would you dump your entire life savings on a nanosecond of bliss? I suspect not. Would you spend the same amount of money ensuring comfort and entertainment for your whole lifetime? Now that’s more reasonable. Absurd example? Maybe, but it illustrates how length can come to be an advantage.

  38. Kid A says:

    Games should be precisely as long as they need to be to tell their story: prime example of a “short” game would be Portal, for me, which works it’s way through the Aperture Science labs with pretty much perfect pacing – at no point did I feel like I was just re-running old tricks, or doing something un-necessary, or being rushed forward. However, likewise, you can have games like Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Neverwinter Nights, etc, that can take 30-60 hours (depending on how much of the side-questy shenanigans you take up) and still tell their story in the right amount of time without descending into a grind/dragging things out.
    If a game tells it’s story in the right amount of time, with good gameplay, then the length and/or pricing should not be a question. If, however, you get to the end of a game that crams it’s story in too quickly (the new Kane and Lynch game is rightly being slaughtered for having a SP campaign that barely touches 4 hours), or get halfway through a game and feel like you’re participating in meaningless grind… then you have a problem, then you can rightly question it.

  39. Brer says:

    I’d say that the comparisons with DVD pricing are misleading (especially for me, someone who will never own a blu-ray and only buys movies used or deeply discounted). A better comparison would be “every other game on the market at that price point”. When I look at Braid or World of Goo for $10 or $15, it’s not competing with a copy of, say, Drunken Master from Best Buy.

    It’s competing with the $10 loyalty copy of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call Of Pripyat on Steam. It’s competing with the entire Gabriel Knight series or both Fallouts on GOG.com. Or this week, it’s also competing with something like Borderlands. Heck, for five bucks more I could get Mass Effect!

    And as a gamer who has a limited budget, doesn’t particularly care about “supporting the indie scene” (the only indie game I’ve cared about in the past few years is Age Of Decadence, which is still in development) and who wants the maximum amount of entertainment value for his dollar, these short but “brilliant” and “precious” little gems are not a good value proposition.

    It may be entirely true that their entertainment value is maximized at a three hour length. I absolutely agree that Portal would not have been improved by an extra three hours. But here’s the thing: Even at their maximized and optimized entertainment value, they have less entertainment value per dollar to offer than other, larger games. At the end of the day, that’s a subjective call, and comes down to what sorts of games you enjoy, but since it seems that many gamers fall into the same camp I do, I don’t think saying “But this is the optimum length for this type of game” is a way to convince us to spend our money on these titles when there are other games offered at the same price point that will give us better value.

  40. mike says:

    Perhaps, but everyone else is selling it so long that someone needs to point out it’s most obvious flaw, and it is a pretty bad flaw.

  41. Matt says:

    I agree, just because something is labeled as a side quest, it does not excuse it from criticism. Collecting 100 randomly placed objects in a huge world is tedious and requires way too much outside information (gamefaqs, etc). The best side quests/extra tasks are those that reward more skillful play and allow people who are enjoying the main game to extend that enjoyment. A fun version of the “Collect 100 hidden packages” quest is found in the ratchet and clank games. They list # found/# avail of the golden bolts for each world meaning that you dont have to search a impossibly large area for the last few. Finding them usally involves just a little bit of clever exploration off of the mostly linear routs or a short section of extra tricky navigation.
    Getting 100% can be fun, but some game really punish you for that instinct. After sinking ~70 hours into the boring and repetitive side quests of that game (and only getting about 30% done) I promised my self I would always think before I wasted my time on stuff like that.

  42. JackShandy says:

    Pacing > Length.

  43. pertusaria says:

    I feel like there’s a complication in all this that hasn’t been mentioned, although the “water-cooler effect” comes close. My enjoyment of a really good game doesn’t end the moment I get to the “You Win!” screen. I have fun thinking about the game, reading about it, maybe commenting on a thread about it, showing all my friends (well, a couple of friends) how cool it is, etc. If I can afford a second copy I might give one to someone and enjoy their enjoyment of it. My fondness for the game extends beyond the time I spent playing it, and isn’t predictably affected by its length.

    I guess this is why the week I spent in Italy a few years ago was worth the price – it didn’t stop affecting me the minute I left, or the day I drank the last of the souvenir grappa.

  44. Diengo says:

    I wouldn’t pay $15 to see a movie either. Normally about $3. I can often buy the movie for $5-$6. Or rent for $2. Pizza, that’s about $8 for a large one that is actually two meals. We rarely eat out because frankly the cost far outstrips what you get. Same goes for paying premium cinema prices to see a film. But if we’re comparing why not settle on books, which are typically cheap and require far more time than a $15 game?

    If you compare to older, simpler games they were in fact really long because we tended to play them endlessly. Probably spent more than 200 hours on Asteroids.

    There is no right length for a game, and they’re obviously different to other forms of entertainment, as those other forms are from each other. I’d definitely prefer a good short game to a short game that has been padded out with these silly achievements/trophies. But if I am choosing between two games I am equally interested in and one is going to take twice as long to play I’ll choose the longer.