Tell Us: How Long Is A Game Of String?

Ah, Homefront. About 38% of Homefront, if memory serves. Probably should have added a spoiler warning...

A few years ago, games were mocked for ‘only’ being ten hours long. Now, increasingly developers aren’t simply coming in under that on a regular basis, but potentially aiming even shorter – as seen in this Develop 2011 session written up by Gamespot the other day. Some are arguing the audience doesn’t have the patience to last for ten hours with a game.

So how long should games actually be? How much do you insist on getting for your money?

We’ve got a weird split at the moment, where games that cost £35 or more can be finished in a single play, while 59p in the Apple App Store (other App Stores are available, but they suck) can while away hours, days, weeks or years. And that’s not counting MMOs, free-to-play games, or whatever interactive pyramid scheme dressed up in pretty graphics is taking Facebook by storm this second. For this though, I’m thinking of regular, commercial games, of the kind you might download from Steam or buy in an old-fashioned gaming shoppes.

It’s not an easy question, not least because every genre comes with its own expectations. An all-out action game might be deemed acceptable at eight hours, while there’s armed revolt (or at least, dice rolling to symbolise armed revolt) if an RPG comes in at just 15. And I don’t think there’s a specific number that applies to every game, for all people. One of my least favourite arguments is taking the cost of a game, dividing it by the number of hours, and comparing it to the price of a cinema ticket or a coffee or similar. The experiences are too different, not least because the film you’d have watched at the cinema has been edited down so that you don’t have to watch Batman trudging around Arkham Asylum for two hours looking for a giant green question mark or whatever. Two hours of a film is a complete, coherent experience… at least, ideally. Two hours of a game is usually much less directly satisfying – there’ll be awesome high points, yes, but likely many more forgettable moments, especially given the amount of repetition not simply accepted in, but directly built into the average game’s core mechanics.

When games were huge of course, there were many, many more of those. Mazes thrown in to artificially lengthen areas. Puzzles that didn’t give a damn if you were stuck waving a mouse cursor over every pixel for the best part of a week. Role-playing games utterly reliant on grind, or which abused the ability to use simple tile-sets to make dungeons so big, it’s a wonder the planet underneath them had enough space to fit them in. There’s definitely something to be said for focus, and for knowing you’ll be able to sit down with a new game and actually finish it.

At the same time though, £35 is a lot of money… Hmm. Tricky…

EXCITING VOX-POP QUESTION TIME!

Ignoring the obvious answer that a game should be ‘as long as it needs to be’, what kind of minimum length do you currently expect for your money? At the same time, how long is too long? Are there any games out there that you’ve been meaning to play, but ultimately avoided because you knew they’d be too much of a time-sink, no matter their cost? Go!

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