A Game’s Length Doesn’t Determine its Quality

This week we learned that Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes’ main campaign can be completed in under two hours. Although the game will have side missions and objectives that will lengthen the overall play time, some gamers announced their displeasure over the campaign’s length, claiming that the asking price for it was too much given its brevity.

While I can understand that people want the most for their dollar, I can’t exactly agree with them. On the face of it, a two hour game may seem short but if it’s a solid (pun intended) and enjoyable experience then shouldn’t that be what really matters? Does a game’s length really determine its quality or worthiness? As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t.

The whole mindset of a short game being not worthy of purchasing doesn’t make much sense given some of the titles that have been released in the last few years. The greatest example of a short game that was (almost) universally praised is Journey. Here is a title that was about three hours long but is one of the most captivating gaming experiences that one can have. Would it have been better if it was longer? I doubt it. While its (relatively) short length was acknowledged, no one really complained about it. The game was satisfying from beginning to end and has now become a modern classic.


The proliferation of episodic games is also making the idea of shorter games more acceptable. Let’s take Telltale Games for example. Their model is to release episodes which are about two hours long. While they are pieces of a larger whole, the episodes are self contained experiences which are rewarding to play on their own. The playtime of each episode is a trivial matter at best to those who play and enjoy these games.

On the other side, just because a game is long doesn’t mean that it is fundamentally good or great. If a game can last you 60 plus hours but much of that time is spent doing something mundane, is it really worth it? I hate to pick on a single genre, especially one I love, but the biggest offenders of artificially extending a game’s playtime are JRPGs. I’ve played a lot of games where I spent most of the time either completing fetch quests or beating up on weaker creatures for hours on end just for experience. I don’t go back to play many JRPGs since they mostly consist of “filler” content. All of the extra hours I spent playing didn’t make the overall experience any better or the games any better.


Is this to say that a shorter and more compact game is of a higher quality than one that is longer? Of course not. There are several long games which maintain a high level of quality throughout. The main campaigns of games from the Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect and Grand Theft Auto series can last up to 20 or more hours and these games–while not completely devoid of some filler content within the story–maintain a relatively high quality throughout. Games like Saints Row: The Third, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Sleeping Dogs are also longer games which do a good job of keeping things interesting and fun throughout their duration.

Then of course there’s the whole “X amount of dollars should equal Y amount of playtime” aspect of this discussion. Some feel that every dollar should equate to a certain amount of time played. I think this is the wrong way to see it. This way of thinking feels so artificial and dry. Shouldn’t it instead be “was the time I spent with this game worth the money I spent on it?” I know that I’ve played games where I felt I should have paid MORE money for the amount of enjoyment I got. Conversely, I’ve played games for over a hundred hours that I felt weren’t worth the full game price I paid. It’s difficult to put a price on enjoyment so I don’t see how trying to quantify a game’s price to it’s length makes sense.

What it comes down to is quality over quantity. There are some who prefer quantity over quality and there is nothing wrong with that. However, I believe that quality is what ultimately counts. Whether a game is two hours long or a 100 hours, if you are fully engaged and are enjoying yourself then that is what should count to you. Don’t look for a game’s length to tell you how good it will or won’t be.

Join the Discussion

  • bigshynepo

    Thank you Tony, for bringing some much needed reason to the uproar.
    Some indie games are $10-$15 for less than two hours of award-winning game play. This is a big budget game and I’m waiting to see how much fun can be had in-game before jumping to conclusions. If 30-40 (respectively) is too much for you, just wait for an sale in a month or two.

    The only certainty is that it will be awesome. It’s Next-Gen Metal Gear for crying out loud, Hideo isn’t going to disappoint.

  • Dany Rioux

    Quality doesn’t have much to do in my equation. Price has the most weight, then length.

    Since it’s not really possible to say if any reviewer’s definition of quality fits with my own it’s not a criteria I can fully weigh in. But, if reviews say that the title is about 5 hours long and cost 60$ there is no way I will ever buy that title at launch and that is irrelevant to its quality.

    So yeah, in the end it can be short and very good, but sales will suffer if the price tag is wrong.

    • oGMo

      This exactly. The complaint was never length, but price.

  • AttentionDeficitKing

    I find myself in agreement, given that this is a $30 title. When a full-priced $60 title is this short, there is definitely a problem, but at half of that price this kind of brevity is more acceptable, assuming that the game itself holds up. I would recommend that anyone who was thinking about getting this game, who are now second-guessing because of the length, look up the opinions of reviewers they trust on the game itself before deciding to drop it altogether.

  • oGMo

    You could charge $40 for 2 hours of gameplay, but they had better be the best, most fun 2 hours of gameplay ever that you just want to replay over and over because it’s so good.

    Length doesn’t equal quality, but no one is saying it does. The article attacks a straw man. We all enjoy bite-sized games… at a bite-sized price.

    edit: typo

  • Daniel Dorestant

    A game’s length does determine its value though

  • Quincy

    Best length for non-rpg’s should be around 10-12 hours. I’m not saying all games should be around those but that’s the ideal numbers. I will not support games that are short and that’s a personal choice for me. I especially don’t tolerate short games with expensive prices. An example of this is Bioshock’s Burial at the sea DLC that is way too short for its price, I love the base game dearly but in no way will support the DLC and yes, I know it was a good DLC. WIll buy it when it’s at 75% off of steam or other online store which is how I buy my games anyway.

    I think it’s kinda sad that a MGS game is short because we all know that MGS is always story driven game and with only 2 hours so will it consist of 1 1/2 cutscenes and 30 mins of gameplay for the main story? Sad indeed.

  • Kamille

    Ground Zeroes is not even a complete game, it’s just a prologue to the actual game. In other words, a shameless paid demo. A rip-off. $40 for an incredibly short and incomplete game.

  • NeoTechni

    But it does determine how much we should be spending on it.
    If we divide its cost by the number of hours, it shouldn’t end up costing more than our hourly wage per hour of gameplay

  • Temjin001

    My feelings on the matter are mixed. Ironically, the games I get the most value from are the games that can be completed in a matter of minutes. These are like fighting games or arcade style games etc. The value of these games come from their dynamic game play. Their inherent depth of play.
    I think some games can be recognized as content driven experiences and others as game play driven. That is, some games, particularly linear or highly story driven experiences, like jRPGs, derive their worth from the content being presented passively. This would be the story, the broad expansive world etc. Not that they lack depth of play. It’s that the depth is spread out over the course of 60-80 hours at a slower pace.
    When it comes to Metal Gear Solid we have an experience that’s traditionally been linear and highly story driven, and as a result there’s an expectation for lots of content. Of course it’s also balanced with great stealth action. Yet despite this it’s never really been able to shake that dichotomy of lengthy cutscene and game play missions. Both of which can feel loosely coupled in a design sense.

    I’m not sure what to think of this new Metal Gear. It seems every franchise is moving to be more open world, and more about ‘freedom’ and choices. I just don’t know yet if this is something the legendary franchise needed to adopt.

  • I’m all for shorter games… I only have so much time to play. Shorter games allow me to experience them to their fullest and also easily replay them in the future. I won’t even touch a 60+ hour game.

  • Rachaelsaurus


    I hate the “X amount of dollars should equal Y amount of playtime” argument. I pay for the experience, not number of hours logged. Regardless of game length, I expect studios to earn my sixty bucks, or ask for less if we’re talking about an expansion or side story with the same mechanics. MGS did the latter.

  • Matt Dickinson

    They could patch things up with fans by allowing you to get $10 off when purchasing The Phantom Pain if you have Ground Zeroes.

  • Axe99

    Well said :). While it’s something that should be decided by everyone individually (noting that if length is the main consideration, why are there not tens of millions of players on Europa Universalis IV and Civilization V? ;)), I game for an experience, and the experience is the most important thing. Sure, I love a long-form RPG or strategy game as much as the next guy, but if there’s a kick-arse experience that only goes for two hours, I’ll take that over a bog-standard MMO grind-fest that I can play for months.

    Most importantly, as for everything to do with games, let the designers have the final say. ‘Game design by committee’ rarely turns out well. Voice opinions, but then see what the people that do this as their job, and think about it for years on end, do with the experience. Kojima and his team have produced nothing but outstanding games for literally a couple of decades now, I think we can give them the benefit of the doubt ;).

  • Nicholas Perry

    Does a game’s length really determine its quality or worthiness?

    Not to me it doesn’t. And it’s not like they are asking for a TON of money.

    Also: JRPGs aren’t the only offenders. WRPGs are too. Even more so IMO.

    • SiliconNooB

      $40 for a demo is acceptable to you?

  • David Navas

    I feel there’s a certain expectation when buying a metal gear game that it’s mostly a 10 plus hour campaign. Except VR missions. But that was marketed as VR missions. So when the argument that side missions make up most of the game and are plenty of them… Shouldn’t the game be marketed as MGSV: Side Missions witch includes the story prologue Ground Zeroes. I feel there’s going to be a lot of people furious that wasn’t made clear.

  • Red Foxx

    This piece should probably have waited until the game released to make it’s argument before it compared this game to previous Game of the Year winning games. lol.

  • Bhushan Vaidya

    You can compare Journey with MGS: GG in terms of quality and price but Journey was priced much lower due to the value it provided. MGS: GG may be an incredible demo, still it doesn’t justify 40$ price tag. It’s a rip off imo.

  • albatrosMyster

    Well, a lot of 8-bit and 16-bit games took about 20 – 30 minutes to beat, or even less for puzzlers like Tetris, the replay value was in the enjoyment of the game mechanics and mastery, for RPGs and adventure games it was about finding all the secrets and figuring out other ways to complete the game… and we used to pay full price for these games!

    Now, there is not 1 single aspect of a game that guaranties it will be good or amazing, this is a whole, that’s the same BS discussion we have around the resolution argument/ frame rate argument, there is not a single “good” answer, but generally speaking more is better… they all count, yet we can all dismiss them or compromise if a game is great in the other departments we have to play it as it is, on the system it is released.. or pass until our requirements are met.

    It does not matter if we want it to last 80 hours, look like Killzone:SF, has the cast and story from The Last of Us, the open world of Far Cry 3 the shooting from Battle Field 4 useful secrets like in the old games all while running at a silky smooth 1080p 60fps (or even 4K) with 16xMSSAA… and free DLC missions every week or so, some cool cheat codes too!.. oh it must be also give you the option to finish it completely without killing anyone, give you real moral choices and have 57 different endings one for every shade of morality, everything proceduraly generated every time you start from the beginning too!

    This game will be released on all systems released since the Sega Dreamcast, all versions will look the same too (because programmers do magic, they master the old systems so well that they can do anything with them now).

    Once you have this game, you will never need to buy a game ever again!

    The point is, they are all important (how long a game is, how good it looks, how well it runs, how it handles, how it sounds, how good the story is, how much it cost, on what system it’s released, how much it charges for “extras” or if it’s pay2win…) but also, no game checks all the boxes for everybody, we have different tastes and are sensible to different aspects of the experience…

    I find two hours for a story based game is too short, unless it has insane replay value… or it cost around 20$.

  • CommodBlitz

    So, would a JRPG with everything you expect from one, but say only having 60 mins of game play time…be ok if it were say priced around $4.99