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.