How Long Do Games Have to Be?
Throughout my life, my expectations for game length has inverted. When I was a kid, if I completed a game in a matter of hours and had no reason to ever play it again, that was a disaster. I didn’t get a lot of games at the time, so even simple games like Super Mario Bros. were replayed quite a bit after being completed. Nearly 30 years later, I completed the game Gris in under four hours and I could not have been happier.
We’ve seen a lot of major game developers slow down the number of games they release each year. While this is seen as a trend that is not beneficial for gamers, I think it works out well for me. Having a full-time job (among other boring responsibilities) and the thorough nature required to do game reviews means that it may take me several times as long to get through a game as it ever did decades ago. Couple that with my appreciation for Indie games means I’m pretty much always up to my neck in games I want to play but can’t find the time for. If a major developer delays something I’m very interested in, all I can think about is how I’ll have more time to play some of these other games before I’m locked into that one. Sometimes it comes as a relief, and I don’t think I’m the only adult gamer who feels this way.
Now, when I come across a game that is under ten hours, it means that maybe I can knock it out in a weekend and have a chance to talk about the experience with friends. When I can play a short game that establishes gameplay, mechanics, a story, and a sense of progression within a moderate period, it appeals to me more than churning through a game that takes me multiple weeks to complete. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed my fair share of games that take 30+ hours, but lengths of that nature put the bar for the necessary fun factor of the game pretty high.
There is a sweet spot in there somewhere, maybe between 10 and 20 hours, where a good game can be great. Playing through Spider-Man not long ago, I found myself settling about in that area as I came to the end of the game. The side missions probably could have had me spending several more hours in the game had I wanted to be a completionist, but I did just enough to get the things I wanted from it and cruised into the finale with enough momentum to enjoy the remainder of the game.
The strange caveat in all of this is multiplayer games. I was a World of Warcraft fanatic, along with many others, and I put just a ridiculous number of hours into that game. Maybe as many as every game I’ve played since combined. While I’m well past that point now, multiplayer games still suck me in, especially if I can pop in for an hour or so and find some fun in quick sessions. Apex Legends held my interest for a while, but lately, it’s the simple competitive play of Minion Masters that I keep heading back to. Perhaps the reason this works so well and I can spend dozens of hours in these games over time is that they are ever-evolving and always dynamic. You may get extremely comfortable with the mechanics, but players will always find new ways to test you.
Still, the appeal of sub-five-hour games is one that I can’t deny. Devolver Digital seems to be on the bleeding edge of this idea of short games that have great core gameplay loops but can be knocked out in one or two sessions. Gris, Ape Out, Katana Zero, My Friend Pedro, Pikuniku, all well-reviewed and certifiably unique games that you could complete in totality in a week just using your evening after work or school. That and their relatively modest price means you could probably actually do that if you wanted. Almost like reading a book of short stories.
What’s your perspective on game length? Do you even look at game length as a factor in whether you spend money on a game or is it all about the experience? Does a well-reviewed game that has a caveat of being notably long or short change how you feel about getting it?