When it comes right down to it, the video game industry in general is a very tumultuous place. It seems like consumers, publishers and the journalists who act as intermediaries between the two are often at each other’s throats in a way that doesn’t appear to be that common when it comes to entertainment in general. Usually, I find myself siding with the customer side of things: after all, that’s probably where I end up falling most of the time – I think my article from last month proves that. The thing is, lately, I’ve been noticing a trend among some more vocal gamers. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve always hated the “entitled gamers” label: frankly, I think it’s generally just used as an out for publishers to put out a lackluster product, expecting to get away with it scot-free. But I’ve seen cases where I’d be willing to apply the label; if it weren’t for the baggage associated with the term. I’m talking about the kind of people that demand that every game priced at $60 owes them 60 hours of gameplay, bare minimum. Of course, that’s a rare and extreme example, but it exemplifies this trend I’ve seen. I’ve heard of cases where people have demanded platformers and other speedrun-friendly genres last between 30 and 50 hours to be considered worthwhile purchases. It just sort of strikes me as a ridiculous proposition: there are decidedly few genres out there that could achieve anything remotely close to that length on a regular basis, and most of the time, they have to resort to “tricks” like endless sidequests or a multiplayer mode. Single-player campaigns just aren’t built to last for that long and frankly, I can’t really recall a period where it was practical to hit that mark consistently.
Expecting an hour of gameplay per dollar paid for a product just seems insane and unfair to me. I mean, let’s compare this to other forms of mass media. At the time I’m writing this, most Blu-Ray releases of theatrical movies tend to range between $25 and $35 – and that’s after taking into account severe discounts compared to the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, which generally appears to sit around $40 a movie. I don’t see people demanding an hour’s worth of film per dollar spent on new movies. Granted, those usually come with bonus features. You know what doesn’t? Watching brand new releases in the theater. The average price of a movie ticket in the United States was about $8.84 in the first quarter of this year – yet, I can’t even remember a mainstream film that clocked in at five hours, let alone eight. Books are a bit harder to gauge in terms of how much time is spent getting through them – everyone reads at their own pace, after all – yet I don’t recall seeing any Amazon reviews calling a book a ripoff because they got less than 100 pages for every dollar they spent on it.
One possible argument I could think of is that when someone buys a movie or a book, they can rewatch or reread it ad nauseum, whenever the urge hits them. I don’t see how this doesn’t apply to video games too. Maybe the longer ones would be difficult to replay immediately, but if shorter games are the problem in the first case, then it should be easy enough to replay them soon after if they’re that short. In fact, replay value is where video games shine compared to other media. Most movie buffs talk about how certain films can be viewed in entirely new lights upon repeat viewings, but that’s nothing compared to video games. Due to their inherent interactivity – well, in most cases – each playthrough of a video game offers an entirely new experience. In pretty much every video game I’ve ever played, there have always been new secrets and exploits to be found upon second or third playthroughs, allowing for a more in-depth look at the game. That’s nothing to say of self-imposed challenges: I’ve replayed the original NES version of MegaMan 2 several times, but it’s been years since I started with Metalman – the traditional boss to start with when playing the game – and the game feels entirely new each time I tweak the order.
Then of course, you’ve got additional bonus content. While many games these days tend to hide extra features behind paywalls as opposed to in-game achievements, there are still a fair amount of games that respect the old ways in at least some small form. While most home video releases of major motion pictures and TV shows have a tendency to add bonus features, the majority of them have little bearing on the meat of the package. Maybe you’ll get the occasional “extended cut” that mixes various deleted scenes back into the work proper, but most of the time special features are generally expected to be enjoyed outside of the feature attraction. Not so with video games. Higher difficulty levels, alternate playable characters and “New Game+” modes all add something new to the game itself, allowing for entirely new experiences, which can double the standard length of a game. It’s a shame that features like this generally aren’t taken into account when gauging a game’s length, because generally, that would double the length of a game bare minimum.
That’s a problem that most people don’t seem to consider: where does the metric of calculating the time it takes to complete a game come from? Most people game at different skill levels – not to mention the fact that most gamers excel at some genres better than others – so how is the average time it takes to complete a game determined? It always just sort of struck me as arbitrary. I’ve taken more than the average time to complete a game on a blind-run than what the developers expected and in some cases, I’ve managed to finish in less time. The whole concept of measuring time in video games just strikes me as an inexact science and it makes me wonder about those people who demand such large games. Do they keep track of the time they spend with the game meticulously or do they just take traditional timekeeping methods – be they in-game or on the console itself – at face value? I suppose that this would bring video games more in line with books, as people have different reading levels and often read at different paces based on the material. Unfortunately, they’ve also got a much more uniform tangible length, in the form of pages. Sure, at times, you can say a game has a certain number of “levels” or “chapters”, but considering how these vary from game to game (not to mention, segments typically get longer as games themselves go on), it still comes across as an inconsistent way to measure a game’s true length.
I guess my main issue with the whole argument that every game should last a certain amount of time is that, as a rule, I’m more concerned with the quality of the time I’m spending on a game as opposed to the quantity. I’m often much more enamored with games that grab my attention for 5 hours over anything that just becomes a 500-hour trudge for the sake of “getting my money’s worth”. Granted, those are my priorities – but I just can’t wrap my head around to idea of demanding that a game takes up a certain amount of time instead of just giving players a certain amount of enjoyment. Of course, these days I seem to be gravitating more and more towards smaller games in general. Considering the fact that I’m a retro gamer at heart in the first place – I doubt I’ll ever see anything after the 16-bit era as gaming’s “Golden Age” – shorter games remind me of the good old days. In addition to that, a lot of the games I find myself enjoying the most tend to retro-style throwbacks anyway and those games are generally shorter than AAA extravaganzas. Oftentimes, I think the best thing I can ever say about a game is that it leaves me wanting more. That’s probably the main thing I keep in mind when gauging just how much I enjoyed something: it all comes down to whether I feel satisfied upon finishing it. Whether I just want an expansion, a straight up “level pack” sequel or some kind of spiritual successor from the same developers, it’s always a good sign.
This article may come across as a defense for some of the admittedly scummier tactics that publishers and developers – but mostly publishers – use to milk their consumer bases for all they’re worth. I’m by no means defending practices like selling a $60 game entirely on additional paid content. There just has to be some happy medium between companies demanding full price for an incomplete experience and gamers demanding that a game provide at least a full 168 hours of content before they consider buying a game at half price. Neither extreme really feels all that viable for the industry as a whole and as development costs continue to balloon, concessions need to be made at both sides. Of course, as I said, I’m not really that big on AAA blockbusters, so I’ll probably be fine either way. I’ll stick to getting ripped off by shorter games, thank you.