Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Are Video Games too long nowadays?

About a year ago Shigeru Miyamoto, the man behind some of Nintendo's most enduring characters and franchises lamented that modern games were too long, and at the time, I just rolled my eyes and wondered how having longer, more involving games could possibly be a bad thing. I should mention that I had just purchased my first PS2 about a week before Miyamoto made that pronouncement, so I couldn't see long games being a problem.

Skip ahead to today where I realize that yes, games can be too long... especially when you have too many quality titles vying for your attention along with a myriad of adult activities. As individual titles they are not problematic, and given the right amount of attention, their challenges can be met and bested, but much like a fistfight, the more games you try to tackle at once, the less effective you are in all of them, so none of them get finished.

And when I say finished, I don't mean get 100% of everything done in the game... I mean, at least finish the main story arc in a satisfactory way. I mean, who has the time to get 100% in Gran Turismo 4 and 3 Grand Theft Autos and still have a life? I have too much of a good thing and it is just bringing down the quality of my play experience in general... Madden and Kratos and Katamari, oh my.

I think Clive Thompson at Wired and I are in the same book at least when it comes to this matter. He is also having trouble completing a lot of games as an adult, though I think our problems diverge somewhat so we occupy different pages of that book. He is having problems with individual titles and I am having problem with the whole library. Sometimes it feels like I am Burgess Meredith in "Time Enough at Last"... with such an abundance to play but not enough time to do anything.

When I think back, I used to buy the bargain bin games near the end of the production life of my other systems, well, most of them were, to put it mildly, crap and truly deserving of being in those bins, so the quality titles were able to command more of my limited resources. But now, with the internet allowing me to be a much smarter consumer and the Greatest Hits collection keeping high quality titles in circulation, well, it is increasingly difficult to buy those outright clunkers... at least to me. I owned one game which I felt was subpar (Celebrity Deathmatch), out of about 40 purchases, only a few, were at worst, disappointing. I think that is a problem most people would like to have... owning too many enjoyable books, movies or what have you.

Of course, there are some ridiculously-long games if you played them through all the way to the end... like, for instance if you played every game of a single baseball team in a single level of competition until the functional end of the timeline in MVP Baseball 2005, you would end up playing around 19440 regular season games over a 120-year dynasty, and if you chose to play every game at every level of your organization, that total would be somewhere in the neighborhood of probably 60-70 thousand games. At an average of 45 minutes per game, that would work out to... about 5 and a half years of constant play to complete them all. And of course, that isn't including the post-season, spring training, all-star games, the draft etc. Of course, no reasonable person would be expected to complete such a herculean task, would they? Especially in an annual sports title.

In retrospect, games do seem like they were a lot shorter back on the older consoles, and it was Jess's post at Apropos to Something on Punchout that made me think about that, as I do remember getting stung really bad on a few titles based on their length, and playing quite a few long role-playing games (thank you Square) as well, so maybe long games aren't such a bad thing after all. I think just have to follow the golden rule... enjoy in moderation, and if that means I have to put a freeze on new acquisitions for the time being while I clear a little of the backlog, than I guess that is what I am going to have to do.


Lee said...

When I was a lad my friends and I clocked Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in one afternoon - we just kept going and it only took us a couple of hours.

MC said...

See, that was one of the techniques that came out in the comments to the wired article... a group of friends challenging a game together to conquer it... fresh nerves to supplement those that were tiring and multiple minds to solve the puzzles.

Anonymous said...

I think I would find the games just right if only I was still in school and had school holidays when I could just sit and play all day.

Old games were shorter because the storage medium couldn't hold that much stuff. They couldn't put in a lot of side stuff even if they wanted to.

Few games make me want to finish them 100%, most rpgs get so routein after 10-15 hours on average, you just want to finish the story and move on. I've gotten very hesitant about buying more rpgs because of this.

I wish they would stop making rpgs 40-hour long affairs. It would have been better to have a 15-20 hour long story and being able to wander around after that to develope the character further on harder optional quests if the gamer wants to.

I sometimes get the feeling game devs lengthen the game with unnecessary features, roundabout side stories, boring fetch quests and requirements because they want gamers to feel as if they are getting "their money's worth".

- Liz

MC said...

Liz, I thought I would see you on this thread. :)

Well after a little more thought I also came to the realization that a lot of those old Nintendo games more than made up for their shorter lengths by being a lot harder as well, as you had to beat them in a single sitting. I still shudder every time I think about Fester's Quest. *shudder* But I remember the old Square games on the Super Nintendo being both lengthy and full of little bits that were entirely optional.

Come to think of it, I sort of got off the RPG bandwagon after Final Fantasy VIII... I never finished another one even though I tried quite a few(Star Ocean, Chrono Cross, FFIX). I used to be a huge advocate of that type of gaming because of the storylines, but I think what happened was other forms of gaming were able to offer the quality in that area with a more episodic quality (like GTA for instance).

And what's more, one of my favorite RPGs ever was Chrono Trigger, which was a relatively short game at around 10-15 hours, but with ample replay value with the New Game+ system, which does seem to have some of the early qualities which you discuss.

I think you may be right about brevity being detrimental to some game sales as I do remember a lot of fuss being made about how short God of War was when it was released.

Brandon said...

Games are way too long for me. Even sports games are too long. I rented Madden '07 a while back and just did the dynasty mode. I played for, like, eight hours, simulated all of the games and still only got through three seasons. I only like to spend a half hour here, a half hour there so there are virtually no games for me to play

Kunstemæcker said...

Games have become too complicated. I long for the sega 8 and 16 bit days.

I long for controllers with only two buttons to bash and side scrolling beat em ups!


DutchBitch said...

Video Games too long?

YES when I try to ply The Kid away from the PC because we need to go out.

NO when I am in need of some well deserved R&R...

Does that help?

Jess said...

Thanks for the shout-out. :)

I'm of two minds on the issue of game length, and it has a lot to do with genre.. If it's an action game, a shooter, a strategy title -- I want those games to be fairly short and sweet. I want to be able to reach the end before I'm sick of the gameplay.

When it comes to a good RPG, though, the longer the better. My wife and I are playing Oblivion right now, and we're almost 60 hours in. From what I can tell, there's still plenty of content left in the game, and we're definitely still having fun. That's definitely a testament to a well-designed game.

MC said...

Brandon: I think that is part of the reason why short-mission based games in open-ended environments are becoming such a popular design choice at the moment... as they allow both the casual and longer session gamers to find something to like in a gaming experience.

Kunstemæcker: I think that may be one of the reasons why flash-based gaming is so popular now.

Dutchy: What is your ideal gaming experience?

Jess, I wonder if part of the reason you like your RPGs longer is because of your experiences with MMORPGs so you have a higher tolerance for length in that particular genre? The analogy that I think perhaps best sums up this argument is if someone had bested War and Peace, other slightly shorter epic works of Russian literature would be right up their alley as well.

Semaj said...

I don't always agree with what Shigeru Miyamoto has to say, and this time I have to disagree with him again.

When it comes to RPGs, I really do enjoy longer games. But a game with 15-20 hours is fine, but there should be some type of replay value to them. GTA should be as long as it needs to be, because you're dealing with an entire city.

Good post, BTW

Jeremy Barker said...

I've only finished two games in the last few years - Halo and Halo II and I have drawers full of incomplete games. I always figured I was just being a quiter, but it could also be game length.

My pet peeve is how many games are single player when I want to play with friends. Video games can be so antisocial.

MC said...

Semaj: It seems like a steady divide is developing here regarding RPG's (though in the broadest sense, almost all games are Role playing games, but I mean by the most traditional of definitions). And while GTA:SA was fairly long, there were other distractions that also made it easy to pick up and play. It is the title I was thinking of when I spoke of episodic gaming.

Jeremy: The two elements(single and multiplayer) should mesh together pretty well, though some titles are better at one discipline than the other.

ablur said...

I already have a life. I don't need to live a second or a third or a.....
I want a game to unwind the tension of the day and leave me feeling refreshed and ready to do my adult tasks.
I think games should require labeling that tells the buyer the amount of time necessary for such a commitment.

MC said...

It used to be a little easier in the PS1 days, because if you saw a game that was 3 or 4 discs, well, you sort of knew that was a long one.

Anonymous said...

I agree, games are getting too long. If it is too long I can't stay motivated to finish it. Kinda like your article.

Dakuro said...

Well I guess it deppends, I like to play but I'm busy all the week I just have some times on weekend but I don't like to be in home all day in weekends, that's because they are long, short and mid games for some kind of needs.