Videogames need to become shorter to mature

872"Limbo": Short, but gripping

This text expands on my thoughts in this previous German article.

Iremember the times when no game was too long for me. I even remember dismissing the notion of  a game, a good game, ever being called "too long" absurd. How can something good ever outstay its welcome? I remember playing for days, for weeks, weekends and evenings disappearing into maws of games like CivilizationFallout, the Ultimas, the Final Fantasies.

I was a kid back then. I remember when I was reliant on pocket money and games journalists with their ratings to help me decide where my 50 bucks would go this month: Would I spend them on books, records and movies - or a single game? If I was to shell them out for a game, it had better offer some serious playing time.

Because, you know, while, as a kid, I was always short on money, there was one thing I definitely wasn't short on: time. 

I remember the outcry when game length started to decrease. I was at university then, and I still found time for games. Suddenly, major single player games were "only" 15 to 20 hours long, and gamers and press ritually voiced their disappointment at even shorter games, offering "only" 8 to 12 hours of single player campaigns, but making up for that - or trying to - with ubiquitous multiplayer modes that were Frankenstein'd-on to bolster play time, but would mostly be orphaned and deserted within weeks of release.

873"The Walking Dead": Episodic, short games can have emotional impact, too

These days, even more years later, my life has changed again. Today, I can easily afford games - but, being on an adult timetable, my spare time has shrunk drastically. I'll soon be a father, I have a job, colleagues, a busy social life - and I find it increasingly hard to reconcile these activities with my love for games.

Let's face it: Most games are too long because they are artificially lengthened.

These days, I recoil at games advertising their play time in the double digits. I grew weak and binged on Skyrim, but consequently shunned XCOM, Ni No Kuni and any other game boasting of "hours and hours of fun". But let's be honest:  I avoided these games not because I strictly didn't have the time - in recent years, I found amazing (or shocking) amounts of time to watch many complete seasons of TV series I love - but because I didn't really feel like spending this time on games. Because, as Jamin Warren of Kill Screen put it, Games are too Damn Long.

Let's face it: Most games are too long because they are artificially lengthened. They are blown up to ridiculous lengths by drawn-out tutorial-sequences, cinematics, copy-paste-level design and often overloaded with "filler". One of the reasons for this is to justify the traditional pricing structure. The reasoning goes like this: If an AAA-game is sold at 60 dollars or more, it had better offer at least 8 to 12 hours of single-player experience, if only to still compare favourably to a night - or, in this case, three or four nights - at the local cinema - popcorn included.

The funny part? Most players don't even finish these games. So this might sound revolutionary, but ... why not make shorter games?

874"Journey": Gaming history's shortest "Game of the Year"

The games that impressed me most in the last few years were short and intense, and, most importantly,  could be finished in one or, at the most, two or three evening sittings - Portal, Dear Esther, The Walking Dead, Braid, Limbo, Papo & Yo, The Unfinished Swan, Journey, and, most recently, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. Games that offer relatively short, but original experiences. Games that can be experienced on those nights when my significant other has gone out with her friends, when I have a few hours to spare. Games that don't demand to be mastered in boring tutorials, but instead concentrate on telling their story - or, conversely, can be played in short sessions and started again without the tedium of repetition, like the Rogue-like-likes Spelunky, FTL or The Binding of Isaac.

Most of the successful short games are Indie - that's because AAA has ignored the short form almost completely.
 
It is no coincidence to see that most of these games are Indie games, and that's because AAA has ignored the short form almost completely. (The few AAA offerings of the short form come exlusively as DLC - Minerva's Den comes to mind, or The King Washington episodes - which means that you have to own the original long-form games to be able to play these smaller games.) It's okay for Indie games to be short because they are the work of smaller teams and so by nature are accepted to be more limited and - most importantly - a lot cheaper than AAA games. 

There seems to be an interesting cross-media paradox: The rise and success of high-quality TV-series like Six Feet Under, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones  has opened audiences' eyes and shifted paradigms: Many viewers now regard the traditional 90 minutes of movies as too short a frame to tell a compelling story. In games, a different paradigm shift is needed: I'm looking forward to the next generation of short games fully making use of the powerful short form, telling a compelling story in two or three hours, cutting out the filler and doing away with the conventions rooting games firmly in teenage consumption patterns. I want a game that respects my limited free time, that teaches me its basics in minutes, not hours of tutorials; a game, in short, that respects its players as adults, both in regard to content, quality and time investment needed to enjoy it.

875"Gunslinger": 5 hours in length, low price-tag: the way forward for AAA?

The average gamer, we are told repeatedly, is between 30 and 40 years old. This statistic is often taken as proof that the medium has "matured" - but, speaking from experience, many of these older players abandon their hobby of many years when time becomes more valuable. Too valuable, that is, to spend on the way most games treat their players. 

As long as games don't get much shorter and learn to respect their adult audience in this regard, they'll inevitably keep losing this audience. Or, to put it more dramatically: If games don't adapt to their mature audience's time restraints, they'll likely stay as immature as their traditional teenage consumers. Shorter games, targeted at a more mature audience in both length and subject matter, could lead to a new quality in these games themselves: Without the need to stretch their ideas to those 8 or 10 hours, game creators could deliver gripping, to-the-point experiences - and, with lower prices and a shorter format, also reach larger audiences.

Successful games like Journey, Gunslinger or Limbo are the first to realize that there is a market for these shorter, cheaper but, as a result, more concise gaming experiences. I'm looking forward to more of these games.

 

Kommentare

Even as an student, I can totally sign that.

I have bought soo many games via Steam and Amazon sales, but have only finished like 10% of those, I even asked my friends about this. They all agreed with me.

I also think that many mediocore games made way more fun, if they were just designed more "tighter", and without lengths halfway through.

But as long as AAA games still cost 60€, gamers are going to complain about too short games, and since developing games is always getting more and more expensive, I don't see the price at release go down anytime soon

 

This is as absurd as saying "books need to be shorter because I want to read them in 3 to 4 evenings".

Yes, nedless "fillers" (aka too long tutorials or repetetive, bad, gameplay) are bad, but that is completely missing the point. If you dont want fillers, argue against fillers and not against the game lenght.

Some people want longer games, just as some people like longer books. That doesnt mean short storys are bad, but not every book needs to be a short story and there is only so much you can write if you only have a limited amount of paper.

 

How am I able to edit my posts ?

Anyway, you dont even argue that a game needs to be "just" 3 to 4 evenings. How many people are able to read a book in a mere 2 to 3 houres like you want games to be ? Short games, storys, films may be fine, but that doesnt mean we should abolish long games, books or series because of that. If you dont have enough time, than only spend an houres peer week on a game, but play it for half a year. Like you would do if you watch GoT.

nobody argues in favor of abolishing long games. I - and many, many of my friends I discussed this topic with - simply feel that a mid-length to short-length game format is missing. a format which would find enthusiastic buyers unwilling to spend hours and hours and hours on a single game's drawn out story or gameplay. as I wrote: Most players don't even finish their games - cheaper, shorter games would find a larger audience then willing to buy and play more often - or that's the thought here, at least.

Edit: What you're mentioning - playing a game like watching a tv show, ie episodically - is just the model I'm suggesting - the model Telltale used in Walking Dead. But of course you can't just split any game like this - there's different dramaturgical twists to be applied to a game/show/book series if it's to be enjoyed in that form!  So just playing two hours of FF IX each weekend for a year is NOT the same as playing The Walking Dead, which is tailor-made to be played in 'episodes'. Agreed?

[...] Videogames need to become shorter to mature. [...]

Certain games might be better when shorter, but then they should also be cheaper. Not even when hell freezes over am I willing to pay 60 bucks for a game I can finish within a measely 4 hours. For several years now I have been obiding by my rule that I will never ever pay more than 10 buck for a game that is shorter than 10 hours... and so I discovered.... I am not the only one who has adopted such a rule as areaction to the industries trend of asking big bugs for increasingly shorter games.

I am not in favor of games that use filler to create longer games, not at all, but neither do I like to finish an expensive game in one afternoon sitting.

I love open world games and games that allow you to explore a beautiful world, and that allow you to create your own adventure in a detailed open world setting. Good open world games should allow you the player to decide how long they last for you.

I do not believe games can only mature if they are shorter. It is much more difficult to create a good immersive open world game with realistic world interaction and a believable AI. Shorter games will, because of their nature, almost always be more linear. And I believe it takes a special kind of talent to create good open world games that can immerse you for weeks on end in a cool believable world.

Saying that games can only mature if they become shorter is like saying that icecream can only taste better if it tastes like strawberry. That is nonsense. Like there are many kinds of icecream, so there are many kinds of games with there own demands concerning game length.

I don't know about games, but I sure wish you'd written a shorter article.

@7 haha, lol

This article and the previous German article describe a change in my own taste that has taken place even though I'm still a student and enjoy the luxury of lots of free time.

While I still enjoy the occasional "standard" AAA game (I had lots of fun with Borderlands 2 and The Witcher 2) my focus in recent years has changed towards smaller, more original games. I'm actively looking for games that provide me with a really new or unique experience even if it lasts only for an hour. And I'm more than willing to pay for it.

Games like Proteus, Antichamber, Super Hexagon, Kentucky Route Zero, Hotline Miami, The Swapper, Dear Esther and Save the Date provide me personally with a more time efficient and much more satisfying gaming experience than something like the new Tomb Raider or Assassin's Creed would.

But don't get me wrong, I wouldn't want AAA games to disappear completely. Games like Bioshock: Infinite, Dishonored and Portal 2 are works of art and provide incredible sights and astonishing stories. AAA multiplayer games (TF2, Bad Company 2 and the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer) still provide me with hours and hours of fun.

My hope is that more AAA game developers will be brave enough to leave out "filler" content, integrate a save system where I can continue exactly where I left and overall create more concise games.

If Gunslinger is the way forward for AAA, then I dont want any part of it. I picked it up even cheaper than it retails at with a coupon and still felt cheated. Sure it looks nice and the voice acting is good but its a simple shooting gallery, nothing more.

I think game lengths are ok as they are. Big RPGs normally have 15 to 20 hours of a main campaign and if you want to really throw yourself into the world theres plenty of side content for people who want it. Most SP games are now 8 to 10 hours and I think that is the minimum you would expect when you have to spend that much cash. I would not spend 50/60 quid on a 3 hour game unless it was absolutely redefining gaming as we know it.

But I agree needless filler has to stop. Make short games, make long games, but make every bit of them worthwhile. No-one needs cut n paste missions just for the sake of bumping up playtime.

There are short games, there are medium games and there are long games.

This is a dumb pointless article. A game is the length it needs to be.

 

@loci: Wow, thanks for the in-depth analysis! Except, there are nearly no short or medium games, at least not in narrative games or in AAA - except the few titles I noted.

That was, like, my point: That the industry neglects a shorter format, fearful of the price drop this would mean.

Never mind.

 

@Ned: I'm arguing price drops to go along with the shorter format. 60$ games becoming shorter is not what I meant - removing the padding from 60$ games and offering them for a third, max, would (hopefully) effectively mean more buyers, too. The episodic structure of TWD or KRZ, mixed with a low price, might well mean more money for developers.

I fully support the idea of shorter games for the same reasons as Rainer does. I would play a concise but poignant experience over old school AAA length any time. But I disagree this is in any way a new idea. Far more indie games are rather short and whatever you pick up on Steam's indie section is likely to have a playthrough that lasts less than five hours. From my personal favourites I might add Deadlight, Mark of the Ninja, Thomas Was Alone, Hotline Miami, Rochard. I remember all of these as short and tight experiences though some may have been longer than others.

I think a wonderfully diverse landscape has opened up. Very quick and simple games are available for smartphones, medium sized atmospheric experiences mostly rise out the indie scene, and enjoyable AAA games with somewhat more complex and polished artwork are produced as well (just think of The Last which is about to be released). 

I couldn't agree more here! I also remember a time when I had no problems with length or "artificial" difficulty and relied on game journos. But things change.

This is why I really like all these indie (and sometimes not-so-indie) games that offer shorter, but very satisfying experiences. They are polished and focused. They don't add needless gameplay mechanics. They don't add unwanted fillings. There's no unnecessary paddling to increase the length (or it's completely optional like in Bastion). Their length results more as a consequence of the developer's intentions regarding the story and the gameplay than as a conscious decision on length itself.

The only thing I would beg to differ on is the emphasis on "maturing". Games don't need to be shorter to mature - though it does indeed help by removing all unnecessary fillings - they just need to cut all the silly infantilism with things like a) no 10 minutes go by without having to shoot stuff in the face, b) oversexualized female "characters ", c) cliched storylines with really bad dialogues, and etc. If you want to appeal to the teens and kids, that's fine but don't market it for all, and certainly don't try to artificially broaden it's appeal by mashing together stuff that may be of interest to people of different age groups. But hey, good luck arguing against money.

 

The issue here isn't that games are too long, it's that "you" (the person who believes games are too long) isn't actually interested in true gaming anymore. You still might like to play games, just as you might like to occasionally catch a ballgame on TV. But playing a game doesn't make you a gamer in the same way that watching the Dodgers twice a season doesn't make you a baseball fan. 

The author (and many commenters) talked about how they just didn't have the time for games anymore, but then turned around and started talking about how they were really getting into long, complicated television series. And this is where an observer can see the disconnect from what the author is saying and what they truely mean.

What they truely mean is that they aren't gamers anymore. There tastes have changed. And the big secret is that they are somwhat upset with this change, so they blame games being too long to explain their disintrest. But the big thing is that they shouldn't feel guilty or ashamed for no longer finding gaming as appealing as they used to. They should just accept it and move on and be happy.

Instead, they try to change the format to fit what they think they way. And that's bad. So please, for those of us who love games like Civ and CK2 and XCOM and what not, please don't try to get our games shortened. Just accept your change in entertainment tastes, get yourself some good mobile games, and move on.

@dragondai: true gamers, hear, hear. I'll just leave this here for your consideration

No seriously: "True gamers", my ass. If I don't put up with games the way they are and propose that the industry finally acknowledges that an "adult" audience might not only mean that it's okay to use swearwords, blood splatter and childish booby content, but maybe actually themes that adults - as opposed to teens struggling with puberty - find interesting, and maybe, just maybe, reconsider the traditional format in regards to pacing and length, I'm not a "true gamer"?

Again, for the particularly rabid/those unable to read: No, I don't call for all games to be shortened/dumbed down/castrated. What I suggest is that a shorter format - AT A LOWER PRICE - might be a model particularly adults, with their typically adult time restraints, might find interesting. No one is about to assault your precious 250 hours achievement-fueled CoD-multiplayer career by shortening all games. 

[...] Mostly quiet over here, Michael Cherdchupan of kollisionsabfrage.net ran an obituary for Japanese game designer and composer Kenji Eno, Rainer Sigl of videogametourism.at wrote about multiple choice as the narrative mechanic in The Yawgh, Save The Date and Kentucky Route Zero and also, in translating and expanding on an earlier post, about why games need to be shorter. [...]

Couldn't agree more with your article! I certainly would like to get into the longer, more involved games, but it's just not possible anymore (33 years old, full-time job, girlfriend but no kids). I can still log many hours in games, I think I'm at 30 hours or so in FTL, and something like that on Diablo 3 as well. But I can't keep a complex and story-based game in my head anymore, because they require constant attention over as few nights as possible. My hours in FTL and Diablo were earned piece by piece over months. I tried to play The Witcher 2, really gave it a shot and tried to make room for it in between cooking dinner, football practice, spending time with my GF, meeting friends etc - but every time I returned I was like "okay, what was the quest now? I was supposed to go to... um, yeah. But where was he? What's the hotkey for dropping traps again?"

I wholeheartedly agree that there's room for shorter games. I'd pay full price for them, because I feel far better about dropping $60 on a game that felt well-made and that I could finish in two or three sittings. Including filler content just to please the "20 hours or no sale!!!" camp is just ridiculous - they can wait until the game is on sale if they feel cheated.

Ha! Nice article. I've recently written a (somewhat angry) post about the advantages of shorter games, arguing about their potential for experiments (Go Short or Go Home). 

[...] 
 Mostly quiet over here, Michael Cherdchupan of kollisionsabfrage.net ran an obituary for Japanese game designer and composer Kenji Eno, Rainer Sigl of videogametourism.at wrote about multiple choice as the narrative mechanic in The Yawgh, Save The Date and Kentucky Route Zero and also, in translating and expanding on an earlier post, about why games need to be shorter. [...]

Sorry, but I don't see how "long" games fail to recognize your maturity.

 

I mean, I have recently finished ME3 (sorry to bring it up) and it took me 30+ hours. So, pretty lengthy game, I'd say. But I played it for an hour, two hour tops on end. And I didn't struggle with continuity, too. See, there's this neat little thing some games have: missions. ME3 has it, so I basically treat it like TV show. I think it's designed like that exactly to allow for a limited time budget.

 

Granted, something like Skyrim is just a neverending story (or journey, to be more precise) so it lacks intensity of a short form. But it doesn't necessarily conflict with your time budget, you can still save your progress and resume it whenever you like.

 

So it's not so much about length as variety of content. Sure, games focused on one thing (like Braid or Angry Birds for that matter) are punchier, but that's because they are simple. Or at least less complex than systems like Skyrim (and that complexity comes with it's own downside).

 

It's possible to dismiss the former as simplistic and the latter as overcomplicated, but... Can't we just have both?

I think people are missing the point slightly by being defensive about long form game. Short form games are not just the same game but shorter. Shorter games play and narrate differently, and the reason
long form games don't respect the audience and has a hard time maturing is because most of these games are created as "entertainment" (a word I use for things that are not trying to have any creater meaning/message/observation/idea). There is nothing wrong with those games, it is just that some people want something different.
 
I have recently "grown-up" (finally, some would say) and I have started to see quite a lot my preferences change. No longer am I looking to be "entertained" by a 700 page fantasy book, and rather would read a more compact book that deals with mature subjects and affects me personally.
And this is also true for games. I can't justify playing 20 hours of something that is 90% of mechanical repetition, I would rather play something that takes 2 hours and has some novel game play/narration/theme that actually affects me on a personal level.

Please. With Gunslinger as an example of "way forward for AAA games" it's obvious enough that the point in question has nothing in common with maturity* per se; it's all about time constraints that go with the package.

As for the notion that long form is somehow inherently "immature"... well, I could argue that the opposite is true and in short form you simply can't deal with really complicated matters. But no. Form has nothing to do with it at all.

*I use the word loosely, because fiction, however mature, remains entertainment. Always.

@ #23

I don't think there is any inherently mature/immature about either form, just that they lend to one or the other better.

I do however disagree with your assumption that all fiction is entertainment, fiction is how humans learn and fiction becomes a concrete part of our personality and lives. It does not have any inherent connetion to entertainment.

[...] to the medium's norm. In a recent and much-discussed (and flamed) article I argued that 'Videogames need to become shorter to mature' . Would you agree? How long will it take players to experience all of Rapture? I [...]

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