Shorter Games Need Lovin' Too
"Too little?!? You said it was a good size!" - Brodie Bruce
Why is shorter game length considered negative in some circles? Let’s set aside the quality and value of video games related to their length, as those are separate arguments that I’m not going to address in this piece. There are bad games that are long and expensive, good games that are short and cheap, and all manner of games in between. I want to talk specifically about game length and how that can influence a player’s perception.
As I get older, there are increasingly more responsibilities and other interests that take up my free time, leaving less for video games. I would love to have multiple hours open every day to explore video game worlds, but for me and a lot of other people, that just isn’t feasible. There are only so many hours in a day to get everything done. Over the years, I’ve come to embrace a shorter, tighter experience when compared to some of the padding and bloat seen in many games today.
When a game is lauded for having over 100 hours of gameplay, it gives me pause. To be clear, I’m not saying that long games are bad. Breath of the Wild and Witcher 3 are both games that I spent around 100 hours in and enjoyed immensely. They’ve proven that there are successful ways to fill countless hours by having engaging stories or interesting worlds to explore. I do, however, appreciate a game that I can enjoy over the course of a week or two, as opposed to one that may take months to see through to the end. Metroid Dread is a fantastic, recent example of a game which crafted a wonderful experience in a modest playtime. (My first playthrough clocked in at roughly 8 hours) That time is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s also a far cry (pun intended) from the many 50+ hour games on the market. Still, the length of Metroid Dread was listed by some as a drawback upon its release.
So many games are vying for your time, especially when considering free-to-play and live service games that aim to keep you engaged for a long haul. The fight for your time and money seems to have created an arms race for game length. “Why buy the competitor’s 50-hour game when you can buy our 100-hour game?” Game length has been pushed as a positive, and has seemingly creeped ever higher in the “high profile AAA” sector, where developers are saddled with the expectation of always making something bigger and better. This scenario makes it seem like there is pressure for video games to be longer in general. Some of this is undoubtedly due to the proliferation of genres that tend to take longer to complete, including the bevy of open world games on the market. RPGs are also increasingly popular, and can feature lengthy narratives that aren’t necessarily conducive to playing in short bursts.
Are there shorter games out there? Of course. Many indie developers fill this need as a necessity, since they don’t have the resources available to make sprawling epics like the larger developers do. That’s great, and I’ve enjoyed many of them as well, but I still think there’s an opportunity for shorter games from the bigger players in the industry. I don’t just mean arcade style games, either. Plenty of genres could fit in a shorter experience while still fulfilling the vision of the creators. There shouldn’t be pressure, whether internal or external, to make everything bigger in order to be better. Sometimes bigger isn’t better, especially if it’s bigger just for the sake of being bigger. I would much rather see a 5-hour experience with high production value that succeeds in telling a succinct story and/or offers rewarding gameplay over another 50-hour fetch quest marathon of “bring me 10 doodads” or “defeat 5 donkey-bears.” The payoff for these quests never feels satisfying, and they almost always seem tacked on to inflate the length of the game.
Perhaps my feelings toward this stem from the time period I grew up in. Back then, games were simpler and smaller in general due to hardware limitations. I still replay games like the DKC trilogy, Mega Man X, Turtles in Time, and many others as a sort of gaming comfort food. The Zelda series is another great example (and my personal favorite) that includes many of my top games of all-time. I’ve beaten every game in the series at least twice, except for Breath of the Wild. As much as I loved that experience and consider it one of the best games ever, I haven’t gone back to it partially due to the time commitment. I’m sure I’ll return to it one day as nostalgia creeps closer, but in the meantime, I’ll probably just beat Ocarina of Time again. And again. And again.
Shorter games allow us to experience a larger number, and potentially wider variety of experiences as well. This is obvious, but instead of playing a 20-hour game, I could play 2 different 10-hour games. Heck, I could even play 4 separate 5-hour games if I was feeling frisky. Math! As I’ve said, many indie games pick up the slack, but I don’t want the major publishers to feel beholden to an hour count, and shy away from releasing games with lower completion times out of fear of consumer backlash.
I realize this is an opinion not everyone will agree with, and I’m fine with that. In fact, the diversity of opinion makes gaming what it is. Just because something isn’t for me doesn’t mean there isn’t an audience for it. My main point is that games with a lower hour count seem to be getting short shrift (again, pun very much intended). There is nothing inherently wrong with a short game. Short games can be very fun, all while telling a great, concise story with a satisfying payoff. Short games can be more conducive to replaying time and time again.
Hopefully we can all agree that quality is what matters in the end, regardless of the hour count. I simply believe that as I grew to appreciate shorter games, public perception of these quicker experiences has soured. Here’s to hoping that short games aren’t pushed out of the market.
To use a fishing analogy, it’s not necessarily the size of the worm…it’s the wiggle. So, for all you short games out there, I hope you continue to wiggle your way onto our consoles and into our hearts.
Absolutely love when devs don't extend the length of the game just because it needs to be a longer game. I thought Skyward Sword was far too bloated as I went past the 30 hour mark. But I spent over 100 hours in Breath of the Wild but it didn't ever feel like that.
Sometimes I'm on the hunt for a short game in my backlog after finishing a much longer game, too.
It's so hard to find free time these days that I really appreciate a shorter game.
In fact Metroid Dread almost felt too long to me!
I feel the same way. I love my short games just as much as my long games. It's nice to not have to put in a ton of time into every game I play. That would make my backlog of RPG's even more daunting.
A mix of short games and long suits me. Sometimes I have the time/will make the time... Sometimes I like it when the game respects my time... But most of all, I like it when I wish the game was longer... A sign that I really enjoyed it!
Older gamer here too & this is where I’m at too. I’ve embraced arcade style games like shoot ‘em ups, beat ‘em ups, & things like that more these days. There’s been a lot of solid indie RPGs that I can be finished in 20-30 hours. That’s enough game for me.
WarioWare GIT's campaign was a brief 2 hours, but it was one of the best experiences I had last year--Grinning ear to ear by the time the credits rolled.
When I’m looking at a new game to pluck off my wishlist, time to beat is always a factor. Shorter games usually take priority over the longer games for me.
I'll fully admit the live service games have me hooked pretty well these days.
However, I do appreciate short games a lot. Like you mentioned, it allows me to pick it up, get immersed, and finish it without investing too much time in it. I don't think there's been many where I've said I wished they were longer.
45-years-old with a job, a family, and the many responsibilities of adult life…10-hour games are the sweet spot. I have no time for hundred-hour games where “it gets good after about 30-hours”.
When I was younger and had plenty of free time I was all about the lengthy games. But life changes as you get older (and free time drastically reduces) so I’m glad there are plenty of short games available so I can continue to enjoy the hobby.
One of the reason I like Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna ~ The Golden Country and Xenoblad so much is because of that length. Roughly 20 hours is steel beefy (puts it in the same ballpark as God of War '18 & Horizon Zero Dawn) but very much shorter then a typical XC.
I love the XC and (J)RPG's in general, but I do wish there were more shorter games in that genre. Once that don't take me 3+ months to see the credits roll.
There's a name I haven't seen on this website in a LONG time omg. I hope you're doing well, man. It warms my heart when I see old school commenters from back in the good ol days and I see you're still rockin' that sweet avatar. Haha!
I can't complete most games past the 30 hours, life gets in the way too often. I could complete Breath of the Wild though, but it was a game you could progress even while playing just a few minutes. I could never complete Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Astral Chain, got far in the game but sometimes I had to stop playing for a while and it was really hard to go back to those games. Astral Chain's mission system was awful for short sessions (Not like Bayonetta where you could select missions right from the start, it was easy to comeback after a few days or weeks).
I don't think it's a matter of hours but more of how you access the game and continue your journey, but yeah, length of a game shouldn't be a selling point, It's definitely it's quality. Most short games offer good replay value.