Games should be about quality and enjoyment, not some arbitrary number of hours

Don’t judge The Order: 1886 – or any game – by its duration

There has been lots of talk in the last week about the duration of Ready at Dawn’s PS4 exclusive The Order: 1886, much of it centred around a playthrough uploaded on YouTube that clocked in at around five and a half hours. This was later corroborated by games media outlet Videogamer.

The anger from a section of consumers though has been surprising. Claims they were being ripped off, questions raised by the game time and also the lack of multiplayer, suggesting it’s not worth its price tag.

And, initially, all because of some number from some video a bunch of people didn’t watch. There was little talk about the quality of the experience itself.

The complaints were the polar opposite of those levelled by some critics at Creative Assembly’s Alien: Isolation, who claimed the game was too long at around 15 to 20 hours, and outstayed its welcome.

Does this mean people are being fickle? Or is there really a perfect length for a single-player game?

A look on the website howlongtobeat shows the typical gameplay duration of the main campaign in more than 15,000 games, plus the added extras and full completion times.

It struck me that there are lots of games well under the ten-hour mark that have been enjoyed by numerous fans.

Games such as Portal, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Mirror’s Edge, Vanquish, Sniper Elite v2 and 3 and Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes all clock in anywhere between three to eight hours for the main story.

And it’s been claimed on numerous occasions that most players don’t even finish games. In 2011, former Raptr, THQ and Sega veteran John Lee said 90 per cent of players who start a game “will never see the end of it unless they watch a clip on YouTube”.

According to some figures presented at GDC 2014, taken from Steam achievements associated with game completion, as reported by IGN, less than half of players will actually finish a game.

Examples used:

The Walking Dead: Season 1, Episode 1 – 66%
Mass Effect 2 – 56%
BioShock Infinite – 53%
Batman: Arkham City – 47%
Portal – 47%
Mass Effect 3 – 42%
The Walking Dead: Season 1, Episode 5 – 39%
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – 32%
Borderlands 2 – 30%

So why the hate for The Order: 1886?

Go big or go home

Consumers have been spoilt in recent years as publishers have created big tentpole franchises based on larger and larger open world gameplay. With this comes hundreds of hours of gameplay – and the ever-rising costs associated with making this.

Free-to-play is also distorting perceptions of value in premium games, particularly when triple-A games are often stuck at the £50 price range. If it isn’t a triple-A open world game that can last forever – thus creating an unlimited sense of value even if you only experience a fraction of it, and even if the rest is terrible – why bother buying it when you can play a game for free almost indefinitely?

But it’s a shame that some consumers get angry over the length of a game they have never played and don’t have to buy. If a person thinks a game is ripping them off – a valid concern to any individual – steer clear. And don’t think others will feel the same.

It would be even more of a shame however if developers felt forced to pander to these people and create bloated experiences through fear of being told their game is too short according to some indefinable scale of what the perfect game duration is. You can’t please everyone, and you don’t have to try.

Triple-A games should still be able to explore linear, focused experiences. As Ready at Dawn’s game director Dana Jan and technology director Garret Foster recently told Develop, it’s about quality not quantity. Not every game has to be – or should be – Skyrim.

I’d rather play a brilliant game for five hours – particularly as my spare time is becoming increasingly limited and valuable – than go through the boring process of retracing my steps, collecting items through the same levels for another five, just so the developer can meet some arbitrary number of hours or fear being told their game is too short.

Judging games by the quality is right, but by its duration?

No thanks.

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