How long is your game: Why shorter might be the way forward

September 5, 2008 § Leave a comment

Do you finish games? This question, above all, separates the men from the boys, the core from the expanded, the hardcore from the casual. All too often the recipient evades the question, “I’ve been busy” they rightfully claim. After all, salaries won’t pay themselves, and someone will inevitably have to do the dishes sometime. Why in this medium above all others will participants not finish the experience they started? Might it be because games are a source of quick fun, a stress reliever after a hard day, or might it be simply because people don’t have the time for them?

With age comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes greater sink holes for your precious time. It is often the case that whilst a person might game during their teens and then into young adulthood, many cannot continue the hobby they once held with a passion when they might decide to start a family, or work at a time consuming job. It’s not the kids playing games that make them socially acceptable, it’s the moms and dads who pop in Wii Sports when people come round for dinner, or the professional who recommends GTA4 to his collegues.

With the casual gaming explosion, and the Wii in particular, adults everywhere are picking up gaming, some not for the first time. Not only are these games accessable, they won’t take you an age to get through whilst in the meantime sitting sullenly on your pile of shame. Why would someone with maybe a few hours a week to game pick up a Persona 3 when they can just as easily play a more casual game without feeling like they’re missing out on part of the experience, achieved by playing through to the end.

When you pick up a book, you’re banking on the fact that you’re going to finish it. You’re going to experience all the book has to offer, and in this way nothing the auther has spent time on has gone to waste. Pick up a game and it’s quite evidentally a different story, as time wastes away without the completion bar ever sliding any further to the right. You won’t see the game’s conclusion, or get its message. How can you take something seriously as an art form when you’re only experiencing a part of the whole?

Though games might be expensive to make, much of this cost could be avoided with the omission of levels not central to a game’s message, or extra material put in to justify an expensive price point. Not only could the reduction in cost be passed on to the consumer, but this tact would also allow the greenlighting of much “riskier” projects, which won’t necesserily guarentee a large return on a publishers investment. You’d pay £10 for a movie which will maybe leave you with four hours of entertainment at most (including bonus material etc.), why not pay £10 for a four hour game? (a tactic delightfully employed by Insomniac with “Quest for Booty” – a descision somewhat flawed by the narrative overlap with the full priced games in the same series).

If games are to join movies and books in their shared popularity then this barrier to entry needs to be overcome. People with full-time jobs don’t have time to played games regularly, and this won’t change over time. Make games intended for adults with adults in mind. If I want to show of Shadow of the Colossus to a non-gamer, they’re going to have to stick around for a while to appreciate its genius. Personally I don’t believe masterpieces should have such a high barrier, but if the kids want more levels, give it to ’em I spose….

This week not surprisingly I’ve had little time for games considering my recent return to education. A review of GRID is forthcoming, when I can find the time. Depressingly Spore’s release crept up on me unexpectedly, and now it’s out in the world, towing behind it much less critical acclaim than I’d anticipated. Being a PC game I have the additional problems with playing my own copy which really is a shame. I might try the Wii version though.

Until then,

Peace out

Jon

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