OK. Before you grab up the pitchforks and call for my head on a spike, please hear me out.
I understand that there is a place in the gaming world for long-term relationships. Clearly, the popularity of Bethesda’s RPGs (Fallout 3, Skyrim), the time vacuum of Minecraft, the competitive play of online shooters and stickiness of MMOs proves that gamers are willing to sink countless hours into a single title. We’re nearing the end of a console generation, though, and the market is getting crowded. Very few people have enough time to devote to even one of these games, let alone the flood we’ve seen over the past six months.
During my leisure time, I find myself gravitating toward shooters, not because they are my preferred genre, but because it remains one of the few in which I can expect to complete the experience in a reasonable amount of time. I still love RPGs, deep mech simulators and lengthy third-person adventures, but they are so hard to stay focused on given my life. I’m married, I have kids and I’m in the process of buying a house. All of these things, in addition to working daily on RipTen, take up a significant amount of time.
It’s for that reason that I’m grateful for shorter experiences that don’t overstay their welcome. Some developers seem to understand this. Telltale Games has successfully championed the episodic model. Most recently, The Walking Dead’s first episode clocked in at about two hours, providing an intense, dramatic narrative with interesting gameplay. Not only did it last the perfect amount of time, but I’m hungry for more. I can’t wait for the second episode to arrive.
I’m almost finished with Max Payne 3. It isn’t nearly as long as other Rockstar Games epics like Red Dead Redemption or any of the Grand Theft Auto titles, but it still manages to pack a ton of excitement and a gripping tale without the filler or downtime that I’ve experienced in those other games. Does the shorter play time make it a less worthy expenditure for someone with only $60 in his/her wallet? Not at all.
There is a fallacy that exists in the gaming community that longer games are always a better investment than shorter ones. For some gamers, that may be true, but as there are more demands on our time as we get older, things have equalled out for me. I’ve found myself surprisingly pleased to find out a game is only 8 – 10 hours long. I know that I’ll see the whole thing and can put it back on the shelf without regrets when I’m finished.
I have to wonder if part of the decline in sales we’re seeing, in addition to the end of product cycle contraction, is in part to games becoming too long. Combined with an economy that is still challenging for many, people are gravitating toward fewer games that provide a deeper experience. The race to create the longest game seems like it might just be backfiring on publishers.
There needs to be a balance. Not every book is as long as War and Peace, there are plenty of movies shorter than Titanic and there is still room for the two-minute song on the radio. Publishers need to find a better middle ground if they hope to maintain an aging consumer base and regrow revenues in the coming generation.