There is this discussion regarding the value of games over how many hours you can play it. The verdict says that the longer the game is, assuming it is a game of quality, the more value it has. On some level I can empathize with such a notion. Because the money you invest in a piece of entertainment, be it interactive or not, should feel well spent when the end comes. So for some, getting as certain amount of time with the game is a value add, likewise the ability for the game to be replay friendly.
But I have to ask, should such a philosophy be applied across the board? And following that, at what point does the time become artificially long?
When I was a younger man with less money and more time I used to love JRPGs. The sweeping dramas of revolution, saving the lands and protecting your friends along the way was gripping and awe inspiring. I can still recall late summer evening sitting way too close to my tv being horrified at the death of Odessa in Suikoden just a short time after you had spent an evening on top of Mt. Tigerwolf talking about the innocence that was your character and the future of the Liberation Army. But Suikoden also took me around 30 hours to finish. It was time well spent, as it's one of the most memorable games of my life. But having tried to play through other JRPGs in recent years, even Suikoden V and Persona 4, I just can't bring myself to slave through the mechanics and time investment for the story. And that's unfortunate.
The trend that games have to be artificially longer, be it by "kill everything until you can progress" mechanics or hollow storylines for the sake of length, is making it difficult to find the time (and the motivation) to actually finish a lot of modern games. I suppose at some point, it's not necessarily an argument over length as the argument of quality over time. The longer the game is, the better the quality of what keeps you in the world need to be. And most games simply don't cut it.
I love the Assassin's Creed franchise. Yet the same pattern happens in every one of those games. The game starts and I am totally psyched to play it. For the first few hours, I am completely in love with it. At some point though, the overabundance of unnecessary side objectives and travel distance just get to me. And I put the game down. Not knowing I am about 2 hours from the end. But I feel open world games tend to suffer from being a bit too long and, while I realize it's completely optional, disrupts the overall narrative with side missions, collectibles and such. It was something I really appreciated about Mafia 2. It all felt very focused on it's own story, and even though there was a big city you could explore, you never really felt a reason to because there was really no incentive to deviate from the path. But that also made the city feel more useful as a part of the story because you had not already seen all of it. Granted, there are also games like LA Noire where the city felt completely arbitrary to me eventually because the interesting parts of that game had nothing to do with driving. But I digress.
Sitting down this weekend to play through Gone Home was revelatory. Like Dear Esther, it was a short and compact story completely focused on it's goal. It didn't spread itself too thin, it didn't feel artificially long. It was an experience that clocked in at just the right amount of time for it's narrative. And it got me thinking; why do we need to have games be 6, 8, 15 or 30 hours to feel good about them? Isn't the overall experience worth more than how many hours you can waste on it? I think it's refreshing to see developers actually embracing the idea that it's ok to make games that don't take weeks to finish.
Envision a world where every movie you saw had to be seen as a mini tv-show because it's too long to watch in one sitting. That would completely suck, right?
I would be completely ok with a world where more games were about half as expensive and half as long. Not only would I probably buy more games, I would probably finish most of them as well (assuming they were of quality, obviously). I am not saying the longer games don't have their place and can't be good. I mean, I've played through the Mass Effect triology about three times. Because I feel it holds up (and because I had a save issue [or specifically an Xbox 360 HDD crash] that made me have to redo it all) for that amount of time. I just think there's also a place for shorter and more focused games. And I am happy to see more of them spring to life. And I would have to guess that if games were smaller in scope, they would probably be slightly less expensive to produce. Which is something that would benefit a lot of people.
At the end of the day, I just enjoy finishing a game feeling good about it. And not sitting there by the credits going "Finally!" Which happenes more than it should.