Letting Go

Skyward Sword is by far the longest game in this 25 year old franchise.

A claim I’ve heard a lot in the past few years is that video games are too short now. I’m not sure what games those people have been playing; the video games I play are, on average, much longer than they’ve ever been. In the past year alone I’ve played Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dark Souls, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Mass Effect 3 and Xenoblade Chronicles. Each of these games can last dozens, if not hundreds of hours. There have always been games of comparable length, but not with this frequency, and especially not from names as big and popular as these. When I think of the hundreds of games I played during the 1990s and the early 2000s, I can’t think of many that lasted more than 40 hours or so. Much less 7 such games within a single 12 month span.

That almost begs the opposite question: are games too long now? Certainly not, but they aren’t too short either. I’ve always felt that the appropriate length of a game is not merely derived from some weird hour per dollar ratio; quality has to play some part in a game’s value. We all know this, even if we don’t accurately vocalize it, because we do actually pay for games in a world where there are countless free ones out there. There are good and bad games of all shapes and sizes, and you can’t make sweeping generalizations about things such as a game’s length. That leads to the real question: is it possible for a single game to be too short or too long? I think most people would agree that it is possible for a game to be too short. The interesting question, however, is whether a game can be too long.

Xenoblade's combat doesn't have nearly enough variety or depth to remain interesting for 70 hours.

I would argue that a game can indeed be too long. I know there are people who scoff at the idea, arguing that more “content” can never be a bad thing. But every game has its own unique set of gameplay systems and ideas, ones that have varying amounts of depth and longevity to them. Those ideas can only remain interesting for so long, and after a certain point you’re not seeing anything new, thus diluting the overall product. Words like “padding” and “filler” exist for a reason, and the situations where I can accurately use them are the only ones where I feel I am wasting my time playing a game. Unfortunately, that has been my experience with a handful of games over the past year or two, most recently Xenoblade Chronicles. By the time I was 20 hours into the game, I had already encountered multiple areas that prompted me to exclaim “Great, more grinding”. Its combat is the definition of repetitive, and also comprises a large percentage of your play time. The idea of spending 50 more hours with the game was a depressing one, and ultimately led to me putting the game down. If it had a well paced story arc that wrapped up in 30 or 40 hours instead of 70, I might have stuck with it. I can’t think of a better example of a game being too long.

Xenoblade isn’t the only offender though; it was merely the latest and biggest one, the final blow in a series of games that wore out their welcome well before their end. Final Fantasy XIII, Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning are all examples of recent games that I got tired of (to varying degrees) before I finished them. Unlike Xenoblade, however, I did actually finish all of those games. Xenoblade was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”. Though in this case it was a brick rather than a straw. I just couldn’t take it anymore, and decided once and for all to simply let go.

There are plenty of great games out there more worth my time.

As a stubborn gamer who is also somewhat of a completionist, that idea of letting go can be a tough one for me. Typically, when I start a game I do so with the intent of finishing it, and putting a game down before seeing the credits roll can be extremely difficult. This has led to me pushing through numerous games that I was no longer enjoying simply for the sake of finishing them. I can’t really explain why; I imagine it’s some combination of hoping the game gets better and resisting the idea that the game has “beaten” me, so to speak. Perhaps it took an extreme case like Xenoblade to break me of my stubborn ways, but I'm finally realizing that it’s sometimes just not worth it. There are too many good games out there that are more worth my precious time. Since abandoning Xenoblade a few weeks ago, I’ve played Fez, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, all games I really enjoyed. What’s more, if I had put the time I put into those three games into Xenoblade instead, I still wouldn’t be done with it. Probably not even close. And I would have enjoyed that time infinitely less.

I felt pretty crummy for a bit after putting Xenoblade down, but I’ve realized that it was the right choice, and I think the whole episode will be beneficial in the long run. I still like playing long games if they can hold my interest from start to finish (Dark Souls comes to mind), but I can also let go of the ones that don’t; the ones that are too long.

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9 Comments
Posted by MajorMitch
Skyward Sword is by far the longest game in this 25 year old franchise.

A claim I’ve heard a lot in the past few years is that video games are too short now. I’m not sure what games those people have been playing; the video games I play are, on average, much longer than they’ve ever been. In the past year alone I’ve played Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dark Souls, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Mass Effect 3 and Xenoblade Chronicles. Each of these games can last dozens, if not hundreds of hours. There have always been games of comparable length, but not with this frequency, and especially not from names as big and popular as these. When I think of the hundreds of games I played during the 1990s and the early 2000s, I can’t think of many that lasted more than 40 hours or so. Much less 7 such games within a single 12 month span.

That almost begs the opposite question: are games too long now? Certainly not, but they aren’t too short either. I’ve always felt that the appropriate length of a game is not merely derived from some weird hour per dollar ratio; quality has to play some part in a game’s value. We all know this, even if we don’t accurately vocalize it, because we do actually pay for games in a world where there are countless free ones out there. There are good and bad games of all shapes and sizes, and you can’t make sweeping generalizations about things such as a game’s length. That leads to the real question: is it possible for a single game to be too short or too long? I think most people would agree that it is possible for a game to be too short. The interesting question, however, is whether a game can be too long.

Xenoblade's combat doesn't have nearly enough variety or depth to remain interesting for 70 hours.

I would argue that a game can indeed be too long. I know there are people who scoff at the idea, arguing that more “content” can never be a bad thing. But every game has its own unique set of gameplay systems and ideas, ones that have varying amounts of depth and longevity to them. Those ideas can only remain interesting for so long, and after a certain point you’re not seeing anything new, thus diluting the overall product. Words like “padding” and “filler” exist for a reason, and the situations where I can accurately use them are the only ones where I feel I am wasting my time playing a game. Unfortunately, that has been my experience with a handful of games over the past year or two, most recently Xenoblade Chronicles. By the time I was 20 hours into the game, I had already encountered multiple areas that prompted me to exclaim “Great, more grinding”. Its combat is the definition of repetitive, and also comprises a large percentage of your play time. The idea of spending 50 more hours with the game was a depressing one, and ultimately led to me putting the game down. If it had a well paced story arc that wrapped up in 30 or 40 hours instead of 70, I might have stuck with it. I can’t think of a better example of a game being too long.

Xenoblade isn’t the only offender though; it was merely the latest and biggest one, the final blow in a series of games that wore out their welcome well before their end. Final Fantasy XIII, Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning are all examples of recent games that I got tired of (to varying degrees) before I finished them. Unlike Xenoblade, however, I did actually finish all of those games. Xenoblade was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”. Though in this case it was a brick rather than a straw. I just couldn’t take it anymore, and decided once and for all to simply let go.

There are plenty of great games out there more worth my time.

As a stubborn gamer who is also somewhat of a completionist, that idea of letting go can be a tough one for me. Typically, when I start a game I do so with the intent of finishing it, and putting a game down before seeing the credits roll can be extremely difficult. This has led to me pushing through numerous games that I was no longer enjoying simply for the sake of finishing them. I can’t really explain why; I imagine it’s some combination of hoping the game gets better and resisting the idea that the game has “beaten” me, so to speak. Perhaps it took an extreme case like Xenoblade to break me of my stubborn ways, but I'm finally realizing that it’s sometimes just not worth it. There are too many good games out there that are more worth my precious time. Since abandoning Xenoblade a few weeks ago, I’ve played Fez, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, all games I really enjoyed. What’s more, if I had put the time I put into those three games into Xenoblade instead, I still wouldn’t be done with it. Probably not even close. And I would have enjoyed that time infinitely less.

I felt pretty crummy for a bit after putting Xenoblade down, but I’ve realized that it was the right choice, and I think the whole episode will be beneficial in the long run. I still like playing long games if they can hold my interest from start to finish (Dark Souls comes to mind), but I can also let go of the ones that don’t; the ones that are too long.

Posted by Gunslinger0130

Nice post Mitch! On my phone, I'll comment further on it tomorrow, great read though!

Posted by BonOrbitz

I just hit the 70 hour mark in Xenoblade and the game's multiple side missions are killing me. I'm a completionist when it comes to RPGs with side quests but this is getting ridiculous, especially in the Nepon Village where there's a crazy amount of them that require you to report back to the quest giver or where you need to track someone down. I didn't mind them up to that point because you rarely had to return to the quest giver.

I hope the rest of the game isn't like this, but in the meantime I've decided to let a bunch of them go and just power on through the main quest so I can put this game to bed.

Posted by MajorMitch

@Gunslinger0130: Thanks!

@bonorbitz: I know how you feel. I'm also somewhat of a completionist, though I only made it 20 hours before the side quests really got to me. I think I'd explode after 70 hours of it :P

Posted by Slag

completely agree.

I'm a completionist myself and games like Amalur would rive me bananas.

for me I figure when sidequests add 40%+ or more to the games' length it's just filler. Really dilutes the whole experience and makes it a chore. That's one reason is struggle with Grand theft Auto games , is that the whole game just feels to me like endless sidequests.

Personally I'd rather play the same game without grinding and fetch quests even if that made it half the length. Length of game is not a selling point for me, quality is.

I'm perfectly happy with 40-60 RPGs. That's they were back in the SNES days if I remember. I beat the original Paper Mario for the first time last night (100% ing it) and that only took me 45 hours. Probably would have been much less if I didn't get all the recipes and star pieces and whatnot.

Posted by MajorMitch

@Slag: Amalur did drive me bananas; its hundreds of sidequests are the definition of filler. I love the Paper Mario games, I feel like a lot of RPGs could learn a lesson from them when it comes to pacing and such. I think both games took me around 35 hours, and I felt like they were introducing new stuff throughout, with hardly any filler.

Personally I'd rather play the same game without grinding and fetch quests even if that made it half the length. Length of game is not a selling point for me, quality is.

Indeed. Maybe it's just a vocal minority, but I feel like there's a demand for long games, almost regardless of quality. Otherwise I don't know what the point of filler is.

Posted by Slag

@MajorMitch said:

Indeed. Maybe it's just a vocal minority, but I feel like there's a demand for long games, almost regardless of quality. Otherwise I don't know what the point of filler is.

I dunno man, everyone I talk to seems to feel the same way. The guys who aren't completionists (Call of Duty types etc)always tell me they don't RPGs because they are too boring, too slow and too long. Especially my older friends who like I have have gamed now multiple decades. In many cases the length of the games they want to play has just made them decide to basically retire from gaming instead.

I think it's gotta be some shared 90's mentality held over by the devs. Back then games did need more content and they used hours/length as a selling point. I remember some games where it was listed on the actual package (e.g. "with over 80 hrs of gameplay!")But at some point (I want to say around 98 or so) we hit a tipping point and the hours expansion have just been with shortcuts and filler ever since.

And since they feel compelled to deliver 100 hr games, but have modern major budget restrictions and lack of pricing power at market (if games I bought as Kid were adjusted for inflation today they'd probably be over 100 dollars new) I think they just take the reality TV way out and try to cheapen the content.

Just my guess, but I don't see anyone out there asking for longer games except maybe on FPS single player campaigns (and those are pretty short). I'm just waiting for Square or or Atlus or somebody to trot a 40hr RPG out and see what happens.

either way I'm completely on board with you on this, great post.

Posted by MajorMitch

@Slag: That's interesting, I guess it depends on who you're around most of the time. I know plenty of people (and I see internet chatter like this too) who claim that they want games to last "an hour per dollar" or whatever (meaning most games should last 60 hours or more), which is crazy talk to me. I think it would be interesting to see some kind of study on game length preferences, to see if there's any general consensus. More likely than not there are plenty of people on both sides of the fence.

Good point on game length being a selling point in the 90's, I definitely think it was then. You'd think we would have grow out of that by now :P

Posted by Slag

@MajorMitch:

I guess it depends on who you're around most of the time. I know plenty of people (and I see internet chatter like this too) who claim that they want games to last "an hour per dollar" or whatever (meaning most games should last 60 hours or more), which is crazy talk to me

I suspect in many cases it's posing, things people say because they feel they have to to fit in. Gamers till pretending to be caught up in the time sink culture that did used to give you cred and maybe still does in multiplayer stuff like WOW. But in single player games , who really cares? I'm with you, that's just dumb to want to drop extra hours into what is basically videogame chores and bad minigames. I play games to have fun and any game over 20 hours is already a bargain compared to Movies or most other entertainment. Not a lot things out there you can do $3 or less an hour. I'd rather pay a little more per hour and have fun, then pay less and fetch quest it up.

I think it would be interesting to see some kind of study on game length preferences, to see if there's any general consensus

yeah the thing you'd have to be careful about a study like that is whether people will say the truth. What I mean is people may say that games must be "x" length or more but in reality behave differently when it comes to purchasing. Sometimes people don't realize what they want until they have it...And consumers have been trained by game company marketing now for twenty years+ to think length=value.

I think you're right that a study would likely show a split in preference. I bet if you broke it out by age that younger players care much more about game length than older ones would be my guess.