On Game Length: The Motion in the Ocean

 Sometimes shorter is better.

Sometimes shorter is better.


Steven Ormosi


The Order: 1886 was the catalyst for our first podcast, but it certainly wasn’t the first time I’ve heard the argument. Does the length of a game impact its value? Or is it what is packed in – the gameplay, the narrative, the art, the soundtrack -- that ultimately defines what that game is worth? Of course, it’s a tough question, and if you read reviews about any mass media, it’s one that you’ll hear repeated over and over again.

Let me preface this by saying there’s probably not a set in stone answer for this. Honestly, we have a (semi) free market, and if the game, or movie, or book, gets bought and makes money, it is worth the cover price. Right? How can you say something is worth less than the profit it garners? Well, it’s a free country. I s’pose you can say anything your little heart desires, but that doesn’t make it true. Contrary-wise, it seems that often, in the video game industry, it’s a disingenuous stab at a product that hasn’t even been played yet based on some reviewer’s full sprint speed run to finish the game and review it before it comes out.

Now, we all love to lock ourselves in our rooms for days and emerge on the ninety-fourth hour with greasy skin and hair, asking everyone we see for a newspaper just so we can see the date. But, listen, newspapers are a dying medium so you've got to break yourself of that habit. And there are other metrics to be brought to bear in this argument. Ones that actually affect your experience while you’re inside the gaming bubble, and not how soon you’ll have to leave it or how many showers you’ll have to take to wash that bubble guck off.

I don’t expect developers and studios will stop producing games that take massive amounts of resources to produce in service of pushing the limits of their hardware. And in that vein, I don’t expect that we’ll see any dearth of short games that expend a large portion of their budget on some form of quality (be it graphic, creative, or otherwise) instead of length. And I think that’s, if not Charles Foster Kane slow-standing-clap applause-worthy, at least quietly laudable.

If my childhood is any indication, it’s simply the fact that you might not get another one for a while and you need to get enough playtime out of it to feel satisfied.

As far as The Order went, I didn’t play it, so I can’t speak to the game play. Many sources have called it mediocre. Now that is a decent criticism levied against a game. I’ve also heard the story wasn’t great. Yet another way to strike hard at the heart of a subpar game. But to say it was too short? No. I say, if you’ve played it, the only reason you thought it was too short was because it wasn’t good enough to make you forget that fact.

That’s where we should be coming from. And if we embrace that headspace, being too short is usually a good thing. It’s how I felt the first time I played Metal Gear Solid. It’s how I felt when I played the single player campaign of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (the first one). Hell, it’s how I felt when I played Final Fantasy VII, and I logged about 90+ hours on that beautiful monstrosity.

And on the flip side, playing a bad game, no matter how short, feels like it’s a never-ending slog through Andy Dufresne’s sewer drain. Right now, I’m playing Life is Strange and for the life of me, I don’t understand why so many people seem to love it. The clunky controls, stilted dialogue, and extreme amounts of exposition are driving me up a goddamn wall. I’m not even sure I’m going to be able to finish episode one.

But as I said at the beginning, there isn’t a right answer to this. Don’t let me stop you from not buying games because they’re too short for you. Hell, there are myriad reasons why a short game just isn’t in your wheelhouse. If my childhood is any indication, it’s simply the fact that you might not get another one for a while and you need to get enough playtime out of it to feel satisfied. That’s fine as long as you’re willing to take the chance that you might let a gem slip past you, if only because you weren’t willing to pony up for a piece of art (because that’s what games will always be to me) that wasn’t big enough for you.

There will always be Skyrims in the world. There will always be GTAs and Fallouts. Find them and prosper, I say. I will still be here, playing any games that explore their space well, no matter how small. And I surely expect that others like me will be here alongside, enjoying the fruits of some game developer’s hard labor, even if it only takes us a day.

Scott Thurlow

As far beyond monsters as they are beyond you.