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A Timely Tale

A Timely Tale

Earlier this year there was quite the hubbub about the amount of time a game takes to complete. This was due to the short length of time it took to complete The Order:1886. The game was about 5 hours in length and with no multiplayer it didn’t take long before the internet buzz became an angry roar. Value for Money became the topic of the day and people everywhere were debating the merits of such a short game. But what about the reverse? What about a game that is too long? Is there even such a thing as a game that gives players too much content? This is the topic I would like to explore.

The reason length is on my mind is basically one game. The Witcher 3. All reports state that The Witcher 3 has in excess of 1 billion game hours (ok about 150) and that frightens me at the same time as it excites me. Let me see if I can explain. The Witcher 2 was possibly my favourite game of last gen and as such I have been eagerly awaiting the 3rd and final adventure of Geralt and co. I have been avoiding press and trailers as much as possible to keep my experience pure but when word reached me through the grapevine that it takes about 80 hours to play through the story alone I nearly fell over.

You see I want to give The Witcher 3 all of the time it deserves. I want to explore all the nooks and crannies the game offers and soak it all in but when I think of how long it is going to take me to do that I realise it probably isn’t going to happen. You see as I have grown older things have changed. Time is now at a premium in my life. Kids, Wife, Full Time work and running Player2 have all taken a huge chunk out of my gaming time. Now I have two options here. The first is I stay up later and later to get as much gaming time as possible and perhaps risk a psychotic break from lack of rest. The second is sacrifice my precious gaming time and just not play as much.

Geralt still has time to wander through the forest on a bushwalk though.
Geralt still has time to wander through the forest on a bushwalk though.

This of course leads me to wonder about how I am going to enjoy The Witcher 3 without an abundance of spare time. Will I be able to get though it at all or will it become another tragic entry in my ever growing pile of shame? I really worry that the latter is the case and I also wonder how many people are in the same boat as me. Surely there is an ever growing segment of the gaming community that has had their precious play time cut by life’s ever expanding set of responsibilities.

Another game that put me through a similar dilemma was Dragon Age: Inquisition. I managed to finish the story of the game after using some of my precious Christmas holidays get through it but I still have vast areas of that game that remain unexplored. What is worse is the fact I know in my heart that I am never going to go back and get to those unactioned tasks. It just isn’t going to happen and it hurts me to realise this. A great game that I enjoyed every moment of will forever remain unfinished due to my lack of time.

Should developers take this into consideration when creating their games? Well possibly. I am in no way saying that long games are a bad thing. In fact if you had told me pre kids that a game I was looking forward to had 150 hours of content I would have been jumping for joy. However like I mentioned earlier a lot of gamers are going to be in a similar position to myself time wise so are the creators of the games happy that there will be a large chunk of fans that won’t get to experience the game the way they intended?

"One day son all this will be yours"
“One day son all this will be yours”

The other problem I foresee with such large games is lethargy setting in. In my mind it is impossible to create 150 hours of gameplay that is constantly high quality. Take Dragon Age as an example. As much as I loved the game there was an excessive amount of filler. Fetch quests, locating collectables and long conversations take up a fair proportion of game time and it is quite easy to imagine an even better version of Inquisition that cuts this extra fluff out. I really hope that CD Projekt can prove me wrong and have every single one of those 150 hours be amazing but I really can’t see it happening.

So that leaves me thinking about my ideal game length, especially for these epic RPG’s that seem to sit at the top of my favourite games lists. For the answer to that I look to another Bioware franchise, Mass Effect. To play though each Mass Effect game, experiencing all DLC and optional missions took me about 35 hours. That means I could play all three Mass Effect games to 100% completion in the same time as it would take me to play about 80% of The Witcher 3. The 35 hours seems to be the sweet point for someone in my position. It is much easier to find enough spare afternoons and nights to get through the game and not feel like I am missing out. It is also less likely that the developers will have to resort to filler content in 35 hours as opposed to 150.

In the end though this is just another thing that may or may not be important to developers, I just felt it was important enough to waffle on for 1000 words about. What do you think? What is your ideal game time? Do you miss having spare time to game? You know how I feel about the matter now I would love to hear how you feel. Sound off in the comments below and let us know. Can a game be too long? I say yes…. What about you?

There is always time for Fem Shep
There is always time for Fem Shep

Matt Hewson

2 comments

  1. Good article Matt, and a topic I have pondered over myself in the good old Screenplay days (might have even scores me a PS3).

    I think there are a number of factors that contribute to the length of games being such a big deal. Number one is marketing – 150 hours on a box looks much better than 5. That said, I think the percentage of gamers that would actually get 150 hours out of a single play through would be in the minority. Now I trust CD Red as much as one should given their track record, but how often does the 100+ hours turn into 60 unless you walk everywhere, never fast travel, explore every nook and cranny, etc?

    There is another minority of gamers who will dedicate themselves to a single title indefinitely and spend hundreds, if not thousands of hours on a single game over many years – whether it be an MMO, FPS, RTS or open world RPG. The reason I eschew online multiplayer and MMO games in general is the time sink required to play throughly/competitively. I realized that the hours I sank into WoW robbed me of a diverse range of gaming experiences, and the subscription model is an insidious way to use perceived investment to encourage habitual play. After all, nobody likes to waste money, right? Which brings me back to the earlier point – for $79-$100, do you want 5 hours or “150” hours?

    I think however that given the increasing average age of gamers, you, myself and many others fall squarely into the majority Matt – we purchase games we will never really “finish” (i.e 100%) and play until the next big thing comes along or we feel satisfied. I’ve gotten to the point where I actively avoid certain games because of the time commitments and my schedule – I avoided DA:I because I knew I wouldn’t have the time to satisfactorily complete it for a long time, so it’s better fiscally for me to wait and pick it up for a lower price. In the meantime, I bought Murdered:Soul Suspect for $20. Say what you will about it, it gave me over a week of enjoyment without demanding excessive amounts of my time. How many games have you played where anything less than a 3-4 hour session leaves you unsatisfied? Long gone are the days of me having such chunks readily available with literally nothing better to do – priorities shift as responsibility increases. More and more we keep hearing about the concept of games ‘respecting players time’ – it’s merely a symptom of an ageing press population feeling the same pressure. It’s hard to justify such an investment that generally gives zero benefit in the grand scheme of things – I love gaming, but it’s a hobby at the end of the day, not how I shape the perception of myself. For some people though, gaming is an integral part of how the self identify and relate to the world, hence their feeling that they need to devote as much time as possible to play, sometimes to the detriment of career, family and relationships. Unethical game design doesn’t help these people either.

    Another big hurdle in all of this is FOMO – with social media affecting every facet of our life, FOMO has a major impact on people trying to avoid a big title on or near release. Again, PR and Marketing and the 24hr news cycle don’t help this, the former two having a vested interest in pushing units.

    I could keep blabbing on, but I’d rather hear some more perspectives on this topic.

  2. Definitely a sentiment I relate too as well. I find that instead of getting excited at the potential of what I can find in a 150 hour game, I’m fretting at what I’ll potentially miss because I know my play time is just gonna be heavily fractured.

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