Awhile back I wrote a post talking about how the length of a game doesn’t affect how good it is. I talked about how a longer game isn’t inherently better than a shorter one and vice versa. However, I feel like I didn’t go into enough detail about how to use length to make a game that much better. So I decided to write two posts this time! One focusing on short games and another on long ones so I can give both the time they deserve and hopefully explain my thoughts a bit more clearly. So let’s start with short games, and how making a game short can really make it that much better.
I love a lot of really long games. Games like Yakuza or Persona that can take upwards of 60 to 100 hours to complete. But there are also plenty of times where I just want to enjoy a more bite sized experience. A game that knows what it wants to be, doesn’t waste any time, and ends before anything begins to drag. But there is a very thin line between a game being short and sweet, and over too quickly making you feel like you wasted money on the purchase!
Let’s be honest, most games aren’t cheap. Games tend to be $60-$70 nowadays so feeling like you got your monies worth from a purchase is really important a lot of the time. But a longer game doesn’t mean a better game. In fact, a bloated boring slog of a game can feel like a bigger waste of money than one that was just short! If you want people to feel like they are spending their money wisely by buying your game, you have to focus more on making the game good instead of just longer. Something you’d think would be a no brainer but given how many games still have needless padding to stretch out the length, some people clearly aren’t getting the message.
There are a lot of game genres can actually benefit from a shorter length. Horror games always spring to mind for me as things tend to become a lot less scary the longer you are exposed to them. This is often times why some horror games, like Resident Evil, take a more action focused approach when you are nearing the end. At that point you should not only be use to the kinds of scares the game will throw at you but also be more than well equipped to deal with anything! A good horror game knows to end things before the scares get too tired and stale. Games like Silent Hill, Resident Evil, and Fatal Frame aren’t usually longer than 10 hours or so. And in the case of Resident Evil and Silent Hill especially, a lot of that time comes from figuring out puzzles and what to do next. Those 10 hours will be cut down by a ton with repeat playthroughs. Do note that this mostly applies to more “pure” horror games. More action focused horror games, like Resident Evil 4 or Dead Space, tend to be a bit longer as they can rely more on their action to carry the game. But even action games need to watch just how long they go on for as they too benefit quite a bit from a shorter length!
Similar to horror games, action games really are best when they don’t over stay their welcome. It is really easy to have an awesome action game that is a ton of fun to cross the line into becoming a slog to finish. The moment things start getting too repetitive and nothing new is being introduced is the moment most players will start to notice certain flaws in the game or feel like the game is just adding padding for no other reason then to extend the length.
Metal Gear Rising is a perfect example of how to use your action game’s length just right. My first playthrough of the game was only about 5 hours long. It’s something I’ll always remember because, despite how short it was, I had an absolute blast from start to finish! I ended up realizing that the short length only helped the game as I never got bored or tired of playing it. The only time it gets close to that would probably be the game’s poorly implemented stealth sections, but beyond those Metal Gear Rising is a fast paced, heart racing adventure that never stops until it’s over. The game felt so perfectly paced that when thinking back on it, I couldn’t think of anything I’d want to be added to it as even I could see that adding too much more would take away from the overall experience. Rather than thinking about how the game was only 5 hours long, I was left thinking about just how fun those 5 hours were. And that’s what developers really need to strive for when it comes to making sure players feel like they are spending their money wisely buying their game and aren’t left with a sense of disappointment when they are done. If a game is fun, no matter how long it is, that is what players will remember. This doesn’t apply to everyone, of course, but most players just want a good experience rather than a specifically long one. Some people might feel like the amount of money they spend should be connected to how long they play, but for most players, a good experience, no matter how long, will be worth the money.
If you really want to give a game more bang for your buck without compromising the length though, having a game be replayable in someway is always a good way to go about this. Action games generally have an easier time of this than horror games but both can be very replayable. Games like Devil May Cry not only have multiple difficulties to play through but wanting to get a high style rank on each level is another great driving factor to have a player come back and play some more. And with a horror game like Silent Hill, having multiple endings is another great way to get a player to have multiple playthroughs. Horror games will generally be less scary on repeat playthroughs but giving the player some extra goodies, like a new weapon or outfit, that can spicy up a second playthrough will go a long way! So while a game could technically only be 10 hours, with multiple playthroughs you really extend that time by quite a bit without having to force any padding in to make that first playthrough more of a slog than it needs to be just to extend that game time.
Another way to go about extending the time a player will spend with your game without extending the game itself is to make the game rather difficult. If a player gets stuck somewhere they will obviously be spending more time getting unstuck than if they got through it on their first time. But this can cause a lot of frustration if a player gets stuck for a reason they don’t feel is justified so that isn’t always the best approach. But that’s honestly a topic for another time!
Often times developers believe that a long game is needed to justify the price of the game or leave a lasting impact. With so many good games coming out every day, it can be hard for a game to stand out and not get lost in the ocean of new releases. But trying to get people to keep playing your game by adding needless padding and back tracking and other time wasting methods is just doing the opposite. While your game will be longer it will also drive more people away if they get bored while playing. Aiming for a tight experience that only includes what is necessary is the best way to go to make sure players not only stay with the game from start to finish, but also come out with a positive experience! So don’t be afraid to have a game be short, just like how players shouldn’t be afraid to give a short game a try. A game’s length shouldn’t determine how much money you are willing to spend on it or determine your enjoyment of it. Because sometimes the shortest games can honestly be the sweetest!
But those are just my thoughts! What are some of yours? Do you prefer short games over long ones? Are there any particularly short games you really enjoy? I’d love to hear your thoughts so don’t be shy!
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