Gameplay Time: How Much Is Too Much?

When it comes to gameplay hours, are some video games too long to beat?

When I spend money on a game — especially when I’m investing $60 for a new one — I play the game to death. Even the used ones that take 20+ hours like Dragon Age: Origins I play two or three times in a row before buying and playing a new game.

And how many dragons are too many? Here, the remains of yet another dragon fight on the way home in Winterhold…

But this CNN article from 2011 states the startling statistic that as little as 10% of players actually beat a game. (I’m not sure I really buy that, but maybe…?) The article cites aging gamers (busy with careers and families), short attention spans, the popularity of multiplayer games and an increasing number of available games as possible reasons. The solution it suggests? Shorter games.

Personally, I dislike this idea. Shorter games means less bang for your buck, and possibly much less depth — my favorite thing about RPGs. Maybe RPGs will always be longer by nature, due to delving into a story with characters and giving the player a chance to develop his or her character.

Or maybe not. When Diablo 3 came out, people complained that they could beat the game in fewer than 10 hours and accused Blizzard of getting lazy. But maybe that’s the new trend. And maybe it’s more than a trend. I’m curious about vintage games, as I haven’t gotten into them yet. Are they much longer, or was there a lengthy game trend somewhere in the middle of gaming history…?

Whatever the case, I was surprised when the article stated that 30 hours is a long game, since I appreciate 30+ hours for most games and have heard people get excited about games that have upwards of 100 hours of gameplay (Final Fantasy series, Red Dead Redemption, Fallout, Elder Scrolls: Skyrim). When it comes to game length, I’ve always heard nothing but praise for more gameplay hours.

Kicking bad guys around this city could take Batman 40 hours — a worthy investment.

I suppose if games are going to get shorter, replay value is vital. I love games that are 20+ hours but still have lots of replay value (Mass Effect series) — and with that in mind, shorter games had better just ooze replay value. (Uncharted 3 is an example of how not to do it, IMO: It’s a blast the first time around but offers very few bonuses for single-player round two — and it can be beat in about 10 hours.) For many of the short games, multiplayer action extends the game time, but I can’t comment on that as I haven’t gotten into MP yet. Even so, I hate to think that people who exclusively play SP are at a disadvantage.

In fact, the best direction for linear RPGs to head in the future seems to be shorter games with lots of room for character development and choices that affect the game’s outcome. I prefer that idea to adding extra places to explore for the sake of more content and combat (and level grinding), though games like L.A. Noire and Batman: Arkham City are fun partly because it’s a blast to explore more of the world each time you play. And I have to argue that games should really be more than 10 hours, since I can easily sit down and play a game for three to four hours straight — that’s conservative to some gamers — and a game hardly feels worth the money if I can beat it in two sessions.

Of course, trading in games for new ones is a smart idea to save money — especially for short games that are a blast to play just once through — but I’m weird in that respect. I like having a shelf full of games I’ve played and loved, and it’s hard for me to part with them.

— Ashley

9 thoughts on “Gameplay Time: How Much Is Too Much?”

  1. I read the CNN article you included in your post. I have to admit, I haven’t gamed for as long as some of my other friends. I’m a late bloomer when it comes to games. But now that I’ve become more of a full-fledged gamer, I noticed the dilemma in accumulating so many games but not coming anywhere close to finishing them. I know I’m guilty of short-attention spans, wanting to play a new game I just bought immediately (or receive as a gift), or not having enough time to play because of work or trying to have a life outside of gaming. I think my number one reason for not finishing a game or forgetting about it is being stuck on a boss fight. I really try hard to finish the game I currently play. I already feel guilty when I don’t see a game to the end. I’m the kind of person who prefers to see something from start to finish. I think the only time I ever managed to finish at least one playthrough of a game are the Bioware games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect series. The characters and stories really suck you in, and the hard part is putting it down.

    Would I prefer shorter games? I think I would want to spend my money on a well developed game with great characters, story, and gameplay. Like you, I don’t think it’s worth the money to buy a game where I know I just won’t pick it up and play it again. Especially if there is no incentive to play again. I love RPGs for this reason too. I also think there is such a thing as too much freedom in a game. I’m probably one of the few who isn’t on the Skyrim bandwagon. To know you can spend several years playing that game and never really truly finish it…it’s overwhelming. The size of the worlds like in Mass Effect and Dragon Age are manageable for me. I want to be able to freely explore, but also get the sense I’ve managed to finish everything there is to do in a game. At the end of the day, I hope developers don’t decide to make all games much shorter. The focus should always be on making a great game people want to play, regardless of the length.

    Sorry about my long comment. I got carried away!

    1. Hi Simpleek, great comment. I’m like that with the BioWare games too… it’s hard to put them down. If those games were shorter, I would still buy them, so you’re right, content is most important. Then again, there are some short games that I love (like Uncharted 3) that would be even better if they were longer, IMO, and I sometimes put off buying short games because I’d rather spend money on longer ones!

      I also agree with you about Skyrim, etc. I prefer “manageable” worlds like you said. There’s a real satisfaction that comes from linear games… I guess it’s closure. And yeah, you’re right that some games are actually TOO long, to the point of not being able to finish them. I’m also a late bloomer when it comes to gaming and I’m getting to that stage too, of having unfinished (and unopened) games on my shelf!

  2. If I know a game is short, I need some sort of confirmation that it’s worth my time. Not saying that all short games are bad, I just don’t feel like I got my 60 bucks worth with a game I can burn through in 5-6 hours. That’s the tricky part though, finding that happy medium. With all that said, I do agree that games with great stories, characters, and great mechanics will always win out of how long a game is.

  3. I agree. The last time I spent more than 30 hours playing a game was with Final Fantasy X. I loved the game to death but that was back when I was ten years old! I mean, it’s awfully hard to balance college life and courses as it is so 100 hours isn’t something I’m really looking for ya know?

  4. Thanks for the great points, Gamercrash and Tsunamiavenger. That’s so true — games can definitely be way too long. I like lots of content — side quests, really — but the main storyline still has to feel manageable. Really, the never-gonna-end sandbox style games are a whole other story… With linear RPGs, that’s a great point about needing a game to be worth the money (more hours) yet not so many hours that it seems impossible to finish it.

  5. I think it all depends on your perception of what completing a game intels. For me, its the satisfaction of concluding a very absorbing story, rather than collecting all the trinkets and trophies throughout. Attempting to complete a game such as Skyrim is not only challenging and rewarding, but also exceedingly daunting, and a needless pressure that soon consumes you, meaning that you almost forget to enjoy the experiance.

    An interesting question posed here, and very well conveyed.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Karl. That’s very true — it’s about concluding a story. I agree about games like Skyrim… I played it like crazy for a while and loved it, but I feel a bit sad looking at it now, as it sits on my shelf unfinished. Seeing that long queue of unfinished quests made me whiz through quests without really enjoying them, as you mentioned. Finally, the list felt more like a list of chores than a list of adventures, so I stopped playing. Closure is very important in RPGs, I think.

      1. A conclusion in any game is hugely important for me, without it all my tribulations I overcame during my journey are rendered inconsequential. If I hadn’t witnessed Nate, Elana and Sully walk off into the figurative susnset, I would have felt cheated. A game can be packed full of various quests, quntities of DLC, but without a gripping story to consuming me, then its destined fail at engaging my concentration.

  6. I’ll buy a short game if it’s fun and has lots of replay value (Super Mario Bros., anyone?). I appreciate a game that gives me my money’s worth, but if it’s long it HAS to be good. If I can buy an experimental game for $1 on Xbox Live Indie Games, I might do it, and I won’t be horribly disappointed if it sucks. On the other hand, if I pay $60 for a long game that ends up being horrible, it pisses me off. It just means more time with something I don’t like.

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