Game Length: Does Size Matter?

Red Dead Redemption Bonnie

For some reason, game length has become an issue that people have really started talking about only in the last few years. I’m sure there are a variety of factors for this, so it’s not necessarily an easy thing to dissect. Maybe people have only really started noticing how long games are because they’ve gotten more expensive? Or perhaps people are only more aware of it in this hyper-informational age where we build hype and wait through long development cycles, so we expect more hands-on playtime? Really, it’s hard to be sure.

There was an interesting article about the very topic of game length the other day on GamesRadar, discussing the issue of how long is too long when it comes to video games. The point that the author makes, and one that I think totally hits the nail on the head, is that it all comes down to pacing. If a game is paced well, its shortness or length doesn’t feel as such because the pacing and the experience itself was satisfying.

For instance, Red Dead Redemption, while a fantastic game, has a few pace issues around Mexico (and some would say towards the end of the game). By contrast, Limbo or Portal are only about 3-4 hours long, but don’t feel short because of how well the creators balanced the progression. One of my only complaints about Arkham Asylum is that it’s too short, but I think it might be that the game’s final act wraps up almost too quickly, with pacing that is erratic at best, which didn’t quite hit on all the right cylinders as it winded down.

Anyway, I think it’s an interesting topic, and one that I’m curious to hear your thoughts on. Is there a such thing as a perfect game length, or does it differ from game to game? Can games be too long? What games do you feel have pacing issues? Go!

Source – GamesRadar

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I write about samurai girls and space marines. Writer for Smooth Few Films. Rooster Teeth Freelancer. Author of Red vs. Blue, The Ultimate Fan Guide, out NOW!

15 thoughts on “Game Length: Does Size Matter?”

  1. I don’t know about anyone else but I absolutely love extremely long games. Hard to think of any good examples (return to castle wolfestein was an all time favorite at this point, it just kept going and going and going). I didn’t like GTA IV though, sandbox games aren’t good enough to feel like you’re actually going through something epic.

  2. I totally agree with the pacing part. Red Dead’s had a few nit picks here and there (Like the West Dickens and Sid parts, as well as a few in Mexico). However I felt MW2’s pacing was great, but I still felt ripped off when it ended 6 hours in. Both Limbo and Portal get away with being so short because they are downloadable games for 15-20 bucks, whereas the main games in question are all 60 dollar titles. Great pacing goes a long way, but if the game is too short it is too short, no matter how well paced. But if a game is long and not well paced (The Witcher is a shining example of this, I kept playing for hours just hoping for it to hit a stride, but never did) you lose interest. So this is something that devs have a hard time getting just right, but when they do, you’ll never see a complaint about whether the game was 10 hours or 60.

  3. In my opinion, there is no such thing as too long or too short a game. A game that has good pacing and a good story or is able to captiviate its audience is a good game such as Limbo. It may seem short however it is very good at captiviating its audience. Even long games that know how to show a good story line or make gameplay intresting such as Starcraft 2. So the question I think goes back to what makes a good game good. So no such thing as perfect game length.
    One game I felt that had an enormous pacing problem was Halo 3 Odst. Its gameplay was quite short for such a pricetag. Plus the Firefight in gameplay was almost always the same. There was no variation. Plus the story was not properly written. It felt more fit for a Hollywood movie( HEY that’s an Idea) Weird script for a game. But I wouldn’t critizie as most horrible game. Sorry for wandering off.

  4. At first, I think that size does matter. Imagine if you’d spend 60 bucks, or 120 bucks if we convert my currency to USD, for a game that is short, it WOULD BE A RIP OFF.

    But then again, both of the episodes of HL2 were short, Portal was short. Yet, all great games with a lot of replay value. There is no point going through a long game that sucks. I didn’t like MW2, not because the sp was short, but because it sucked.

  5. I agree that a game needs good pacing, and it can make a long game feel erratic or drawn-out and make a short game feel like a tease. Overall, I would prefer games to have more content because they are more expensive, but yeah sometimes a game could become too long.
    While I’d like to see more Fallout 3s and Halo Reaches (since Reach has Campaign, Firefight, Matchmaking with a bunch of modes, Forge, and Theater and File Sharing, ALL with Xbox LIVE support [including Campaign), I can’t blame a game like Call of Duty 4 for being shorter because CoD4 had a well-paced campaign and robust multiplayer. I suppose multiplayer can really make the difference in whether a game is “short” or “long”, but CoD4 is like an average length, while Fallout 3 is very long.

    Sorry, I kinda just rambled.
    tl;dnr version: I like length in games, but a short yet well-made game is still great because the content within that short time was top-notch and the ultimate experience for that game.

  6. It is odd that this has become such an issue seeing as how we used to pay $50 for games in the 8 and 16 bit era that could be beaten in less than an hour or so if you knew what you were doing. We talk a lot about how expensive games are, but prices for new games have hovered around $50-$60 for 20 years.

    Perhaps the counter argument would be that those games were more difficult and required a lot of repetition to develop the skills (or memorization) needed to get through the game.

    Modern games really aren’t built this way. They’re incredibly narrative driven and somewhere along the line game design shifted to emphasis the sense of progression via checkpoints and savegames.

    Oddly, I don’t think that modern games have the same self life as older titles because of this. I don’t know how many hours I sank into old Genesis games like Strider and Streets of Rage, but those were games that I kept playing after I beat them. On the other hand, I don’t see myself ever playing through something like God of War again, even though it’s an amazing game.

    Perhaps I played those games more when I was young because I couldn’t afford to run out and buy more games all the time, but I think there’s more to it than that. There has to be a reason I’ve played through a game like the PSN version of Afterburner Climax or banged my head against the nigh impenetrable wall of Soldner-X several times rather that chip away at something longer like Final Fantasy XIII or Oblivion.

    Afterburner Climax is a good example, actually. That game cost me ten bucks, but I would have happily paid three or four times that price for the amount of enjoyment I’ve gotten out of it.

  7. I enjoy longer games more than the shorter ones, but sometimes games that don’t take as long to beat are still pretty fun.

  8. Like a show or sitcom, a game has to be balanced in order to succeed. I personally love when games aren’t too short.

    By the way, I love the bigger size picture for this post, it was more attention grabbing. I think you guys should do this more.

  9. Portal and Arkham were both perfect lengths. The second I started to get tired of it, it ended. Well done.

    Same for Resident Evil 4.

  10. My first (and only) Fallout 3 playthrough took me 55 hours. That was perfect for an RPG. RPGs need to be massive.

    Of course, smaller games like Portal have their place and are most definitely good.

    The big problem with gameplay length is most prevalent in shooters. Your average shooter is what? 5-7 hours? That’s just too short. A shooter needs a long campaign that really propels the plot into deeper levels.

    Basically, I think there is no limit for game length, but games CAN be too short.

  11. I agree with everything you said Eddy. It really is about pace.

    I f’d myself over with Assassin’s creed II. I don’t wanna spoil anything here about the ending… But basically, I bought the 2 expansions that came with it on steam when pre-ordering… But at the end of the game, it doesn’t warn you that you’re entering into the extra things… So I thought the game was over.. twice.. before the real ending (that was moved til after you play the expansions) was over, so the pacing felt all messed up lol.

  12. I kind of like shooters to be short. That was my big criticism about Bioshock, it just drags horribly for the last 3-4 hours. I kept getting to a new area and hoping that it was the end only to be greeted by an immense map that would require all sorts of backtracking.

    Shooters just don’t give me a fulfilling sense of progression in terms of gameplay. I’m fine sitting down to play Metroid Prime for hours or dump 90+ hours into Fallout 3 because the gameplay and experience change as you progress.

    The original Halo might be an exception to this for me. I don’t recall how long the single player campaign was, but it did a masterful job of varying the gameplay in ways that didn’t feel totally contrived.

  13. Kane and lynch 2 was such a great experience except that it ended ubruptly for me and I was almost sure I’d reached the credits on accident. The game itself was so much fun but just way too short, and unfortunatly that’s how I will remember it

  14. The length of a game is a tricky topic, as the length so much determined by the story of the game. And there is a difference between a game feeling too short because it’s so much fun to play and you being rushed through the story. A game that feels short because you just want more, might not be so awesome if the story was “artificially” lengthened. For example the Force Unleashed is a short game and they had added length by adding more twist s to the story, we would have people saying “Oh i liked the story a lot except for the stupid X twist at the end”.

    As for FPS games length of the single player is trickier to determine since usually the story is just there to give you a reason to shoot at the enemies, and the developers assume that you get “unlimited” length from the multi-player modes.

    I believe that the right length of a game determined by how long it takes for them to tell the story with the chosen game genre/mechanic without rushing or slowing the pace to much.

    Just my thoughts on the subject…

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