Game Length Matters, But Why?

With The Order: 1886 finally in gamers’ hands, it’s become a magnet for controversy over running time. Really, it’s not a new discussion. We had the same argument back when Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes launched, and countless times before that. But I want to set the record straight and offer the best possible answer I can possibly give to the question of game length. Does a game’s length matter? Yes, but not in a “short vs. long” way.

I personally don’t like long games. Unless it’s something built for exploration like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or Just Cause 2, a game that goes on for more than a dozen hours will start to drag on. A solid ten or so hours is usually a happy medium for me: long enough that I haven’t wasted my money or my time. But games cost upwards of $70 now, which is too much to ask for five or so hours of game time without any extraneous modes or options. The number one question a gamer asks when buying a game is this: will I be getting my money’s worth?

Skyrim

Now, this question doesn’t mean that there’s one true method of worth in a game. A game that lasts five hours with pitch-perfect pacing and a ton memorable moments can be worth as much as a 50 hour game with slower pacing and fewer high points. Everyone has their own definition – some like the seemingly endless world of Skyrim, others (like myself) find the clear-cut conciseness of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance to be more enjoyable. This definitely came to mind when I reviewed the console version of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, a notoriously short game that nonetheless manages to feel wholly satisfying. Sure, you can rush through and complete the campaign in an hour, but the best parts are the deviations, like interrogating enemies for side missions.

But as I said in my review, the game’s short length isn’t worth overlooking. A short game should be noted, or should I say, an incomplete game should be noted. That’s where I feel the length debate starts to fall apart. A game needs to feel complete in order to justify its length – whatever the length may be. Bloated games are just as unhealthy as emaciated ones – you’re not going to enjoy 40 hours with something awful any more than you will four. On the other hand, we have a duty to tell you what games are good and thus worth spending your money on. Game length is important to many of you, and the last thing we want is to give you buyer’s remorse. But as I said, longer play times don’t improve bad games, so why should shorter times detract from good ones?

ground zeroes

We’re left with a conundrum: does length matter? My answer is the same: yes, it does, but not in a “short vs. long” way. Length is less a singular barometer of quality and more a fluctuating scale that changes with every game. For every extensive and feature-rich game like Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, there’s one that pads itself with pointless and unappealing side-quests. For every short, enjoyable game like Ground Zeroes, there’s something like Back to Bed that spends a few hours going nowhere. If a game is able to make every second of a five hour run time count to its fullest, that’s worth a hell of a lot – and chances are good that you’ll be able to replay it. If a game can stay fun for a hundred hours, that’s equally commendable. It’s not the amount of time that matters, but how it’s used.