With the release of The Order: 1886 and the middling reviews it receives from most outlets, including this one, the tired old game length debate was thrown back into the spotlight, as people fumed and defended The Order over its relatively short length as well as a myriad of other problems with the game. The problem is whenever a game that is deemed ‘too short’ comes out, people get so hung up on the run time, that they fail to look at whether the game was worth the amount of time spent with it. Length, of course, should be taken into account when discussing a game’s worth but it should not be the sole thing audiences fume over when another sub-par, safe, triple A shooter comes out.
Take the aforementioned Order for example. As I mentioned in my review, I could forgive its short run time if it actually did anything interesting with its premise or game mechanics. It failed to capitalise on its unique setting, refused to stray out of the comfortable box of the cover based shooter and had so many dull QTEs, that it was not worth the five or six hours it took to complete. Now, when you add on top of that, the fact that the game was priced at £50, then you have an even greater problem and ultimately, a game that cannot be recommended to someone due to the fact it is simply not worth the price of admission. Time is unfortunately money and seeing as the average consumer can afford maybe one or two £50 games a month, The Order is not simply worth it. So, my problems with it are not solely with its length, but the various other factors which failed to make its short length worthwhile.
Now, this is not to say short experiences cannot be hugely enjoyable and worth the price of admission. The Wonderful 101 and Bayonetta may only take 8 or 9 hours to complete, but these games entice you back into playing with harder difficulties, challenge modes, tons of unlockables and incredibly satisfying combat systems which make you want to continue playing. Unlike the Order, you are spent as soon as the credits roll. For all its controversy about length, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes was not only priced lower than the Order, but was damn fun to play for the maybe 2 or 3 hours you spent with it. I can give Ground Zeroes a greater pass as it was only billed as a prologue and did have a lower price at launch. It was still too high a price mind you, but at least the pricing did reflect the fact that you won’t spend as much time on it as you would a full priced Metal Gear. Again, this is where the Order does not get off scott free, as it was marketed as a full length adventure, yet it came off solely as a prologue for a much larger and more developed game which has only been teased at once you plop down your £50.
As Jim Sterling remarked in his recent video on the game length debate, it does not help that most major companies refuse to move from the £50 price point for all major releases. Besides for remasters and maybe the occasional niche title, the big players still remain fixed to that magic number and seem dead set on staying there until someone else moves. Fortunately, Nintendo seems to be making this move, with Mario Party 10 and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse being priced lower than average due to their status as strictly a party game or as a short adventure, but more companies need to realise that not only is it okay to price games lower, but it may actually result in more sales in the long run, as your consumers don’t feel that they are being ripped off for being charged full price for a neutered, simply mediocre experience.
The main story may only have been 10 hours, but The Wonderful 101 was worth every hour.
However, due to the ever increasing budgets and development cycles of games, this more flexible pricing structure may be a long way off. Too many companies are going bump due to underselling their games even at a full price, so I doubt that publishers are exactly foaming at the mouth to lower the price of entry when they are already losing money. Also, there is a more subjective issue that not everyone feels the same about game length. Just how people may dispute that the Order may not be worth a 5/10 due to the fact they had an enjoyable 5 hours with it, not everyone wants a sprawling 60+ hour adventure which they may not finish or may just be a slog to complete. Personally, I’d much prefer a short experience which is tightly designed and is constantly chucking in new ideas for its run time, rather than a sprawling epic which may take 100 hours to complete, but becomes an absolute chore after the first 15. In that case, while the second example may be pound for hour worth my time, I doubt it will be as fulfilling and as memorable as the shorter game which I will return to and no doubt sing its praises.
Now, I have also heard the argument that price should not even factor into a review of a game. Movie reviewers don’t talk about if the fact that they bought a matinee ticket or premiere ticket in their criticism of a film, and book reviewers don’t really mention if the book they are discussing is a paper or hardback so why should game reviewers? Well, to me, it comes down to the factors of audience and the nature of gaming as a medium. First, most game reviewers are writing for a consumer audience, so their reviews will revolve around whether the game is worth it for a consumer. Games are still a luxury consumer item so most reviewers have to tailor their writing to fit the people they are writing to.
Furthermore, unlike film where you just go to the cinema and watch or reading where you just need a book and you, gaming requires a large amount of money just to start getting to grips with the medium. Just to get access to the entertainment, you need to already have put down cash for your PC or console, a monitor or TV, controllers, a decent Internet connection and so forth that gaming is still very much a luxury. Once the vast amount of people can easily get their hands on the technology needed just to play games, then we can start moving away from price being such a factor in reviews but at this point in time, it still bares mentioning.
So, the long and short of this whole article, is that length should not be obsessed over as much as it is now. While it should factor into a review, don’t get me wrong, it needs to be seen in conjunction with the actual gameplay and the outcome should be whether the game was a worthwhile use of the how many hours you spent playing it, rather than simply a way to fill so many hours. If we go by that model, was this feature worth the 5 to 10 minutes it took to read, or should you have spent your time watching that 4th cat video? Let us know in the comments.