Will Games Keep Getting Shorter?
This is a common complaint amongst gamers today, but I want to clarify a few things before I present my theory: firstly, video games are absolutely not shorter than they used to be; in the early days of this industry, games on systems like the NES weren't long. They just seemed long because they were often so freakin' difficult; if you simply played through them as we would today, they wouldn't last more than a few hours. Just look at one of the iconic titles; the original Super Mario Bros. could easily be beaten in no time at all (check YouTube for silly fast runs). Secondly, I don't believe in arbitrarily making games longer simply for the sake of expanding the play time. Just have the length match your vision; if the pacing is right and the game rules, I really don't care how long it is. None of us should.
2007's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is a perfect example. The single-player campaign could be completed in only 4-6 hours, and while the online multiplayer represented the title's primary appeal, people were a little miffed over that campaign. Well, I suppose it may not correlate well to the $60 price tag, but who's going to deny the bad-assery of that campaign? And if God of War III only takes 8-12 hours (depending on gamer skill and what have you), so what? The game is guaranteed to rock the house. If you want to get mathematical about it, a Blu-Ray movie will run you $25 or $30, which is half the price of a game...but the movie is likely around 2 hours and I can pretty much guarantee that the game will take longer than 4 hours, regardless of the title in question. So it's not really about money. You always have to do a lil' compare-and-contrast session when you want to complain about the price of something; people don't do this often enough, in my opinion.
However, here's the deal- as the gaming population continues to age, it almost seems inevitable that interactive productions will become shorter. Why? Simple. Adults just don't have as much time as they had in high school or college, and as most anyone in their 20s and 30s will tell you, they don't have the time for long and involved games, anymore. I'm not necessarily in that group (well, I am at certain times of the year), but I certainly understand the sentiment. We really don't have as much time, and gaming may have to adapt to the fact that even the hardcore fans don't have a lot of time to burn anymore. There's a reason why television dramas are an hour and movies aren't much longer than two hours; the mass consuming public needs bite-size pieces of entertainment. I used to adore the 40-60-hour RPGs and while I still want to play them, I just can't all the time. I'll make time for a few of them ('cough' FFXIII 'cough'), but for the most part, I just want to play games I'll know I can complete considering my schedule.
And I'm hardly the only one. Therefore, with the ever-rising average age of a gamer in this country, I think it's only a matter of time before you start seeing games shrink in length. Besides, we all know the production costs of huge blockbuster titles are starting to skyrocket and publishers really have to clean up in order to make such projects profitable. Shorter games will benefit everyone, in some capacity. Yeah, I know; all you dudes between the ages of 12 and 20 are all screaming, "no, no, no!!!" Well, no offense, but that's 'cuz you have nothing to do. I know; I was that age once, too. But things change, and if we don't want to give up gaming, we gotta make time for it. Hence, my theory...
7/26/2009 Ben Dutka