GDC '08: Indie devs say quality > quantity

Makers of flOw, Everyday Shooter declare the game industry's focus needs to shift away from measuring games based on play length.

SAN FRANCISCO--As Call of Duty 4 proved last year, a game doesn't need to be long to be good. However, the sheer length of games, such as Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Mass Effect, helped earn both critical accolades and financial success.

So should play length be used as a measurement of a game's overall value? Not according to a trio of leading independent game developers who spoke at the Game Developers Conference's Indie Games Summit today. Kellee Santiago from thatgamecompany (flOw), Jon Mak from Queasy Games (Everyday Shooter), and Pekko Koskinen from Finnish art-game dev Playsign bemoaned what they say is the industry's insistence on grading titles based on their overall length.

"Now games are for the most part experienced and--more importantly--measured linearly," said Santiago. "Game X is better than game Y because game X is 20 hours, while game Y is pretty good, but it's only 10 hours long. Sandbox games have a sense of increased value because they last 'forever.' An example is Katamari Damacy, which was a value at $20. The reviews for it qualified that it was a short game, but I don't think I'm alone when I say I logged more hours on Katamari Damacy than I did on God of War II, which I finished. I'm not saying God of War II is better or worse than Katamari Damacy--I really like God of War II, actually--but what I'm saying is I don't think this is an appropriate ruler anymore to measure the quality or the value of a game."

Santiago went on to discuss the pitfalls of focusing on a game's story length versus its dept. "Instead of focusing on small moment-to-moment details and more intrinsic rewards systems, we're trying to stuff all of this content in to make it long enough," she complained. "More than anything, I want linear gameplay to not be a topic of discussion because to say that something that spends more of your time is better assumes we have loads of time to get rid of--that there aren't other things we should be doing. What about the quality of the time spent on something? And how about making that the focus?"

Mak, the man behind the indie hit Everyday Shooter, says a game's long-lasting effect on a player is of more value than just straight hours logged at any one title. "It's not about how many times you replay the game. You could play it once, and that game can stick in your head for the rest of your life. To me, that counts as replay," he said.

Written By

Randolph is the managing editor of GameSpot, and needs more time to play games.

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151 comments
Jsen
Jsen

it depends on if its a single player or multiplayer based game, its rare that a game today is balanced in both if a single player game has a 10 hour story line but a huge replay value, id choose that over a longer game that i will only play once or perhaps not even finish at the same time, if theres a game with a crappy 5 hour story line but multiplayer that i could play for days on end, its still a great game ive played 1 game of morrowind for over 200 hours and its still fun, but ive only completed a fraction of the main storyline (which is said to be over 100 hours) quantity matters to a small point, but quality is what players want

AlucardWildcard
AlucardWildcard

I totally agree. Portal was 2 hours long, and that was a great game.

johnnybronc73
johnnybronc73

Game length should be determined by game play. Example a stealth game becomes boring after a while if you make it long, it's like watching a 3:00 hr. drama. While an action adventure game can be son entertaining you wont feel it's long even if its 20 hours long, as long as it has a good mix of enemies, game play and bosses. Lord of the Ring games were short but I enjoyed them. Another thing is not all of us are 20 or under years old that only worry about videogaming and eating. Some of us have job, families to spend time with so we can't be stuck forever with the same game. I played Suikoden it was 83 hrs. long, but it actually took me about a year to finish it and it's so long that when I had time to play I rather play something more fast paced and shorter. Now a days games usually have a lot of side quests or collecting stuff to get rewarded for it, this is good for hard core games who actually try to beat the game in all modes they have. But for us casual gamers being able to finish the story with out going through the hassle of finding avery little secret is enough, so that's another way to make a game shorter or longer. Game length defininitely doesn't determine its quality and shouldn't affect the scoring critics or reviewers give. Many times i have read it is very good, but it's to short, and by too short sometimes they mean 10 hrs. or so, which in my case is not too short and depending on the pace of the game might feel as an eternity.

Doctor_Jay
Doctor_Jay

What NO NO NO NO Frankly I am not spending 60 plus on a damn game thats 5 hours long think heavenly sword was great but ridiculously short NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO

jsmoke03
jsmoke03

i dont know if what they say always hold true. i would be pissed if the best game ever made was only 4 hours long

Trashcan_Man
Trashcan_Man

Addictive games can be repetitve and short like the classic arcade oldies where you never got to the end after a roll of quarters, but you were there the very next week to play the same games all over again... ...but this just makes me think about the whole WiiWare situation with 100's of homebrew and off-shoot games coming out. Too much, too fast...and there's little chance that many can be all quality. =( For every five Resident Evil games, there's a horrible rail-shooter. =P

baller72
baller72

Kazona I can agree with you there about DMC4 but I for one love the replay value in DMC4... because once you start unlocking more things and stringing together sick combos and putting styles together the gameplay lasts for me... and to tell the truth a lot of DMC games have backtracking in them... but hey I understand what ur saying

Kazona
Kazona

Unlike most people, I do agree with these developers. Too many games get filled up with useless clutter just to make it longer. I would much rather play a 10 hour game that has me amazed from beginning to end than one that's twice as long, but achieves this by adding things such as backtracking, filler quests and whatnot. Devil May Cry 4 is a good example of this: while it might be cool to play as Dante, you're basically playing re-doing all the stages you've done already, with the same bosses and everything. In my opinion those 10 extra hours is more time wasted rather than quality gained.

leezeebub
leezeebub

This really is the most retarded thing ive ever read. if a game is crap then people wont play it just because its long. call of duty 4 was great but im sure everyone would agree that is was TOO SHORT. i really am amazed that someone could be so dense when talking about an industry that they are supposed to be a part of

TooCool
TooCool

The length of a game should NOT be discounted. It's about the value for your dollar. It could have the highest "Quality" in the world and I'm still not going to pay $50 - $60 for a game I'm done with in 2 hours. If a game cost more per hour of enjoyment than I make per hour at my job... that's a problem.

especensor
especensor

i don't agree. just because a game is good doesnt mean it can be excused for being really short. the overall length of a game is still an important factor that is just as important as gameplay, graphics, sound etc.

thekidinemerica
thekidinemerica

the two are unrelated. some long games are brilliant, some aren't, some short games are brilliant, and some aren't. length in a linear sense is a pointless factor by which to judge a game. point and case; shadow of the colossus. _________________________ www.myspace.com/swedenartproductions my friend has skills.

onemileperhour
onemileperhour

if i buy a game it needs replayability otherwise it's not worth the purchase. either immense singleplayer (kotor, oblivion) or engaging multiplayer. or it could just be orange box and have every frickn thing possible

Latinbro1
Latinbro1

If i judge a game by mainly by its length I would've never bought god of war (1&2), shadow of the colossus, uncharted, and zone of the enders (1&2). These games have good story and great gameplay that justify my purchase.

Razgard4612
Razgard4612

it does really depend on what kind of game it is. Some games need a long time for story or whatever but it should be of a decent enough quality so the gamer stays into it. but the short games the dev. can spend more time on the quality(usually) so its more enjoyable but shorter. this next thing might start kinda confusing but you should get it. imagine a 50 hour game doesnt matter which genre. every hour is like one point. so it gets 50 points. the points stand for enjoyment/quality but then theres the 10 hour game. every hour is 5 points. so 50 points again. scale for points which stands for enjoyment/quality 1= Almost as cool as Aquaman 2=you play it just to finish it. it's ok 3=You like it. you play it a couple of times. 4=Stays in your head for a long time. cant wait to get back from school to play it. You replay it ALOT 5=so cool your head explodes from sheer joy then you regrow another one and keep playing yea wierd list but you get the point. if a game is long it doesnt mean it will be fun. Short games can match up to long ones just way you look at it. i would much rather play a short game that blows my head off from sheer joy rather then a crappy game that lasts forever. i could replay the short game and make it last as long or longer then the long game

FX102
FX102

It really all depends on the game, I mean RPG's are known to be long, as it allows for a detailed and fleshed out story with plenty of twists and turns (plus some side quests on the way). A good RPG I say should take at least 20 hours for a first time playthrough at a good pace. In contrast, some games can be short to complete but you'll wanna go back again. The last 5 Ace Combat games had campaign lengths averaging 5-6 hours, yet I've recorded 300 - 400 hours of play single player on them.

razu_gamer
razu_gamer

I do not, repeat, I do not want to pay £40 for a game that I will complete in 10 hours. And multiplayer will not make up for it either. Unless its an RTS game.

lotsofgunfire
lotsofgunfire

when games stop being so disappointedly short then hours to complete a game will no longer be an accurate measurement to the game's overall quality.

Canadianjunkie
Canadianjunkie

Personally, I don't care how beautiful the graphics are, how innovative the game play is, or how deep a story is. I REFUSE to pay $60-70 Cdn for a new game that's only 10-20 hours long. These are the games I wait until they drop to $20 to buy, which is usually a year or two after they are released.

barret232hxc
barret232hxc

I agree with Jon. I have played some games just once and I'll never forget them and they will always be awesome to me. I mean I work for a game development studio and I don't have too much free time to be spending 50 hours on some game. I'd much rather enjoy something that is awesome and gives me a good feeling. I played flow with my gf one evening and yeah we beat it in about 2 hours but it was a real good time and we both still talk about it. Also everyday shooter is probably one of my favorite games for the ps3. I got the ps3 mostly for the games on the psn, they are very promising and offering things the larger studios just are too scared to attempt.

Sins-of-Mosin
Sins-of-Mosin

So the industry norm is to have shorter games besides a few exceptions but now dev's are getting mad that reviewers are pointing out how short the games are? I like to use the new Medal of Honor game, Airborne. Seven hours is all it takes to beat it and get all the upgrades and thats after dieing a fair number of times. Is that game worth $50, nope but games like Oblivion are. If dev's don't like it then tough cookie.

FlashCharge
FlashCharge

Quality in all aspects of a game are important. From it player controls, music, storyline, and graphics. The length of a game should be measured on its overall quality to the game. There's a measure of length to the quality of all of the above benchmarks. Games that are remembered involve the human senses and its overall playability. Programmers have often forgot quality for a deadline. Producing good games is an art and by the reviews of many games there room for improvement.

swimbearuk
swimbearuk

The length of a game rarely makes it good. In fact some games are just too long. I've lost count of the number of games that I've played only to get bored before I reach the end. I'd rather play a shorter game like Call of Duty 4, which I've played for days on multiplayer and has a quality single player mode, than play a huge adventure which feels like I'm doing work rather than having fun. Metroid and Zelda are two such examples of games where backtracking and/or overly complex "what to do next" gameplay get in the way of what is otherwise a very engaging and quality experience. Also, many games make the gameplay more difficult as you near the end, sometimes to the point of it becoming frustrating. If you've spent 30 hours of your life trying to beat an adventure, the last thing you want is an almost impossible boss preventing you from seeing what happens at the end of the game. I prefer games that find new ways to challenge you rather than just making it harder to beat the enemies by making them stronger. Maybe I have gone slightly off topic, but it is how much fun it is to play a game that is important, rather than how long it takes to complete it. I'd rather play a 1 hour long game 100 times because it's very addictive, than play a 40 hour game once but not want to go near it again because I haven't enjoyed the last few hours.

bardkieran
bardkieran

Ummm. yeah quality is important, but if I can beat the game in one day, Im going to be mad I spent that much money on it. Of course, it depends on the game. An adventure game like Zelda or Metroid Prime had damn well take weeks out of my life in order to complete. Platformers are a different story, as of course are racing games. Actually, I take that back. Racing games need more tracks, same for snowboarding games. If theres only 10 different trails in the game, its way too short (Im looking at you 1080:Avalance!). So yes, quality is important, cause I wont sit through a crappy game for more than a half hour to an hour (if I'm feeling generous), but don't short change me on a well-made game either!

Sachiel7
Sachiel7

Look guys, I'm both and avid gamer, and an indie developer (I'm setting up an official company now to start backing our team's stuff) I have this philosophy that games should be priced $1 per hour of gameplay of the base game. My pricing will reflect that, in the most part. I think games shouldn't be reviewed upon play length per se, though I must say as a gamer, I want to know play length myself. Too often are we faced with $50 games these days that only last 8-20 hours, which I'm sorry. those titles need to be priced accordingly. I'm not saying they need to folloy my 1$/hour vision, but I think games that are less than 10 hourse need to be in the $10-20 range. Basically, as a indie dev myself, i understand where they are coming from, but I have to disagree with thier argument, not on the basis of reviews, but on the basis of pricing, because I believe play length needs to be a factor of pricing, moreso than quality alone.

vass86
vass86

it's all relative

Hvac0120
Hvac0120

Back in the good 'ol days stories in games were almost non-existent or they didn't matter. You got dropped into a 2D space and were expected to figure everything out from there. Pong didn't have much to it and it stands as one of the most recognizable video games ever and people, for some reason, enjoy playing the game. Geometry Wars Retro Evolved (XBLA) when released on Xbox360, was only 1 level that progressively got harder. Is there not as much fun to be had with that game as there is to be had with World of Warcraft? I think that there are many many elements that factor into the value of a game. Personal preference is the major factor. Sound, graphics, and length are all subjective to the overall themes of the game. They will be more important to some games then others. It's because of this that length CAN add value. However, you cannot compare games that are completely different and value one over the other based on length alone.

ringwraith58854
ringwraith58854

cocomacoco c'mon you lazy developers, that's why i haven't and i won't buy Call of duty 4, that's why i will not buy ANY shorter game than at least 10 hrs, i'm sorry, but a game's length is a BIG justification to buy it in nowadays superexpensive games era, and that's just their justification, but as consumers Must educate them, we won't pay for Short Games, puaffff, Disgusting. Hey I bought CoD4, and guess what? i have put more time into its single player than i put into the both halflife games, which were longer than 10 hours.

Angelos13
Angelos13

That's a very cheap excuse for not making long games. I mean seriously, what offers more value, a game like Oblivion where i can spend 300 hours having fun, or Call of Duty 4, where i will spend at the maximum 15 hours to finish the campaign and get all of the achievements?

Elaryad
Elaryad

For me, Syberia is my favorite adventure game and, for me, it was very short. But being short did not contradict it's quality, and it turned to be a classic in the genre, something that you would want to revisit some time. It was short because it had to be, because it took no more, and no less time, to tell the story (and to play it). I don't need loooong quality games. I need quality games, just. Oblivion and Morrowind are my favorite RPG games. They are damn long because they are, but it wasn't because of that that they became my favs. Syberia was short because I loved it, and Oblivion was short because I loved it. If we like one thing so much it's duration becomes relative. I think we don't need to rate a game based on such a relativity.

blue_hazy_basic
blue_hazy_basic

Unless a game makes me want to replay it many times why should I pay $60 + tax for a 5 hr game and the same for a 20+hr game or one with a great multiplayer? I'll rent short games and buy longer games. Quality is great, I'm all for it, but I'm not paying $10/hr for a video game.

Zguntype0
Zguntype0

Qualtity over quantity is always what is best, but you see us gamers are a greedy bunch and we want a great fairly long game. In a great game most of the time one does not want the game to end because the game is so good. which I think is why quantity is also an important factor in a game. Take God of War as an example. if there were two God of War like games that were nearly identical (would this actually happen no but go with it for a second) and both were great games but one was 5 hours longer with the price being the same and everything, which game would you much rather buy? The answer should be clear and the fact remains that when a gamer plays a great game they want it to last for as long as it can because they don't that experience to end.

Dualmask
Dualmask

Gameplay is always king. Although yes, it is certainly possible for a game to be too long...I can't remember the last post-SNES era Final Fantasy game I played through more than once. Sure, a 100-hour game that's fun from start to finish certainly earns its worth, but a short game that's always fun to play, like, say, the original Contra on NES, has infinite value, and that's a great thing too. Not many games like that come out these days...maybe games do need to focus on making the gameplay king instead of the length. I find yesterday's games like Gunstar Heroes and Rocket Knight Adventures, both games that one can beat in 3-4 hours tops, a lot more entertaining than many of today's games. But on the other hand, the cinematic quality of some titles can't be beat...I'm not a developer so I guess I can't complain too much, I just wish a happy medium could be found sometimes.

jawshoeuh
jawshoeuh

personally i like games that are a little shorter and to the point unless they are rpg style games with good character development. i found myself playing half life 2 and just wishing that it was over already... as great a game as it is, it just seemed like the sequences were dragging on and on and on with no real reward for all that time spent other than continuing the story. i don't need an fps or action game to take me 6 months to finish. i've got too little gaming time as it is. although i'll admit when i beat something like heavenly sword or assassin's creed or uncharted that doesn't have a multiplayer element to keep me coming back i'm pretty much ready to trade it in for something new.

ensabehnur
ensabehnur

Have to admit, sometimes i just want a short simple game that has a good replay value. If it costs 20,30 or 60 bucks, sometimes you jsut want a quick play. If money is a huge issue tehn wait till the price drops, or get them used, i know plenty of people who do that and keep bringing them back for a trade in. Point is its all different for every person. Its Quality at the end of the day, all the other factors usually dont matter.

puablo
puablo

The key flaw in this story is that they praise Katamari Damacy and only mention its price as an aside. The cost of games (especially now that new consoles have them priced at $59.99) is prohibitive. I won't drop that much money on any game with less than 20 hours of gameplay, period. Heavenly Sword was one of the best games I've played this generation so far, and I am glad I rented it, but annoyed that I have to tell people how it's great, but that they shouldn't buy it.

Stabby
Stabby

Of course its about quality but their example of CoD4 is odd since it had great multiplayer. Oblivion, Mass Effect and the absent mentioned Zelda: TP had quality, but the beauty part is they had length. If those games were only half their length I think the basic play is still very much good enough. I'm sick on the amount of high priced games that can be completed within a cuple of days (6-8 hours). But that doesn't mean we skip the quality of gameplay! Games with long single player modes like BioShock and Overlord proved a good purchase for, both taking 15 - 20 hours on the first playthrough... now thats a good length. AND THEN THERES STORY, which many of you will agree with.

Rect_Pola
Rect_Pola

I liked Mak's comment. I never understood the weight reviews give replay value. Particularly on story-driven games. Replay value is only effective on simpler pick-up-and-play titles like puzzles.

selbie
selbie

Who are they commenting on? The journalists or the developers??? Either way it's a fairly pessimistic outlook on gaming. There are a lot of factors that go into producing a high quality game. If any of those things are effected, it will effect the end result. You can only blame those who are solely in it for the money. The rest are just giving it their best shot.

zekere
zekere

Never forget that it's all about making money !! Why are people so exited about the Wii ? It's a big dust collector in my room !! But I'm a hardcore gamer, who loves great games which are long, have a great setting and story, beautiful graphics and give value for your hard earned money !! Not some pick up and play for five minutes with mom and dad games !! Unfortunately, that's where the money is earned today . I'm afraid if things go on like this we won't see games like Oblivion and Orange Box anymore in the future and just have to play Densha De Go 78 and Mario Party 29 instead .

evansp
evansp

I basically agree that quality is better with quality but I think length is important too. Haven't ever payed a game (like Halo 3) and got done and said "hey that was good but what the @#$$%." For instance SW KOTOR was just right in my opinion but there have been plenty of games that ended way before their time in my opinion.

NinjaMunkey01
NinjaMunkey01

Yeah but oblivion was a huge game, AND it was amazing. thats why it got GOTY. Why can games be both?

Forcecaster
Forcecaster

Yeeeeaaaajjjjhhh Mak is right! One moment, one feel, but it will be on your side on the rest of your life.

KBABZ
KBABZ

haulinsacs' argument reminds me of a Billy Connolly qoute: "When you get to my age, well, it's not like you're waiting to die, but you don't want to be messing around with your time!" I remember a good point proposed as to why Jak II was so much longer than Jak 1. First off, the world was huge, yet interesting to play through. Haven City can take 5 minutes to traverse fully, and missions are often located far off inside it from where you finished your last mission. Keeping this entertaining with the GTA vehicle theft means that it isn't a grind to get through. Meanwhile with Jak 1, you were often able to return and start the next level in under a minute unless you got lost. There's also the fact that when you do return to levels, a new item or cutscene element will unlock the second half of the level (pointing back to my previous argument). Oh, and for those wondering, I've stuck to Sony consoles so far, meaning I'm not really in a position to give Halo 3 or Gears of War as examples.

Great_Ragnarok
Great_Ragnarok

JEEZ the games are expensive as it is so the last thing we need is to buy a new game every 5 hours:lol:

raze-boi
raze-boi

That's the trend I want.