It seems to me that games are getting shorter and shorter. Many of the games Ive played recently take me under 10 hours to beat, and that's if Im taking my time and not rushing. I remember spending weeks if not months playing one game on some of the older systems, and still having many more hours of play time. Now at the same time MMOG's have endless of hours of game play. My complaint with MMOG's is that there is no real end. You always have more quests to take, a new raid to go on, and another dungeon to explore. What happened to all the games that gave us 40-60 hours of solid game play and still had an ending? However since MMOG's are mainly PC games, and I am looking mainly at console games, we'll put them off to the side for now.
With the ever expanding capability of technology, better graphics and physics have become a standard that the mass of gamers now demand from developers. Which as a result, have driven up development time and costs. So in return, we the gamers receive these visually gorgeous games, but the majority of the time we are cheated on good story lines and character development, or we get games that take less time to beat than tetris.
Who remembers The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on the N64? An amazing game, the game took me easily a solid month to beat. The story brought you into the world, and made you care about the characters. Now lets take for instance Gears of War. A truly visually stunning game, which I don't think any one can deny. However, there was absolutely no story! Who were the locust? How long had that war been going on? These questions and more I had when I finished the game (which took my brother and me to finish in maybe 10 hours). Don't get me wrong, Gears of War was a great game, but it was so short and had little to no story. Ive heard the multi-player is good but I just cant bring myself to play it for issues I have with the controls and action responsiveness, which is just my opinion so don't flame me for it.
Developers either create these games like Gears of War which have great graphics and lack story and play time, or these games which have no story, and incorporate highly repetitive actions to unlock something new that you can use (i.e. Pokemon, Guitar Hero, etc). What makes those games so addicting? Is it the graphics? I highly doubt that, they can use 2D side-scroller methods and they still sell games. Is it the story? Well if you count ascending to become a rock star to a virtual crowd a story, you might have a problem and should get that checked out. ;)
Then what is it? I think its the little rewards you get for beating the next boss, or acing that song you love. Now you can flame Microsoft all you want, but they came up with a system of these little rewards that not only help get us all addicted to the games we love, but also add longevity to these short games: Achievements. I have to give Microsoft some props for coming up with the whole achievement system. Achievements may not be that big of a deal to a lot of gamers, but to some it's an obsession to obtain these astronomical gamer scores for their profiles. I fall in the middle of these two, where Im not obsessed with obtaining these huge scores by playing ridiculous amounts of lame games just to increase my score. But at the same time they are fun to get, and will spend a good amount of time trying to get them on the games I like.
I am the type of gamer where I like to find the little easter eggs, unlock the extra equipment, and explore the entire game (which has created a problem for me in MMOG's and open-ended games like Oblivion). But by adding these small achievements to their games, developers have added a huge margin of extra game play time with minimal development and implementation. While some of the achievements are not well thought through in some games, others are really fun to try and get and can take just as much time to get as it did to beat the game.
My feeling is, is that if we are going to be required to pay upwards of $60 for a game, I am going to want to be able to play the game for a good long time, and not just have it look pretty. I have four games for my 360, and I have beaten them, but still have enough game play time still available in each of those games to keep me occupied for the rest of the year, even if I wanted to play non stop. When it all comes down to it, its how much bang for your buck you are getting. Graphics alone do not produce a good bang, its how many hours of fun game play time there are. I know I don't want to slip into a gaming world of virtual reality where I hate every thing but the stunning lifelike graphics. It's about fun not graphics, and lets hope the industry keeps it that way.