Are AAA games too long?

Develop 2011: "Gamers are losing patience" with 10-hour-plus games, say developers, while casual games have lowered gamers' expectations.

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L.A. Noire
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Who Was There: The session was made up of a five-person panel of designers and story writers: Charles Cecil, famous for his work on Broken Sword; Adrian Hon, chief creative officer of story developer Six to Start; Alexis Kennedy, chief narrative officer at Fail Better games; Patrick O'Luanaigh, CEO of indie developer nDreams; and writer David Varela.

What They Talked About: The panel discussed the relevance of narrative-based gameplay in today's world of casual and social games. Looking at recent AAA releases L.A. Noire and Heavy Rain--both heavily story-led--they debated whether their long length was still enticing for today's gamer. "Gamers are losing patience," said Kennedy, when asked about his own experiences with Heavy Rain, "so many people don't reach the end and lose the full impact of the story." He wasn't complimentary of its narrative either, questioning the benefit of basing a game on long-form narrative such as film, resulting in a "bastardised" storyline that doesn't quite work.

The panel was positive about other aspects of the game, though, praising its unique take on the adventure genre and not relying on traditional twitch- and skill-based gameplay mechanics. As to why gamers might not want a skill-based experience, Cecil weighed in, using examples from the adventure genre to show that "the way people play games has changed dramatically." Rather than the difficult or "contrived" puzzles of games like Broken Sword, the likes of Professor Layton showed that gamers wanted straightforward puzzles with a clear route of progression.

The panel also discussed how developers can incorporate narrative into casual and social games. The consensus was on implementing micro-narratives; that is, smaller bite-size storylines that can be consumed in the five-minute chunks that casual and social gamers play. While the point that social games might not necessarily have a definite end point was raised, the panel cited soap operas as an example of how ongoing storylines could work within a game environment. This could be aided by utilising social media to directly influence narrative and by implementing role-playing elements to further engage the player.

Quote: "There are people who role-play zero percent; they're dull f***ers. The people who role-play 100 percent; they're mental." Alexis Kennedy on how role-playing can influence a player's experience of narrative.

Takeaway: The likes of social and casual games, particularly the cheap games available on mobile, have changed the expectations of gamers, the panel concluded. By gamers are paying less money, there's less need to create 10-hour-plus gaming experiences, because consumers no longer feel shortchanged. This could be particularly beneficial for self-publishing indie developers, they said, who could charge less but gain a larger percentage of sales. As for the role of storylines, the panel was less conclusive, but all agreed that there's room for more in-depth narratives than the current crop of social and casual games are currently providing.

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