Does Game Length Matter?

Editorial: GameSpot editors discuss the hot-button topic in wake of the leaked gameplay of PS4 game The Order: 1886

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Conversation surrounding the length of video games returned to the forefront this week, after a leaked gameplay video showed that upcoming PlayStation 4 game The Order: 1886 could be completed in 5 hours. As it turns out, that may not be exactly true. According to developer Ready at Dawn, the game actually clocks in at around 8-10 hours, which is pretty consistent with other shooter games.

Still, it sparked new discussion about the topic of game length. Does it matter?

Ready at Dawn has already given its side of the story. Director Dana Jan said, "Why do we feel like we have to always measure things first and foremost in terms of quantity?" You can read his full comments on the subject here.

To dive deeper into the subject, we polled a selection of GameSpot editors for their thoughts. See below for their full responses, and be sure to let us know what you think in the comments below.

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Rob Crossley, UK News Editor:

"The immediate temptation here is to ask the first question that springs to mind: Honestly now, if you're having fun, what does the runtime matter?

But those who have a problem with The Order's five-hour runthrough are not, necessarily, arguing that length is a unit of quality. They are not suggesting that 46 hours of play is inherently better than 45.

What The Order's recent controversy highlights is that we all have a minimum expectation of what a product delivers. For someone like me, who is often given free games and has less spare time, perhaps it's understandable that I wouldn't necessarily mind a $60 game that lasted an hour. For the record, I adored Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.

But for those who have breezier diaries and pay their hard-earned and honest cash for games, I wouldn't be surprised if they expected more in return on their investment. And, as much as I don't personally agree that length matters, I can see their point."

Zorine Te, Associate Editor:

"Buying games was a luxury to my impoverished younger self as a student, and even now I feel the need to justify full-Australian-priced game purchases to myself. I'm all about getting enough bang for my buck when it comes to video games--and the amount of time I spend on a game is a direct measure of that.

While the overall quality of a game is something I still value the most, the total amount of time I spend on it needs to be enough so that I don't feel like I could have better spent that money elsewhere for a longer period of enjoyment. Some of my best and prolonged gaming experiences stem from free-to-play games, which makes it even harder for me to rationalize forking out full-price for something that is short in length.

Why would I do that when I could spend the same amount of money and buy a handful of equally great games that could keep me entertained for longer? Or even invest that money back into the free-to-play games as a way of thanking the developers for my hundreds upon hundreds of hours of enjoyment?"

Justin Haywald, Senior Editor:

"For me, it doesn't matter how long a game is, as long as it respects my time. I've spent hundreds hours in World of Warcraft and Elder Scrolls, but more recently portable games just feel like they fit into my schedule better. That doesn't mean I spend less time with them; my game clock in Animal Crossing: New Leaf reads 422 hours and 17 minutes, and I don't want to think about how many hundreds of hours I've sunk into portable Monster Hunters.

But regardless of how much money goes into it, I appreciate the time that I spend playing quick Hearthstone matches just as much as I enjoy digging into the lore and world of a console game like Shadow of Mordor. My PC library is full of impulse-purchase, $5 games that I bought during ridiculous Steam sales. I want to play them someday, but a cheaper price doesn't necessarily mean I have more time to give to them. What it really comes down to, is whether or not the game treats my time valuably, and I'd rather have two amazing hours in a game that leave me wanting more then 100 forgettable ones."

Aaron Sampson, Video Editor:

"With some exceptions such as Mass Effect, the older I get as a gamer the more I want single player campaigns to show me the best they have and then wrap it up. I'd put the average ideal time at 12 hours. Multiplayer games are different. I expect a lot more content from them. I put 111 hours into Titanfall and 192 hours into Battlefield 4 before deciding I'd had my money's worth and moved on."

Alexa Ray Corriea, Editor:

"My genre of choice is Japanese role-playing game so I have no qualms sinking myself into a 40+ hour experience. I like games with a lot of meat on their bones, I'll hunt down all six legendary weapons and fight every last optional boss if I'm really enjoying myself. I love big worlds with lots to offer. But I also love small, contained stories that pack a lot of heart. I adore Telltale's episode games and Life is Strange has me hooked so far, and each episode for these is maybe somewhere between 90 minutes and two and a half hours. These smaller experiences appeal to me too.

"Game length matters in terms of what you're promising to deliver, and, of course, price point" -- Alexa Ray Corriea

Game length matters in terms of what you're promising to deliver, and, of course, price point. If you're packaging a two hour episode at $5 a pop, that seems reasonable. If I'm spending between $40 and $60, however, I'm going to be expecting something more substantial. If a game is $60 and promises me an epic action adventure and it takes me six or seven hours to complete, I would absolutely be bummed, especially since I'm one of those people that can't read many books twice since she knows what's happening already. There's a limit, I think. I played BioShock Infinite in one massive 13-hour sitting and I felt I got my money's worth. But half of that time, I'm not so sure I'd be willing to pay full price."

Kevin VanOrd, Reviews Editor:

"'Value' is such a personal matter that it defies mathematical formulas. We all wish to get the best bang for our buck, but that bang is not solely dependent on a price-to-hours ratio, particularly given how even a game's length is not a scientific constant. A single-player campaign may be only four hours long, for instance, but you may get endless joy out of a challenge mode that ranks you on global leaderboards, making 'four hours long' a poor description of how much value a game may actually offer you. On a personal level, I have never regretted spending $60 on Vanquish, a short but fantastic shooter that has provided me endless entertainment, yet I regretted spending the same amount on 2010's Medal of Honor, a longer formulaic military shooter, complete with multiplayer options, that bored me to tears. Vanquish may be the 'shorter' game, but it had greater value for me.

On the other hand, few of us are flush with cash, so we want to spend our money on games worth playing, and worth owning. I think the greatest driving factor shouldn't be how many hours we get out of each dollar we spend, but how many good hours we get from those dollars. If a game is bad, boring, or broken, then 30 hours worth of that game has less worth than a phenomenal game that clocks in at a third of the length. It's natural to want to get as much value for our money as possible, but you should stop to consider other factors beyond how long the game is."

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Eddie Makuch, News Editor:

"I wasn't surprised to see the reaction to the recent revelation that PS4 game The Order: 1886 could be completed in short order. Even if five-hour claim wasn't actually accurate, the issue of game length nevertheless thrust itself back into the headlines. It's a multi-faceted issue, with price and quality factoring into the 'entertainment-per-hour' term that so commonly gets tossed around.

Two of my favorite games of the past generation, Limbo and Brothers, were short experiences, but those were $15 games, not $60 products like The Order. And given The Order's many cinematics (some of which are playable), and the fact that it doesn't have multiplayer or a New Game+ option, it's not difficult to understand why some gamers got so up in arms about the total playtime figure.

I don't think there is a perfect formula to determine how long a game needs to be to justify its price tag. Some of my favorite games (and movies, too) of the past decade have been decidedly short. But if The Order does indeed lean on the shorter side of its contemporaries, I sure hope it packs the punch to make it all worthwhile."

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