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.

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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.

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