How long must a game be?

These past few weeks have presented new games that share a particular quirk: <em>South Park: The Stick of Truth </em>and <em>Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes </em>are short games, and are completable in one sitting.

Longevity used to be the be-all of video games. Old Nintendo games used to crank up the difficulty of games, not for the sake of making games more hardcore or deep, but because it would make beating a game take a long time.

It&rsquo;s not hard to see the appeal. Why spend $70 or more on a product that only lasts you a few hours, when you can buy a copy of <em>Skyrim</em> or <em>World of Warcraft</em> or <em>Street Fighter IV</em> that can easily rack up more than 100 hours if you put in the time?

<em>South Park </em>is a comedy show, one that uses its half-hour to cram the crude humour and social commentary that has made the show last to this day. <em>Stick of Truth, </em>while certainly longer than a typical episode, makes sure to remember that &ldquo;brevity is the soul of wit&rdquo;.

Obsidian, most famous for their work on <em>Fallout: New Vegas,</em> could have easily sprawled the game over the town of South Park and made the game on an epic scale.

However, the game just wouldn&rsquo;t be as funny if you had to complete the two-hour main quest with side quests that could take hours in between each hilarious cut scene. The game is just long enough to be funny, and allow fans to explore the titular town that they&rsquo;ve been watching for years. And I really think you&rsquo;d overload on <em>South Park </em>after 20 hours straight.

With the indie gaming scene becoming big, I think people are becoming more receptive to a shorter game, starting to concede that, since indie games have a much lower budget, and as few as one person on a development team, a shorter length is acceptable.

Moreover, once games like <em>Limbo</em> or <em>The Stanley Parable</em> showed that you can have emotional depth and gamer fulfillment in a game whose length is dwarfed by the 20&ndash;80 hour games out there, suddenly length didn&rsquo;t matter as much.

This really only applies to the story of course. <em>South Park</em> rides high on its story, any other game with such relatively shallow RPG elements would be quickly disregarded as garbage, but as a method of delivery for the world and jokes of <em>South Park</em>, it works.

At the time of writing, <em>Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes </em>had just come out, but with reports of its short length, come promises that there is also additional content to pad out the experience. Which is a fair argument, many character action games like <em>Bayonetta </em>or <em>Metal Gear Rising </em>are fairly short, but very cinematic and encourage multiple playthroughs. It&rsquo;s a good compromise between story and game length.

Still, <em>Ground Zeroes </em>is essentially a $30+ demo for the full release later on. If it was any other series, I&rsquo;d complain, but this is the same series that consistently bundles demos with other gamers, forcing diehard fans to buy them. Here, they&rsquo;re cutting out the middle man. This idea seems distinctly Japanese too, I remember buying a copy of <em>Advent Children</em> for the demo to <em>Final Fantasy XIII.</em> I&rsquo;ll let Hideo Kojima do his weird game releases, I just hope other publishers don&rsquo;t start getting stingy with their content.

I would rather have incremental releases than a game that&rsquo;s too long for its own good. <em>Bravely Default </em>was a recent example of a game that felt padded not because it suited the game, but because they just seemed to want to make it longer. (Protip: If you actually pay attention, and do certain things in the game, you can make the game a lot shorter than it needs to be.). <em>The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword </em>suffered this problem as well, where previous areas were used over and over in an attempt to artificially lengthen the game.

Put straight, a game&rsquo;s length as a primary metric for whether the game is worth your money is starting to dissipate. It will always exist of course, having two or three shorter games with grand stories can start to seem shallow once I play my 200th(!) hour in <em>Pokemon X</em>, or continue to find new locations in <em>Skyrim</em> long after release. But a game should be as long as it needs to be, providing hours of great gameplay if it can, but not overstaying its welcome.

Of course, there are limits to what people will accept. I mean, imagine if they released the <em>Call of Duty</em> campaign in three super-short releases for $40.

Oh god, the big game publishers are totally going to that, aren&rsquo;t they?


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