Video game length criticism and discussion rages on after years of arguing and agreeing to disagree. It’s a topic that comes up every couple of years, usually brought about when people criticise a popular recent release. The Last of Us Part II inspired many discussions surrounding the gaming industry, so it isn’t surprising this old debate resurfaced. Jason Schreier set events in motion by tweeting “video games are too long”, reigniting the debate and inviting anyone with an opinion to share theirs. I am one of those people.
However, I don’t hold the belief that video games should be criticised for their length wholesale. The subject is too broad, with too many different factors to consider to have a definitive answer. Making a blanket statement like “video games are too long” completely ignores potential criticisms within a game and washes over problems within the game industry that need addressing. Problems that aren’t surface level, but are a part of video game culture as a whole. In this article, I’m going to attempt to get to the root of those problems.
Are Games Too Long?
To answer this question, we need to address a recent trend over the past generation of gaming. Certain publishers of open-world franchises obsess over the size of the game’s world. Ubisoft and Bethesda are particularly guilty of this. We’re constantly told that the next game in their famous franchise is five times as big as its predecessor, usually followed by rapturous applause. AAA publishers love to tell you this because they know certain groups of people perceive size as quality. If a game is bigger, there’s more to do and more to see.
However, this isn’t always the case. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a game I adore, yet feels like a slog at times due to its size. Fallout 76 is huge, but full of repetitive side-quests and mindless busywork. Games can be massive, but need to be full of interesting and enjoyable activities to avoid boring players. Somebody may really enjoy a game’s story, but if the gameplay is dull, that player will likely come away from that experience feeling like the game is too long. The reverse can also apply.
This leads me onto my final point. At the end of the day, video game length criticism is purely subjective. Jason Schreier might think that The Last of Us Part II is too long, but using the game to claim that “video games are too long” feels ridiculous. Someone who really enjoys the game may feel like its length is perfect or that it ends prematurely. The prevalence of live services has certainly warped the public’s perception of how long a video game should be, but whether or not a game is too long is down to an individual’s opinion.
Are Games Too Short?
On the other hand, we have games that receive criticism for being “too short”. It’s another complaint that is also too complex to dismiss with a blanket statement. Games like The Order: 1886 and Metal Gear V: Ground Zeroes were both subject to criticism upon release due to a significant lack of content. Both games are perfect examples of how games aren’t inherently “too short”, but instead showcase the stubbornness of the AAA industry.
Rarely do you see people complain about an indie game being too short. This is because the indie game market has a fair and varied pricing structure. Publishers seem to have an unwritten rule that games must be $40 or more at launch, regardless of content or length. It’s this rigid pricing that ends up seeing a lot of games criticised for a lack of content. The Order: 1886 could have been the best game ever made, but having to pay full price for a game that is only a handful of hours was always going to upset people regardless of its quality.
Indie developers are constantly releasing games that are three or four hours long, but have prices that reflects that. Whenever someone complains about a game being too short, its usually because the value they got for their money wasn’t good enough. Developers of games like Inside, Firewatch, Undertale, and Gone Home have proven that there’s a place for games that only last three or four hours. These games haven’t been forced to stick to a rigid, unforgiving pricing system and are reaping the benefits because of that.
Is There A Perfect Video Game Length?
No. Defining a game by how long it is is pointless, as the feeling is ultimately subjective. As previously stated, if someone feels like a game is too long, it’s usually due to dull gameplay or a lifeless narrative. If somebody feels like a game is too short, it’s usually because the value for money was too low. It could even come down to societal issues. How much someone’s paid and how much free time they have will no doubt have an impact on someone’s perception of the perfect length.
Since the topic is subjective, I can only provide examples of games I feel have the perfect length. Remedy Entertainment’s Control was a superbly paced game, as was Santa Monica’s God of War. A number of developers have broken free from the AAA pricing structure I mentioned earlier to provide us with shorter, well-paced experiences. Uncharted: Lost Legacy and Death of the Outsider were short, but had a lower initial price tag to reflect that. I rarely find an indie game that is too long or short because of the market’s flexible pricing.
Long story short, video game length criticism is pointless. Jason Schreier has made his opinion clear, but in the end, it’s just his opinion. Someone’s perception of length is decided by too many external factors for there to be a definitive answer, and that’s why the argument still rages and comes up every two or three years. Problems within the games industry and more societal issues all contribute towards this argument. With the announcement that the next-gen version of NBA 2K21 will have an initial launch price of $69.99, we’ll likely see a lot more debates of this nature in the future.