Why aren’t video games satisfying?

Why can't video games give me a powerful, high-density experience, so that after 3 hours I am satisfied, I feel like I have had enough? Wouldn't that be cool?

A movie can give you a satisfying experience in 2 hours.

A painting or a sculpture can give you a satisfying experience in 10 minutes.

A song can give you a satisfying experience in 3 minutes.

What is it about certain kinds of linear-experience games that makes players feel they need to play them for hours upon hours in order to accrue a satisfying experience? If it really takes that long, doesn't that mean the medium is somehow deficient in important ways?

Gamers seem to praise games for being addicting, but doesn't that feel a bit like Stockholm syndrome? If you spend 20 hours playing a game, but the good parts could have been condensed into 3, then didn't you just waste 17 hours?

If you waste 17 hours a month for the rest of your life, what is the cost of that, socially, quality-of-life-wise, economically, or however else you want to measure?

I am not saying that all games should be short. Certainly there's a place for long-form games, just as there's a place for long-form TV shows like Deadwood or Lost. But if we lived in a world where all cinema had to be the length of Lost, and films like Inception were criticized by cinema fans, and given lower scores in reviews and such, for being too short... wouldn't that be perverse? Certainly the people in that world would be ignoring a big chunk of the potential of that medium, for arbitrary and weird reasons.

This post is part of an industry-wide commentary by indie developers on the subject of short games. Other participants:

Ron Carmel of 2DBoy

Chris DeLeon

Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Eye Games

Matt Gilgenbach of 24 Caret Games

Michael Todd
Eitan Glinert of Fire Hose Games

Cliff Harris of Positech Games

Chris Hecker of Spy Party

Scott Macmillan of Macguffin Games

Noel Llopis

Peter Jones of Retro Affect

Lau Korsgaard

Martin Pichlmair of Broken Rules

Greg Wohlwend of Intution Games

Jeffrey Rosen of Wolfire

Steve Swink


  1. It’s a very valid point. Some of my favourite games (Half-Life 2: Episode 1, Portal, Max Payne 2, and FEAR) have been very dense, relatively short experiences (although FEAR could have done with being a couple of hours shorter).

    Racing and simulation games tend to be very long on content, but the individual activities (races etc) are generally short, and it’s those bursts of activity that are the memorable parts.

    The longer non-simulation games I’ve enjoyed (Oblivion, Far Cry 2, Diablo II, Half-Life, Mafia) have tended to have a lower level of mental energy required to play most of the time (Oblivion/FC2/Diablo), or had a sense of gameplay “segments” or “chapters” which avoid boredom (The Half-Life series is wonderful for this, and Mafia kept things varied).

    In terms of a story-driven games, I would absolutely favour richness and density of content over length. If a game is outstaying its welcome, it’s being done wrong in my opinion, and with a reasonably busy life, I generally stop playing when I feel the game is no longer rewarding.

    Long games like Oblivion, Diablo, and Fallout 3 have their place, but there shouldn’t be criticism for shorter -form entertainment being short.

    The only counterpoint I have is that games are substantially more expensive to purchase than a DVD or Blu-Ray film, and generally require a higher upfront investment in technology (although with the PS3 being a very capable Blu-Ray player, this is less of an issue).

    If some games are to become shorter-form entertainment, then they need to be correspondingly less of a monetary investment. I look at XBox Live Arcade, the PlayStation Store, and even to an extent the iOS App Store, and see a plethora of short-form games for very reasonable prices.

  2. The most satisfying game I’ve ever played was Research and Development, hands down. I put this down not to its design (excellent though it is) but the fact that I was playing it on a system with a damaged video card, and couldn’t spend more than ten or so minutes before the system froze.

    That time window proved just long enough to be given two or three hits of puzzle-solving — then I had to leave to wait for my hardware to cool down and reset. While I waited my brain cooled and reset too, and I was able to approach each session with a clean mental palate.

    Compare that to an online FPS. Let’s say Counter-Strike, since it’s split into discrete rounds. If you’re like me you play and play until you’re exhausted, and even if you don’t play again for days your palate remains clouded by that last session.

    But have you ever gone back to a long-session game after a break of a few months? That feeling of deep satisfaction is exactly what I enjoyed during every one of my short R&D puzzling bursts.

    This leads very quickly to the idea of enforcing short sessions by scheduling events — and behold!

  3. I think part of the reason gamers tend to expect games to take dozens or hundreds of hours to complete is their cost. A three hour movie costs about $10. Spending $60 on a game that lasts three hours would be a little disappointing.

  4. Never thought of that, that,s why I like indie people and there games, they think beyond game boundaries.

  5. I disagree completely. I can name a lot of games that gives me a satisfying experience, in a wide range of time of playing or completion, precisely, a lot of indie games are within the range of a long film, and are pretty awesome as an experience. But I see that this post is an attempt of make indie evangelism against, or by criticising, the industry and triple A games. Sincerely, I cannot be more disagree with it. Long games are like good long books, or sagas. It is unfair to say that we enjoy looong games because Stockholm syndrome. The same could be said of The Lord of the Rings, and like that master saga, games like Morrowind (although poor implementation in the end) or Diablo 1, are a lot satisfying to end after all the effort.

    If you want experience a similar short emotion like in films or short stories, you could try Interactive Fiction, there are a lot of amazing stories out there, and most of them are within the range of two to three hours of gameplay:

    For example, try Spider and Web, or A Change in the Weather, the two of the same author.


  6. The counter argument is that in all forms of entertainment, it’s never completely satisfying. There’s always more you want.

    Yes I loved the latest Star Trek movie and I felt great after leaving the theatre, but you can be sure I want to see a sequel. If I hear a good song on the radio, I want to hear the whole album. And if that’s good I want to see the artist put out more albums. Movies have sequels, music artists have albums, painters have whole galleries, comics have issues, TV shows and sports have seasons.

    In the land of the consumer, the consumer always wants more. Almost every form of entertainment, as long as the product is quality, is long form. This is where video games have a leg up on the rest. They can give you more of an experience in one package. The one game is already long form. You don’t have to sit through an entire season of 24 or rent each Matrix movie. One package, one experience. And of course not every minute spent playing can be a winner, just like not every episode (or even season) of Lost pushed the story dramatically forward and there’s certain 007 movies I could have done without. Whether or not the time was worth the effort is something each individual needs to ask themselves. It’s a balance like everything in life.

    A three hour game will never be completely satisfying, just like a single quality TV season or song won’t be. Entertainment will always be a “more” business.

  7. I remember when I was younger when reviewers factor in their ratings the number of hours of gameplay that you can get in a particular title. If the said title don’t meet a particular threshold for their genre then they reduce its score. I was a kid and I knew back then that that was very stupid (just as dumb as the fascination of gamers and “critics” with scores).

    With my wife, kids, and work, I rarely have any time to play 30+ hour epics like I used to. I can only play one, or at most three, of those in a year.

    But thank Zeus for the indies where I can download a title like Limbo and have a nice satisfying gameplay experience without it consuming so much of my valuable time.

  8. I love the videogame form, but the biggest obstacle to me is in its lack of brevity. I’ve got Red Dead Redemption still in plastic because every time I think about starting it I realize the time commitment involved and I decide to watch a movie instead..

  9. I think it is and always has been more stupid than justified to rate a game on its length. As long as the length fits for the particular game, then I don’t have a problem with it. Saying that game’s have a deficiency because they aren’t as dense as movies can be isn’t fair. Movies are have a clearly defined and unalterable pace created by the director and editors. Games on the other hand depend on the player to invest initiative, and thus the pacing and density of the experience can vary greatly. Lately there have been so many hollywood wannabe games around that increasingly sacrifice the player’s choice of action for the linear scripted spectacle. This doesn’t have to be bad at all (I got a post on it on my blog: http://thedoglion.wordpress.com/2010/08/12/analysis-cinematic-gaming-masterpieces/), as long as the execution is spot-on.

    Long games can be amazing experiences. Some games, especially RPGs such as Oblivion, Fallout 3, Dragon Age, Baldur’s gate 1+2, and others deliver a long gameplay experience that requires the player to invest a lot of time, but in turn deliver a real sense of being an adventurer, and embarking on a quest. No movie let’s me do that. Books are the closest thing to that, but only if they are good enough to identify with the characters.

  10. I’m rather left wanting more than becoming “bored” from a game. I’m also one of those people who really like to replay a game for a different experience and do applause those developers that take into account this possibility when creating their piece. Deep reading and mastery through repitition of what has already been thus gives me satisfaction which a slightly longer game cannot give me.

  11. I think what you’ll find is that any long form medium that takes over a dozen hours to get through will try to break itself into chunks that can be experienced in one sitting each. A television season has individual episodes, a novel has chapters, a video game has individual “quests” and save points. Look at Braid. Each world, heck, each individual puzzle piece, offers the player a logical place to take a break from the game after completing it. The key to successful pacing of a video game is making your individual “units” of gameplay manageable instead of overwhelming, and making sure that at the end of an individual gameplay unit the player is looking forward to the next. You can think of a video game you buy off the shelf as being like a TV season box set.

    I think a video game can be a completely satisfying experience in only a couple hours of play. I believe the Rebel Assault games were only a few hours each, and a lot of old arcade games have only a couple hours of content as well. The problem is one of eliminating “down-time” in the player’s experience. Puzzle games aren’t really a good candidate for short form gaming since most of the time playing is figuring out the puzzles rather than really experiencing the content (most of the puzzle games I have are about 10-20 times shorter on the second play through as the first). A video game that is as dense as a movie or TV show has to railroad the player, keep them moving forward and experiencing the content.

  12. Absolutely agree.

    Most of my favourite games of late have been short enough for me to finish before I got bored and moved on: Braid and Portal are the two most recent examples.

    Not only are they brilliant games in their own right, but they explore all their gameplay options sufficiently, without repeating – and then call it quits.

    I couldn’t begin to count the number of games in my hall of shame list where I started, but didn’t finish: Fallout 3, Saints Row 2, Arkham Asylum.

    I only finished Far Cry 2 because someone said the ending was worth the effort (not sure about that). And I’m 35+ hours into Dragon Age: Origins with no end in sight. That’s like 3 seasons of the Sopranos!

    Sometimes less is more.

  13. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that games are built on game play mechanics — and those mechanics are created in such a way as to be fun and addictive.

    Movies and books have more of a steady build to a climactic ending — a straight progression — whereas games are trying to replicate that in terms of the overall experience while, as I said, simultaneously wanting to keep you engaged and playing. So while the experience is “satisfying” in games, it’s not “the same” satisfaction because you don’t want to play for a couple hours and quit. Or put another way, you wouldn’t stop mid-way through chapter one and re-read a paragraph for the next 3 days straight because it’s such a good paragraph.

    I don’t know. Maybe this is off base. But it’s the first thought I had as to a potential difference.

  14. Good point!! I absolutely agree. I really like SHORT games, but only if they have one of the following features:

    1. The game is just ENTERTAINING, that is, making fun, having nice graphics or sound, just cute, etc. (even if the game mechanics is dumb)
    – Examples: Peggles (VERY relaxing), Tetris 4000 (good effects), Bombliss (old SNES-game, good sound experience on chain reactions), Pizza Frenzy (entertaining clicking stress), … and of course Braid

    2. The game gives me “A-ha!” experiences and comes up with unexpected game play/behavior/results.
    – Examples: Osmos, Miegakure could be such a game

    3. Soving puzzles, tricky situations. That’s the typical adventure genre, however, I personally do not like long and complex stories and unlogical puzzle solutions or broadly scattered puzzle parts. It’s a good puzzle if you can EASILY overview the available possibilites but it’s not obvious how to solve it and/or if it’s just FUN to solve it.
    – Examples: Day of the Tentacle, Myst and Riven, but not URU (unnecessarily long, boring, strange puzzles), but also strategy games like Master of Defense and Defense Grid (the SMALL maps are the key!)

    4. Game allows to be creative, fostering to come up with a solution only YOU could have come up with.
    – Examples: Crayon Physics, Game of Life, Spore

    Braid is a very good example satistying these features (not so much the latter, however) WITHOUT requiring you to play hours on only one puzzling level.

    Looking forward to “The Witness”! :-)

  15. Well, here’s a question that may answer why games tend to need to be longer. If a shorter more dense experience should be attractive to the consumer, why do most episodic games fail?

    I think it really comes down to bang for the buck. If a game is a short experience, it must also cost less to be of value to the consumer. I think iPhone games are a good example of short games that are considered to be of the appropriate value. Sure, it’s a 1 hour or less game, maybe it’s fun on repeated plays or maybe not, but it’s 99 cents. That feels right…

    For developers, the issue is really the time it takes to generate assets versus creating the content once the assets are in place. Many games can generate tons of content once they have a large set of assets, far beyond the scope of the initial concept. So what most developers will do, is generate a lot more content in order to increase the value.

    I think the mistake is when all this content they generate after the initial concept is just filler, with no thought put into it, and no feeling of progression in the concept. What you end up with is this empty experience that just absorbs your time. No one really wants that, no matter how fun the initial concept is. The first Halo is a good example of that.

    Yeah, everyone loved that game, but boy oh boy did they beat a dead horse with some of their levels.

    Anyways, back to the point. There ARE short games out there. Many of them are satisfying experiences. Why aren’t short games popular in the mainstream? Because the blockbusters are still games like Halo, Starcraft, and other giant games that take multiple hours of play, and beyond that have a multiplayer component that can be played forever.

    Why? Because they CAN be played nearly forever, and thus are of tremendous value to the end consumer. It’s basically what Blizzard banks on. People still play Starcraft 1… Everyday… Sometimes as an esport… For money…

    So, to answer the question.

    “Why can’t video games give me a powerful, high-density experience, so that after 3 hours I am satisfied, I feel like I have had enough?”

    Because in order to feel like you’ve had enough, you have to feel like there’s nothing more to experience, but that will always have less value to you than a game that makes you feel like there’s always something more to experience.

    Of course, not everyone feels like that. I have had those experiences, Portal and Braid being my favorites.

  16. Maybe I’m a bit odd, but the “satisfying experience” I can get from a painting or a sculpture doesn’t begin to compare with the experience of a good video game. Songs can be as deep, but are qualitatively different, and usually only powerful on repetition. Only the movie comparison seems even remotely valid in my personal experience.

  17. I can’t recall ever actually finishing a game that took more than 10 hours to get to the finish, and the two best games I’ve played recently, Portal and Braid, can be ‘finished’ in under an hour on a speed run.

    I hope you don’t feel I’m brown nosing here, but Braid was a fantastic demonstration of how I think games should be. The narrative can be completed in 45 minutes (and I spent days figuring out how – best knee injury ever) but the first time I played it, I took about 5 hours over a few days.
    I’d enjoyed it the first time through and was all but ready to shelve it, having decided in my head that the time trials were just for the obsessive and I’d never manage any of them.

    Then one day I mentioned it to a friend and, I’m sorry to say, I commented on its length. Not that it wasn’t long enough, I just enjoyed it so much I wanted more. And he said “Did you get all the stars?”


    I went right back in and though it took me a while I found them all, and while mastering the (sometimes mindboggling) techniques I started to think “How long would a full playthrough take? Knowing what I know now…”
    So I went for it, and did it in about 65 minutes, but I’d botched a few bits and tried again. About 55 minutes. Then 50. Still mistakes, I could see them as I was making them. I started quitting part way through when I fell to my death and new that a 3 second rewind was too much.

    Finally I had a near perfect run, few small mistakes, and as I bolted through the epilogue I was thinking “I’ve almost made it, even if I miss it’ll be by a few seconds and I could see a few seconds worth of mistakes.” Final time: 42minutes 8 seconds!

    The relief on seeing that time come up and the little “blip!” of the achievement was like the final climax of the game. One of the best feelings there is.

    That’s what made me realise that I don’t want 40 hour games that I quit 10 hours in. I want 45 minute games that make me work for 10 hours to complete.

  18. With the types of games you’re talking about, they could be considered a sport. You’ll play for all those hours to get good, become satisfied, and experience a couple good parts.

    If you relate video games to gameboards, this opinion of the length of games is not valid. Besides, many forms of media take up more of a consumer’s time, like books.

  19. While you are correct that people enjoy films and TV shows which are generally much shorter than games, you have to understand that price is a definite factor.

    For me, a college student and a life-long gamer, money is a big issue for me. As much as I may love a game like Heavy Rain or Portal, it’s extremely hard to justify shelling out 50+ dollars for a game that’s going to last me a few hours. Now, that being said, if the price is lower, as most indie games are including your Braid, it’s an entirely different situation. I am more than happy to pay out 5-10 bucks for a game that will only last me a couple hours if it’s the quality of Braid or Limbo, to name a few. However, if I’m going to shell out for a new, feature game, I hope that I will be able to spend more than a couple hours on it before I’ve exhausted it.

  20. Although many developers weighing in on this subject mention Limbo (arguably the culprit for starting the discussion on Gamasutra in the first place), neither you nor 2D Boy spill the beans on what you actually think about it. The main reason why I ask is not to validate my own opinion of the title, but because works tend to be evaluated quite differently by people within the field – e.g. your promotion of Everyday Genius had most certainly opened my eyes as to how easy it is for me to disregard a title, missing out on examples of great design in the process. Limbo has been compared to Braid quite often (although I do not find the two to have much in common), and I think it’s fair to ask if you have played it and if you find the title interesting.

  21. @Scott Reynolds: Great, so I’m playing a higher price for a lower utility function.

  22. “Why can’t video games give me a powerful, high-density experience, so that after 3 hours I am satisfied, I feel like I have had enough? Wouldn’t that be cool?”

    If it costs the same as a movie ticket, yes.

  23. One of the nice things with games is that they don’t really need to have a “length” at all. Tetris e.g keeps going until the player fails, but the intention is for you to keep playing to get even further. You will never “beat it”, because there is no progress to speak of.

    Chess is another game which could be considered very short, but no one complains because it’s intended to be played again and again.

    I think the problem is that if your level designs are created by human beings, they must have a finite length, and therefore the game must end. For gamers, the interesting thing is the gameplay in and of itself – being caught up in the mechanics of the game. If there is also an interest in level design variation, there must be and end, and you want to postpone that to keep up the fun of the gameplay. So you want a long game rather than a short.

    Fundamentally, the problem lies in trying to combine something that has no duration but is a state (the gameplay) with something that must have a fixed scope (the content the creator has put in). By completely removing the variation, as in chess, or making it simply random, as in Tetris, you escape the problem.

    • That’s true, in puzzle games like Tetris or even in more complex games like Diablo, the Sims or GTA there is no forced narrative so you can enjoy the gameplay alone. Complex story and realistic design can often become so dominant that there is no need for a gameplay anymore. After playing a game with the strong focus on the narrative elements player didn’t achieve anything in the game, maybe his character did… the player was controlled by his character’s destiny, trapped in someone else’s story, and now s/he’s left with existential crisis!:o
      But seriously why didn’t they make a film instead? Maybe because it’s easier to sell a cheap story to the gamers who seek just the gaming experience? Their gaming experience is, in turn, limited by the story, so in the end the game industry is able to sell a lot of simple stories for a pretty high price because the gameplay is almost always the same. So maybe we’re not satisfied with the narratives or their relation to the actual gameplay?

  24. But surely its about the enjoyment you receive from playing a game that you don’t want it to end? And yes, there is also the expectation that if you have spent up to £40 or £50 on a game, you should get your moneys worth. I would feel cheated if I spent that money and a game just lasted a few hours.
    But for most of the type of games I play such as Oblivion, Fallout 3, Mass Effect etc, I don’t want the game to end, its that simple.

    • technogran: But surely its about the enjoyment you receive from playing a game that you don’t want it to end?And yes, there is also the expectation that if you have spent up to £40 or £50 on a game, you should get your moneys worth. I would feel cheated if I spent that money and a game just lasted a few hours.
      But for most of the type of games I play such as Oblivion, Fallout 3, Mass Effect etc, I don’t want the game to end, its that simple.

      Well, people usually think of computer games as escapist fantasies, so that’s what we expect of them. We don’t see why should the conclusion of the plot be able to stop our interaction with the world of the game… it’s like being thrown out of a bar after the last call.

  25. For me, it’s all about how I feel when I reach certain goals (either mid-game or end-game).

    For instance, Portal was a total let-down/disappointment. My brothers talked it up like it was this incredibly amazing thing. I finished it in 56 minutes. Yes, less than an hour. And I’d never seen or heard anything about it prior to firing it up the first time. I’d have been supremely upset if I’d paid $60 for it.

    Then there’s something like Borderlands. I love that game inside & out. But there’s a way that some of the length was built-in to the way you navigate the Pandora world. Running or driving around probably accounts for 50-60% of my time spent playing. Granted, I was shooting other enemies at times while driving, but there is a place where perhaps some of that could have been shortened or condensed and still given the player the same experience.

    One game that I think is the perfect example of length and satisfaction is Left 4 Dead (and Left 4 Dead 2). There aren’t any particularly grind-worthy spots. You can beat the entire game/story in about 5-6 hours (on Easy or Normal) and it feels compelling and riveting the whole time. I never felt like anything was added simply to make you run further. Even some of the longer levels keep you on your toes by not knowing if there’s another Special around the next corner.

    For me, it’s not necessarily about the time… unless someone built up the experience and then it didn’t deliver. Portal was a thumbs down, Borderlands was a thumbs up with one caveat (from hype to delivery). Somewhere in the middle is where games should aim…

  26. A number of people in these threads have said they would be disappointed paying $60 for Portal. But Portal was never on sale for $60 — it was $20 when sold standalone. I do find it difficult to believe that you finished the game in 56 minutes, when most speed runs are in the 15-20 minute range. To me it sounds a lot like the people who say “Braid is 2 hours long, that is so short!!” And I know what the accuracy of that claim is.

    • I wonder where Braid falls on the Gamer’s Length-Expectation Bell Curve, between “Expensive AAA-Games ‘means’ Longer / “Indies must be as luxuriously long (/padded) as AAA titles – but still cost Nothing.”

      That Braid had Time as a core mechanic yet faces complaints about Duration, proves my armchair thesis that Irony’s being outlawed.

      It’s no coincidence how some games feel ‘Timeless’ – specifically in that they allow players to (temporarily) transcend or suspend Time-bound notions of “Self”.

      Like playing Tai Chi Chuan-fa (Cheng 37-step ;-), Sex – or indeed any game with stimulating Mechanics you get ‘caught up in’. I doubt there were many who genuinely enjoyed Braid, yet still honestly complained about the length.

      As Artfunkel says above – constructing ‘Mr. Whirly’ inside Research And Development Mod was brilliant. To what extent Time is (or can be used as) a factor when you’re having Fun is a great question.

      Personally I’m hoping for more open (‘paida’) game-like Experiences that allow the creation of gameplay suited to one’s Immediate tastes. A sweet model for this would be David O’Reilly’s “The External World” animation, which I’ve briefly covered at my site.

      Just keep on truckin’, Jon – you’re doing fine

      • Gamers on the internet will complain about anything. It’s best not to worry too much about complaints and to just work on making the best game possible.

  27. Simple. Because games are interactive. Often there is skill-building. Skills which are confined to the game at hand, not across many games even though that takes place to some degree, unlike the skill in appreciating art or movies.

    This is simple…

    And non-skill based games that are alike movie expereiences take longer because it takes you longer to do things in a game than in a movie, as the movie sets the pace.

    I think it’s unfair to judge the medium when the medium is dependent on the user, and the user is what slows down the enjoyment. Am I right?

    • Games are interactive. When I play them, a combinate of improving and “poking” takes place. You have to learn the mechanics of the game, and then learn to exploit them.

      Still, people complain about games being too short, whereas I rarely feel a game is worth finishing. By about the 70% mark, it’s boring me to tears. If the mechanics are interesting, or I can do some good exploring, I’ll play forever. I must have put 1000+ hours into Counter-Strike over 4 years, and probably 120 into Fallout 3.

  28. Well, that was short, precise.

    I was on the edge and, as I generally like long games, I tend to defend game length. But I can really make my peace with this issue when it is put like that. Whatever it is that makes a game satisfying, IF it can do it in 3 hours, I’m fine with it.

    That being said, I do think that game length in itself creates a certain atmosphere and “cutting out the boring parts” is the excuse many mainstream developers would give you to make shorter, duller games. Maybe it’s a good thing if dull games stay short. The only thing that bothers me are games that had the POTENTIAL to make really good use of lengthier parts dismiss that possibility out of principle, simply because more popular games do it or because it becomes some sort of dogma (“indie games can only be good if they’re under 3 hours long”). This all can be interpreted badly. Despite that, I agree that game length shouldn’t matter… but only if it really doesn’t.

  29. Hear hear!

    If a game is long, it should have a good reason to be. Preferably many, in fact. As well as the dollars you pay for them, games should earn the time you spend with them, and most do not. Money is not value, it is a medium for convenient interchange – people shortchange themselves by equating the quality of an experience with its duration.

  30. And another thing.

    We spend a lot longer remembering most things than we do actually experiencing them (a not insignificant fact if you take a moment to think about it – http://bit.ly/cLPUOv). We also spend a lot more time remembering (or talking about, reading about, writing about, or being more indirectly influenced by) our most meaningful and affecting experiences than we do the myriad mundane experiences which fail to distinguish themselves from each other in our (memories of) our daily lives. So if you absolutely need a numerical value judgement for an experience, such as a videogame, why not try this: ” Value = R / X ”

    If I spend X hours experiencing it, and R hours ‘remembering’ it, then its value is “R / X”.

    For example, brushing my teeth or playing WOW rank very low, and playing Portal or Limbo rank very high. The “dollars per hour” metric would rank these exactly the other way around. Indeed, it would rank even more highly paying someone a dollar to lock me in a Honey Bucket for a month.

    Traumatic experiences aside, this alternative metric seems like a reasonable one to use when I considering how I spend the limited hours I have to live – how to maximize the return on my investment, as it were. Brushing my teeth obviously has other non-experiential benefits. Being locked in a Honey Bucket or playing WOW, on the other hand…

  31. Late to the party on this post, but I agree with this completely. I’m even a little extreme about it, to the extent that if a game is longer than 15-20 hours, I’m not likely to finish it.

    I remember learning that the original Half-Life never really came together until Valve had a few level designers lift all the interesting set pieces from their mediocre beta and put them into a single level. Once they started over and rebuilt the rest of the game that way, they ended up with something much more worthwhile.

    This is why episodic games intrigue me. You could theoretically produce a handful of dense, 2-3 hour chapters that cost (comparatively) peanuts, and you could give someone a satisfying experience piece by piece. At least that’s how I hope it’ll work, since I’m attempting to do exactly that.

    @iestyn: “Value = Time spent Remembering / Time spent Experiencing” is actually a really compelling metric. There might be some holes in that theory that I’m not seeing right now (plus it’s a little dicey to quantify “value” anyway), but as a rule of thumb it’s refreshing to think that way. Kudos!

  32. It’s not about how long a video game is. It’s about making every moment in a game important and worth while. If you were to take the first 15 hours of Final Fantasy 13 and put it up against Uncharted 2, it’s not even a contest for me. Every moment in Uncharted 2’s run felt like it was there for a specific purpose, and I had a satisfying experience because of that.

    Time is a hard metric to calculate in video games. Unlike movies, music, and television, games are like books. We don’t know how long each person is going to take with a game, it all depends on their level of experience.

  33. The point isn’t that games should be short or games should be long. The point is that all games are not the same. Some games focus heavily on world building and lend themselves to hours upon hours of exploration and discovery, and some games focus heavily on a game play mechanic that simply needs to be experienced in all of it’s conceivable variations, and then ended. To say that one is inherently greater than the other is to proverbially compare an apple to an orange. I personally prefer an orange, but to claim that apples are a lesser fruit simply because of my personal preference would not be a fair or truthful thing to claim.

    The solution isn’t making all games short, or making all games long. The solution is recognizing that both are equally valid, and then designing your game appropriately. I understand that this requires a change in thought from both the designer as well as the player, but I do think that the general player’s mentality could be quickly shifted if game prices weren’t so fixed and were allowed to fluctuate depending on the quantity, and quality, of the game.

    • Chris Wilson: The point isn’t that games should be short or games should be long.The point is that all games are not the same.

      Chris Wilson:
      The solution isn’t making all games short, or making all games long.The solution is recognizing that both are equally valid, and then designing your game appropriately.

      I absolutely agree with this. The most important thing for the game duration is to be of appropriate length for it’s concept. Not artificially lengthened to make it worth it’s $60 neither cramped into a couple of gameplay hours if the game has a deep storyline and elaborate game world to explore.

      As for Apples vs Oranges, I think it’s only the matter of personal preferences of instant gratification vs lasting immersion. Saying long game is better than short or vice versa is as ignorant as saying the same about books. Personally, I don’t prejudice games by their length and play every kind of games, long and short alike, judging them only by their quality and satisfaction they make me fell when I play.

  34. Short games are all well and good, i finished Braid pretty quickly, aside from the whole stars business of course, and even some big-budget titles like Portal delivers a full experience in just a few hours of playtime.

    It just has to do with whether you want the player to be a part in the creation of his entertainment or not. Allow me to clarify.

    Portal, and Braid for that matter were both brilliantly designed, relatively short games that gave a designed and manufactured experience from the games developer as a gift to me, the player.

    However, dropping the reins on the player and letting him create an experience for himself by exploring, interacting with the world and generally just goofing around is just as well – and may provide a more personal experience. Besides, these games gives more replayability, and blindly following the game from start to finish in such a game ensures that you can come back for much, much more.

    This is the type of game that say, STALKER, is. GTA, maybe. And i hope “The Witness” will to some degree fit the bill as well.

  35. Giving a major shout-out here to Today I Die ( http://www.ludomancy.com/games/today.php ) which I found immensely satisfying for, essentially, a short Flash ditty on the order of a few minutes of gametime.

  36. excuse my poor grammar

    A good movie will give you satisfying experience every time you watch it.
    A painting will give you more satisfying experience the longer you watch.
    Good song will give you richer experience every time you listen to it.

    All you need is to make some effort like listen closely. Of course well made music or art will come through even if the consumer doesn’t bother to do so but it is not to be confused with stupifying power of environmental pressure and advertising, it’s a matter of direct connection between a piece of art and reciever.

    But these aren’t that addicting are they? I don’t see people watch Mona Lisa every day because they need to look at it again. These are things that you can close and open whenever you feel like you want to and you don’t feel like there’s more; though there probably is. I have something like this with Days In a Day ( http://www.daysinaday.com/ ), i sometimes just go there, like once a year and get filled with some kind of idea that author put there. It’s closer to art than games but still it has the same medium which through you control the action. Same thing with Braid. I finished it once in few hours in 2 days period, started it again to complete it with the stars but now it has it’s low-time. It waits for an appropriate moment. There aren’t many games that feels like this just because this medium is oriented around ‘entertainment’ – jumping, collecting, generally stupid shit that children do, or adults if there is blood or sex – and there are people who believe it can only be achieved through low-mark, not engaging action (via blockbuster movies or simple pop songs).

    So to answer the question – yes it is possible to have a good 3hr game experience but as you can see (even here in these comments) games are still treated like they used to – form of low level entertainment (it’s more of a definition problem since ‘computer games’ are put in the same closet with chess). This is not something that will change drastically, some normal (not addicted to gaming or nerds, indie junkies whatever) people will have to experience it then some smart people (universities, look how much views youtube had to get to engage few educated people to do this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPAO-lZ4_hU ) will have to see it and then ‘maybe’ they’ll start writing about it so it will achieve a good level of recognition. You keep working mr. Blow we’re counting on you, there’s time to be spent until we as a whole can see things in a new light only few people can see now. No hurry, pressure will only make it look like desperate move.

  37. what about Robert Yang, my homeboy!

  38. Robert Yang a hl2 moder that makes simple, short periodic mods


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