It seems that gamers are getting more and more obsessed with length. I never felt it was important, yet I am now having to make sure I include at least a rough estimate of a game's running time in every review I publish. While not a problem on its own, this fixation on length has brought with it some arbitrary guidelines that I feel are starting to endanger our perspective.
I'm talking about the, "I'm not spending $60 for eight hours" crowd. Apparently, a game that lasts eight hours is now a failure, and not worth paying full price for, no matter how good it is. This new emphasis on length over quality smacks of middle school essay requirements, where your word count was more crucial than your writing ability.
Not only do I feel that this rising attitude does a disservice to the importance of a game's overall production, I also think it's an incredibly myopic way of looking at things. I am willing to bet that most of you reading this spend a lot more money on a lot less.
Movies, for example. Most brand new Blu-ray films retail at around $29.99, and that's for 120 minutes of entertainment with as much replay value, if not less, than your average single-player videogame. $30 for less than two hours is a far worse deal than $60 for eight. Of course, many of you would balk at paying full price for a BD, but even if we reduced it to $15 for 120 minutes, you'd need to spend $72 in order to match a game, and I know most of you have bought multiple movies at $15 a pop before.
Even more dramatic would be spending money to see a sports game or a concert. Tickets for live events range from anywhere between $5 to $100 or more, depending on what you're watching. These may last a handful of hours, and unlike a game or a movie, you won't ever be able to experience them again. It's a one-shot deal of a few hours, and you could be spending a lot of cash to get it, excluding your travel and food expenses.
Oh, and let us not forget prostitutes! How could we? You'll spend at least fifty bucks for what I am certain will be three minutes of entertainment and several hours of guilt, shame and buyer's remorse. Plus, Dead Space 2 won't make your balls itch for a month.
Whichever way you slice it, videogames offer a pretty good deal at $60 for eight hours. Compared to other forms of entertainment, where you'd need to spend significantly more to match that amount of wasted time, you can't go far wrong. In fact, I'd say the only medium to offer more for less would be books. The only audio/visual medium that could come close would be a television series, which can offer several hours of entertainment at a comparable price. As you'll see in a moment, that argument actually helps me out in an further debate.
One popular way of standing against the $60 price tag is to take two different games of wildly different length and question why they cost the same. After all, if Dead Space 2 is $60 for eight hours, why does a Final Fantasy game offer over thirty hours for exactly the same amount of money? Of course, if you only care about quantity as opposed to quality, then sure, your argument holds water. Of course, it also means you'll need to play crap like Infinite Undiscovery or Risen, which could indeed last eighty hours, but they'll be eighty hours of total shit. Also, a lot more Nintendo DS games would have to cost $60, because that library is full of long-lasting Japanese RPGs. If things are priced according to their length, we'd not only see a lot of retail games go down, we'd see a huge amount of portable titles go up.
Then we come back to movies and television shows. If a TV show can offer six to ten hours of entertainment, why should a mere movie cost the same amount to buy? In the world of the length-conscious, all things should be priced according to how long they last, regardless of what they do for us. A pizza would need to cost significantly more than a hand-prepared meal by Gordan Ramsay. If it takes longer to eat, it has to cost more. Are you beginning to see the faulty logic at play here?
It's not like you can pretend the world was a better place several years ago, either. This is not a new thing. One person told me that we "used" to pay for a 25-hour experiences as the standard, and that games have only gotten shorter. Unfortunately, that's total bullshit. Remember when Genesis and SNES titles cost $50? Many of those games could has about an hour or two of actual content, all told. I will grant you that a lot of them would disingenuously extend their running time through difficulty (most of it lazy kind of "difficult"), but even so, a vast majority of them could be completed in well under eight hours if you were dedicated enough.
You could claim you replayed those older games a lot more, but you have to remember -- you were a child back then. Kids thrive on repetition. If you have children of your own, you'll know that they watch the same movies over and over again, repeat words they've learned ad nauseum, and can spend days on the same videogame, sometimes restarting it halfway through because they reached a bit they don't like and happily replaying it again. It's not fair to compare how you viewed games as a child to how you view games now, as you had a completely different brain back then. Not to mention, your parents usually bought your games for you, so you can't argue you had a sense of value.
I don't even think we had it much better in the last two generations, either. I think of some of my favorite games -- Silent Hill 2, Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Solid -- and none of them were any longer than some of the best games we have nowadays. We may have had a few more lengthier games back in the PS2 era, but not a significantly huge amount, and most of them were yet more Japanese RPGs. Not exactly variety for your money.
Don't get me wrong. I don't agree that all games should cost $60. Especially in the case of brand new IP from less established developers, there should be far more competitive prices. There are games that I feel aren't good enough to justify a full price tag, and there are games that really are too short, without being awesome enough to back it up -- Kane & Lynch 2's pathetically insulting four-hour campaign is a fine example.
For the most part, however, I think judging a game purely on its length is an absolutely pathetic way to determine your purchases. Yeah, Dead Space 2 can be beaten in around eight hours, and yes, the multiplayer isn't good enough to extend the running time beyond that. You know what though? It does more in that eight hours than most 80-hour JRPGs do. The amount of action and terror contained in that game is more than worth the asking price. The game is paced enough that, you'll be more than ready for the game to end when it does. A lengthy game full of padding and fluff to meet your arbitrary time demands is far worse than a game that knows not to outstay its welcome, and works on making its eight hours compelling and rewarding.
Looking purely at how many hours a videogame lasts is to ignore everything else it might possibly accomplish, and I think it makes you a very sad gamer. Do you not play games to be entertained and amused? To have rich and varied experiences, to enjoy interesting stories and get into awesome situations? Or are you just playing them to waste twenty hours of your life? Are they just things to keep your occupied so that you don't spend all your time masturbating instead? Judging a game based solely on its hour count is just ... depressing.
Just remember, it's not the size that counts, it's how you use it.