Thoughts on Game Length – How long should RPGs be?

Hello, I’m Kinglink and I have some thoughts about Game Length.

So I mentioned I was going to do a Thoughts Video and didn’t have a topic. Well, thank you to Polygon because on Thursday I read this article and, sure enough, I now have a topic.

Without going over every piece of the article, the opening is pretty self-explanatory, and I’ll admit it’s relevant to me. I’m making this video because I have two reviews that I’m working on and I haven’t finished either game.

So let’s quickly start with the article. Ignoring that it’s NOT 2020 already, the first mistake, and probably the only real mistake in the article, the article is mostly that title. I don’t mean to belittle the article, if you want to read it, I’ll throw a link in the description, it’s decent writing. Though I do think it’s a flawed opinion, they’re opinions so I can’t say they are fully wrong. For the most part, I think most people can understand this topic though.

The topic is of course specifically how much better Outer Worlds is since it’s only twenty hours, and before you ask, no I haven’t played Outer Worlds, I will eventually, but there are so many voices already talking about it, and so much hype, that’s what I try to avoid.

I also don’t want to just read off the article, I’ll give you a summation. Cass Marshall likes Outer Worlds because it’s shorter, it’s twenty hours versus one hundred hours. Cass just doesn’t have time to play these longers games… Let me give you a specific paragraph highlighted on the screen.

“I just have stuff going on in real life that cuts down on my gaming time — and it’s literally my job to be involved in video games! I can’t imagine how much worse it would be if I had an office job, or if my husband and I had kids. As it is, real life occasionally crashes over me and knocks me off my feet. How are people supposed to gobble down a 100-hour game? In today’s economy?”

What? Ok there’s a lot there, and I kind of want to talk about game length but what the hell?

Quick background, Cass Marshall DID write the Polygon review of Outer Worlds, and after a quick look it appears to be the only one she wrote. So yes, this does matter, I don’t know for sure if this is trying to respond to other criticism with this, but… yeah.

And to be clear this isn’t attacking Cass Marshall, she’s a fine writer, but it is to talk about and argue about the topic of her article, game length.

But to Cass, I would say YOUR JOB IS LITERALLY PLAYING VIDEO GAMES. Now you get games early, I’m not going to say you should just play games for work for free, though… But I also really question any video game reviewer who doesn’t play games in their spare time. It’s like a movie critic who never watched movies except when they are paid to. And yeah, I’m a reviewer, I don’t get paid for this and yet I still play games. The point though is if you need two or three weeks to play a game at the office that might take 100 hours to review it, that’s something to talk about with your job, you know, AT WORK, not FOR WORK championing shorter games.

Let’s show some gameplay so you’re not just staring at these words.

The second part of the question though is the bigger problem. “How are people supposed to gobble down a 100-hour game in today’s economy?” Simple answer, the same way as always. First, this idea that today’s economy is radically different than last year or last decade? Whatever, this is a call out to be more political than this needs to be. I’m not rising to that, I think it’s a dumb comment and completely out of place in this argument.

But here’s the other side. I grew up playing games, I play games now, even when I was crunching to release games, I found time to play games. How do you play a 100-hour game? You get two or three hours and play a little bit, do that fifty times and you rack up about one hundred hours. Gamers aren’t under time limits on how long they have to play a game, so they can take their time with these games.

A game that takes longer to play is better because most people have to BUY their games, and this is something that I feel reviewers tend to forget. If they’re not paying for their games, either through an outlet, or review copies, they seem to forget that there’s an important value consideration for games by many of the consumers out there.

Now, if you want to talk about how games are paced or how games leave your consciousness after playing, that’s a different topic and should be a question about the quality of the game… you know, LIKE YOUR LITERAL JOB. Your job is to talk about the qualities that make a specific piece of media better or worse than the other pieces of media . Final Fantasy XIII, for instance, is easily a forgettable game but has a massive Encyclopedia about the lore. I think it’s a failure that they needed that, when I can still remember most of the scenes of Final Fantasy IV, VI, VII, X decades after the fact. But this is a different discussion.

So, Cass, you’re wrong, sorry but at least it’s an interesting idea. So let’s think about this further and see if there is a better answer.

So what is the correct length of a game? Of course, this depends on the type of game. As I said, I’m making this video because I do have a similar problem. I’m currently still playing two VERY meaty games. We’re talking about 30 hours on HyperDimension Neptunia, and over 40 hours so far on My Time at Portia. So how long should these games take?

My first thought is if you’re watching the video, you will see a random late day in My Time at Portia. This will seem to become somewhat repetitive. You’re seeing what my character goes through in a normal day in their life. But this is really what I’ve done for over 40 hours, wake up, go collect resources, get a job, complete the job, turn it in and get rewards, then do something else with the rest of my time for the day, kind of like a real job.

But is it ok for it to be over 40 hours, maybe 60 hours long? I mean it’s based on Harvest Moon, and of course, based on …well this game. Stardew Valley, where again, wake up, work my crops, go to town, pass out from wine, usually. This is a VERY late part of the game, but the point is these are life simulators, you do highly repetitive actions for… reasons. It’s the major gameplay loop.

So what’s the correct length for this game. Well, I think this is already a pretty good example, there’s not a correct length for these life simulators. You want enough content so you keep coming back, whether that be the very long story missions in My Time at Portia, or Stardew Valley’s huge number of characters who you can build relationships with, each game has a reason. I love chasing down the Museum Pieces at Stardew Valley, I love seeing what’s coming next in My Time at Portia, it’s all just about experiencing each world.

Both of these games are kind of special in that there’s not a real “target length” that they should be aiming for, but rather a target content amount that gives players the ability to keep exploring and finding new things that push them past twenty, thirty, even One Hundred and Thirty hours in Stardew for me. Now, not every game is Stardew, there’ are, of course, going to be other games, but for this genre, the length isn’t a key.

So let’s get to the second thought and, well, my recent review of Slay the Spire. If you don’t know, this is a rogue-lite game in that you try to beat the spire, win, lose or draw, and you restart over and over and over.

If you’ve never played roguelites, the whole point of these games isn’t to just beat the game on the first attempt, if you can do that, kudos, that’s really impressive and also probably impossible. On the other hand, Slay the Spire is meant to be played multiple times, I’ve played at least 20 hours of this game, and probably could hit one hundred if I wanted to stick with it.

The entire game is engaging and the randomized factors keep me wanting to play more. Each game gives me a different deck, and I can choose a different character, different relics, different abilities, different enemies, and different events. You don’t know what’s going to happen, so you might beat the game this run or… well, there’s always the ability to start over.

Each game only lasts maybe 30 minutes, an hour if you are slow, but the high replayability means that an hour-long game can be repeated hundreds of times if it’s done well. Quality matters on Roguelites far more than the length of them, and I would say the longer a Roguelite is the weaker is it because so much of the game is about turning over and starting again. That’s one of the things I didn’t like as much about the Cultist Simulator. I found myself investing too much in each game, and not understanding enough about it. It also wasn’t random enough to be different each playthrough.

So a rogue-lite should be fast, such as Binding of Isaac, now little disclosure, I’m terrible at this game. But repetition is key here so while each game might take an hour, you can get hundreds of hours out of a good rogue-lite, so playing them multiple times is kind of the idea of the game.

So for a third thought, let’s take both roguelites and life simulators and see if we can come up with an idea for other games. What is the proper length of Call of Duty Modern Warfare, or Death Stranding? Modern Warfare’s campaign can take about six hours, Death Stranding says it will last about fifty hours. So does that make Modern Warfare a better game, or a worse game because it’s about one-ninth as long as Death Stranding? Is the longer game better or the shorter game better?

Or is this the dumbest question ever asked? Yeah. It’s pretty bad, and that’s the point. First, Modern Warfare and Death Stranding aren’t even in the same genres.

So let’s do better, is Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild a better game than Link’s Awakening because Breath of the Wild takes over fifty hours and Link’s Awakening probably takes around fifteen. Ok, those might still be different genres. Outer Worlds is twenty, Witcher 3 is at least fifty if not closer to a hundred. Which is better based on hours? Do we get how ridiculous these questions are yet?

The thing is on the list of stuff that will make any of these games good or bad, the length is probably a very low importance value. The qualities that make a game good or bad, start with big topics like graphics, unfortunately it’s high up, story, which is broken up into how the narrative is delivered, the perceived quality of the story, the themes that have gone through and more, as well as of course, gameplay, which can be judged in almost any way.

To me, all of these are FAR more important than length. What is the proper length of a game? However long it takes. I’ve already done a video on grinding. The short version is that I’m against it in almost every genre outside of incremental games, but if a game starts to pad their length with grinding, then that’s bad. But if a game is like Witcher which had fifty to one hundred hours of interesting and meaningful content with almost no grinding, then there’s nothing wrong with that length.

There is a problem with game lengths, but it’s so rare that it’s not a major topic. About a year ago I played a really fun interesting game called Manual Samuel, and it lasted 90 minutes. There are clever ideas, clever gameplay, and some good writing that 90 minutes later I was annoyed that I wanted more. And the fact is there’s such a thing as a game being too short. I know I called out My Friend Pedro for that same problem, clocking in at only 5 hours to play through the whole game.

But the proper length of a genre or a game should be defined by the game itself, and not the genre it’s in. If a game is great for one hundred hours, kudos to that game, and I’m sure the very busy gaming masses will find time to play. That’s better, because if it takes a month or two for a gamer to beat a game, and they’re having a great time like I am with My Time at Portia, then there’s nothing wrong with longer games. As long as the game is good, the length shouldn’t matter.

And I just find it absurd that a reviewer is the one going “games should be shorter because I don’t have time to play them.” It does explain why critics tend not to finish games before reviewing them, but it doesn’t mean the industry should aim for twenty-hour games just to appease reviewers when players want longer experiences.

It’s the player that ultimately has to spend their hard-earned money on a game and get the most value for that money. To me, I’ve always been looking for a longer experience, and I honestly don’t think that’s changed in the last few years.

So what’s the right length of a game? I think that’s a question for each game individually. This is a discussion for when talking about how the game spends your time, and what you look for in a game, rather than hitting a specific time limit due to a genre. I’d much rather have amazing games that take one hundred hours than games that rush through their story in eight hours. But I also would prefer a tighter story that takes eight hours than a game that adds unnecessary combat for over sixty and has the same amount of story as the eight-hour game.

We can also do a case study on Thomas Was Alone and Portal, which are two amazing game that are perfect in execution and length. If either were any longer they wouldn’t be as good. The length isn’t the only consideration, but their length is perfect in service to the rest of the game, and that’s what makes them an incredible experience.

So those are my thoughts on game length. As for the games in the video, we have My Time at Portia, Stardew Valley, Slay the Spire, Binding of Isaac, Witcher 3, Manuel Samuel, and finally Portal. If you’re curious I can recommend any of them outside of Manual Samuel.

Now thanks for listening, I appreciate it. What do you think about this topic or am I completely off base here?

If you want to see more from me, I’ll put up my quite old video on grinding, and my review of Slay the Spire, and I’ll hopefully be back soon to talk about My Time at Portia

Until then I’m Kinglink and Thanks for watching.