HEADING TIME ≠ MONEY HERE
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Seasoned players will be able to make a decent estimate. They’ll know a shooter will generally require fewer than ten hours, while an RPG will often take three or four times that length. But there are no guarantees. When I reviewed Prey last month, I anticipated it would take roughly 16 hours, because the developer’s previous games were a similar length, but it ended up taking almost twice as long.
What’s the problem here? For me, not knowing how long a game will take to finish makes it difficult to schedule my work hours effectively. A film critic will know exactly how long each film will take to watch and review, whereas a game can take anywhere between half a day to a week.
But any gaming enthusiast with a full-time job, a family or both will relate to the difficulty of making time for this hobby. You’ll have a big pile of games that you’ve never finished, and probably never will. You likely purchased all those games with the intention of completing them, but as the days went by and each game didn’t end, you had to attend to other priorities.
So why do games avoid telling you how long they will take to finish? One possible reason is the aforementioned diversity in length, but relativity is a problem too. A talented FPS player may take considerably less time to finish a shooter than someone new to the genre. What’s more, the former might complain to the developer if they completed the game in eight hours when the creators stated it would take ten hours to complete.
This latter point hints at the real issue that prevents developers from being open about game length. There persists a belief among the gaming community that length equals value for money. Developers and publishers are reluctant to state the estimated running time of a game because they’re concerned players won’t buy it if they think it’s too short.
On the face of it, buying a game for £40 that lasts eight hours seems silly when you can get one ten times that long for the same price. But length is a poor measure of value, as it doesn’t consider how much you will enjoy that time. I’d much rather pay for a few excellent hours than 30 mediocre ones, especially when I have limited time.
Being open about game length may lose sales from some players, but there’s also the chance it would result in gained sales. I’m now more likely to buy a game that won’t take a week to complete, rather than less, and I imagine many players in their 30s and 40s are in the same boat.
There are only so many hours in the day, and I don’t want to spend them on long but repetitive or uninspired games. With so many games around, and the flexible pricing that digital distribution offers, being open about game length would help many smaller developers to attract players, rather than hinder them.