But they shouldn’t be longer either.
What do you think when someone tells you a game is 100 hours long? Chances are you don’t get excited; I wouldn’t. Experience shows that a game that long is going to have lots of padding, and most of that time is spent unsatisfied. There’s a point in any game where you see enough of the gameplay, setting, and mechanics that you can safely put the game down and never have an urge to look back. From here on this will be referred to as the “boredom point”. In most average length games (20 to 30 hours), this usually happens somewhere between 10 and 15 hours. For long games over 60 hours, it’s not much further along, at 20 or 25. Once a player reaches the boredom point, if they’re not dedicated to completing the game, they won’t.
So how can this problem be solved? Do I know one simple trick game developers don’t want you to know? I don’t, but I can still talk about it.
The simple answer to the question is to expand the boredom point to the length of the game. Problem with that is, changing the gameplay will clash with what’s already there, and altering the setting will make it feel like a completely different game.
But there’s a simple answer to that, too. Instead of changing the core of the game, add something to keep the player’s interest, effectively setting the boredom point back 5 hours. Resident Evil 4 is a great example of this: the game keeps interest up until the start of the island chapter. It’s fun, but it starts to wear on you. And just when you least expect it, the game completely changes pace, removing almost all enemies and introduces a new monster. This culminates in locking Leon in a room with one, before switching back to the familiar action movie tone. It never fails to impress and restore interest, and fits within the core gameplay previously established. Without this segment, the boredom point would keep a lot of people from playing to the end.
Not all games can be Resident Evil 4, even if I want them to be. But what I want isn’t important, because there are some pieces of shit who like to complain louder than me. They want games to bend to their schedules, and argue games should be shorter, for the boredom point to be the end of the game. This is the worst possible way to solve the problem and makes for some really shitty, unfulfilling games. It’s easy to find examples, because almost all games with heavy story focus follow this tactic. These sort of games are impossible to replay, since the gameplay that exists is not very fun, since it’s all been fully explored and expanded upon and you can’t remember a point where you actually had fun with the game.
It seems like an uphill battle: either you make a good game or you fail. Well, duh. But there’s also a 3rd option, one that works better than all the rest.
I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent playing Crazy Taxi. If I had to guess, it would be somewhere in the hundreds, if not thousands. It’s only about 10 minutes long, maybe 15 if you’re good. That doesn’t seem like it adds up, but it does because the game is 18 years old. It’s a game where, after finishing it, you play again. Even after getting a high score, I still feel compelled to start again. It’s those short sessions that keep the boredom point at bay, since I never really feel like I’m done. Tired of playing for 5 hours straight? Give it another go tomorrow. Too easy? Bump up the difficulty or impose challenges on yourself. The game isn’t going to pull anything you didn’t expect, but it’ll still put up a challenge. You may have seen everything that exists in the game, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to see it again with a better score.
I’ve been playing Culdcept Revolt recently, and it follows this tactic. It’s presented in the form of a JRPG story (it’s a really shitty story, but that could just be the translation), but it’s not a JRPG at all. Each “game” in the game is a 30 minute match, someone wins and someone loses, and you get kicked back to the menu. There’s never a point where I dislike playing the game, since it’s entirely based off skill. You do build a deck of cards (like Magic), but card packs will always have a fair amount of useful cards. There’s no grinding because you’ll always have a chance at winning. Now, I haven’t played it to completion, but I see no end in sight and I don’t want one. It reminds me of wasting hundreds of hours in Monster Hunter, Risk of Rain, or Earth Defense Force, all by playing 30 minutes or so at a time. Never in any of these games have I felt dissatisfied for playing, since the time was always spent doing something. And I’m not done playing any of these games, always willing to boot it up when I get the urge.
Naturally, the worst offenders of the boredom point are the hundred-hour games I mentioned earlier. Not because they’re long, but because they’re dumb. Obscuring the goal by involving it in some convoluted story will only confuse me when I come back to it after a week. I’m fine with relearning a few mechanics, but not a whole book. Pokemon tried to fix this by recapping every time you load a save, but this punishes players coming back daily, and it still doesn’t help understanding long-term goals.
Maybe it’s just me, but when I can’t see the next curve in the road ahead, I start to wonder why I’m driving to begin with. Even with a reason to get to the end, it can actually be made enjoyable with an interesting, short, and consistent gameplay cycle. It doesn’t have to be an arcade game in order to fulfill this, it just has to know the player might become uninterested.
Also published on Medium.