Between 4 and 6 hours is the perfect length for a video game.
— Jonathan McIntosh (@radicalbytes) April 4, 2017
Jonathan McIntosh of Pop Culture Detective tweet resulted in what could only be described as opening Pandora’s box. In no time a polarizing trend started with gamers either defending his statement or denouncing him and questioning his credibility as a gamer.
This has not been the first time such a debate has been brought up but it’s also not a black and white argument. Its understandable that gamers want to get their moneys worth but dose a $60 AAA title really need to have over 50 hours of gameplay? Yet that is the problem, everyone is assuming this is all about $60 AAA titles without putting any other factors into account.
Out of context, McIntosh statement is wrong but when look at the many possibilities and the diversity of the industry then he dose have a solid point. A complicated debate like this requires a lot of critical thinking along with being open to every side in the discussion.
Past Debates and the Legacy of Ground Zeroes
The debate in regards to the playtime and value has been a hot button topic for some time. Anytime a title is reported to have a short run time, this argument is always expected to pop-up. Gamers have seen this debate in regards to Call of Duty: Ghosts, Gone Home and The Order: 1886. Both sides made a case for why they are in the right and it has been both justified and incorrect.
Call of Duty: Ghosts five hour campaign was short given the lack of replay value (especially compared to Black Ops II) but made up for it with its multiplayer and the “Extinction” mini-game. Gone Home was a story driven exploration adventure whose short game time could only be based on the individuals experience and not the actual game itself. The Order: 1886 could be one of the few exceptions as gamer and critics agreed that the play-time was too short while offering nothing in terms of replay value.
Compared to those titles, the controversy was nothing compared to regards to the playtime of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. The game was promoted as the prolouge to The Phantom Pain but when it was learned that the playtime was going to be an hour long, many gamers were furious. The community saw it as nothing short of a cheap cash grab while the PS4 and Xbox One versions underwent many price cuts.
From the outside, such an outrage would make sense since gaming can be expensive and players want their moneys worth. However its also important to note that Ground Zeroes was not a linear game but an open world title that offered gamers a verity of options while being rich in replay value. It’s true some beat the game in 10 minutes while others took their time and clocked in three hours during the first play through (this doesn’t take the mini-games into account).
The Breakdown of Major Factors
As demonstrated above, this is a complicated debate and there is not going to be an easy answer. To properly look into the subject one must breakdown the debate to include several factors.
Defining Playtime: From the start, this debate is faced with the challenge of wanting to define the concept of “playtime”. This has been made difficult as there can not be a clear way to define the concept of play-time as so many factor are involved. Is the play-time defined by the first play through, only focusing on the main quest, do side-quests count or missions count, and dose multiplayer play factor.
For example, how does one define the play-time of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim? Many gamers have noted that if one were to ignore the side quests and DLC’s, its possible to finish the game in under three hours. What about Resident Evil 7, it has a play-time of five hours yet the players choice can effect the game outcome while the game offers many hidden secrets that could be missed during the first play through. What about Overwatch? Since it lacks a single player story, how much time is one should invest into the game?
This comes to the next factor…
Replay value: Dose the play-time only apply to the first run or could it apply to the many time one plays the game? This brings in the factor of a games replay value, the concept of a title being worth going back too after the first run. As with defining play-time, replay value could also be hard to define as a gamer could see Doom having rich replay value while not having an interest in playing L.A. Noire a second time. Again we come back to Resident Evil 7 and ask if the game is worth playing a second time? It all comes down to the player and their willingness to go back and replay the game.
Price and Size ≠ Quality: One of the biggest myth that has fueled this debate is the false notion that price determines quality. Gamers will be seeing this a lot since open-world titles are making massive comeback following the success of Grand Theft Auto V. Yet as demonstrated by titles like No Man’s Sky, open-worlds don’t always mean there is a lot to do. The same goes with all AAA titles, big budget dose not always equal good quality.
The rise of the indie crowd has allowed gamers to have unique experiences that will not hurt their wallets. Sometimes there have been indie titles that have gainined more sucess than their AAA rivals in terms of quality or accomplishment. Take for example the indie title Inside, while impressive impressive but it failed to win any award during the Independent Games Festival Awards at GDC 2017. However, it was able to walk away with the award for “Best Audio” during the Game Developers Choice Awards when competing against AAA titles like Overwatch and Battlefield 1.
Personal Preference – Today gamers have a diversity of choices to pick from and not everyone is going to play Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. Some would prefer an RPG that is rich in lore while others want a trip down memory lane to the good ole 8 Bit era and some just want to shoot Satan in the face with a shotgun. Other may not have time to invest 50 hours into an open world adventure and will have to enjoy a simple platform adventure on their iPhone. In the end its our freedom to choose and everyone is going to have a unique preference.
The Overall Answer
With only a few exceptions, the debate of playtime and value in a video game is completely pointless. McIntosh was not wrong but he was not correct either in his statement as there is no real answer to this question. We could all agree that paying $60 for a two hour game that has no real replay value is a rip-off. At the same time we could also agree that a $10 indie title that has two hours of playtime but rich in replay value is well worth the price. Overall, best gamer must look into the many factors that go into their decision making then they should determine if the price is worth what the title is offering.
Do you agree with my insight into the debate of playtime and value in video games? Was there a point we failed to mention or do you disagree with the argument? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.