I often find myself defending the duration of video games the same way some people defend their genitalia: it doesn’t matter how long it is, just how well you use it. I’ll take an amazing but short experience, say Portal, over a mediocre lengthy one, like Watch Dogs, any day.
The discussion of a game’s length compared to its worth, both as a game in itself as well as its price, has been going on for years. It was a huge point of contention on the launch of The Order 1886 last year, with many being unsatisfied at its five hour long, cutscene heavy campaign. It’s not hard to see why people would feel like they’ve gotten a bad deal in that scenario, particularly because The Order came out close to games like Bloodborne and The Witcher 3 which both boast many, many hours of content, which also cost the same amount of money. It also wasn’t a great game generally anyway.
But thanks to an article I saw earlier today, I feel this whole “a game wasn’t worth it because it was only X amount of hours long” notion has gone too far. Kotaku wrote this morning about a person who posted to the forums of the recently released Firewatch that while they enjoyed the game “way more than a healthy amount”, they were considering refunding their $18US because it was only three hours long. They found themselves in a bit of a conundrum because they loved the uniqueness of the game, its storytelling and narration and they want to support the developers, but there was “so much more I could of [sic] got for my $18.”
In the Kotaku story, one of the developers of Firewatch replied to the user’s dilemma, saying how the team worked really hard on this passion project, and while she couldn’t judge the user’s financial situation, she was a little bummed they didn’t feel the game was worth the time they’d invested to play it. The original poster then replied saying they were moved by the developer’s words and had decided not to pursue the refund.
Putting aside the weird idea of asking for a refund on a product you really liked, this story got me thinking about how people expect a certain amount of play time for certain price points. Now I can understand where those expectations come from, like how $80-100AUD triple A games can range from eight hours to 100 plus in length, and as a result this person’s sense of what $18US is worth has warped.
I paid $18US (about $25AUD right now) for Firewatch and it lasted three to four hours. I also recently spent around $25AUD on the weekend for a ticket to see the movie Deadpool, which went for about two hours. If we’re talking purely in terms of hours entertained versus cost, then movie tickets are a good example of approximately what one-and-a-half to three hours is worth: around $20-25AUD. Now I really enjoyed Deadpool, but I would have liked it to have been longer as it underused some characters, but I still wouldn’t have considered asking for my money back.
Now jumping back to games for a second, if we accept that $20AUD is worth around two hours of time spent entertained, then the average $80-100AUD charged for a AAA game starts to make more sense as I’d argue your average game takes around eight to 10 hours to complete. It is true that RPGs are often a lot longer than that and multiplayer focused games are hard to measure in terms of duration. I mean, I spent $20 on a copy of Battlefield 4 and have gotten at least 100 hours of multiplayer fun out of it. But I would consider these instances just good value for money, not the general rule when it comes to game length.
You look at Call of Duty campaigns, your Uncharteds, Shadow of Mordor, Half-Life 2 etc, all are within that approximate 10 hour length without factoring in any multiplayer modes. Don’t get me wrong, would love for video games to be cheaper all around, but if we’re discussing an item’s monetary worth we have to go with what the current market prices it at. So if a 10 hour game costs me around $80, than a $25 one you would expect to be around three hours. That’s just pure mathematics.
But having said all this, a game’s worth still shouldn’t be defined by its length but by its quality. The Order 1886 being five hours long would probably have been acceptable if it had actually been a good five hours. In the case of Firewatch, much like this person considering the refund, I really enjoyed it despite its lackluster ending. It wasn’t long compared to most games, but its gorgeous visuals, great writing and top-notch voice acting made for a great experience overall. Even ignoring my comparison with movie tickets and time-entertained versus cost, I would say Firewatch was worth the $25AUD.
If a game is really making you wonder if it was worth the amount you paid for it, think of it this way rather than by how long you spent playing it: did you enjoy it as much as other games you’ve spent similar amounts of money on? Not was it as long as them or the same as them, just was the experience as enjoyable? Yes? Then it was worth it. No? Then that was a bad game, the others were good games.
Both just happened to have cost the same.