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The Six Hour Rule

posted on August 26th, 2009 by cunzy1 1

Great game, great graphics, good story, co-op mode, online play but only 10 hours long. Or words to that effect. I’ve seen a number of reviews that say something about the relatively short length of a game being negative despite the fact that the game, considered too short by the reviewer, would probably take me months if not years to actually play through.

How long is too long? What do we mean by length? How much weight should reviewers put on the price-point/length-of-game ratio in deciding whether or not a game should be recommended? The Ram Raider has a nice article about price point considerations which is what prompted me to think about how long a game takes and about getting old. Being an old cranky, jaded gamer…

Gone are the days when I could buy a game and then revel in it for long periods of time until I’d explored every nook and cranny and devoured all the content in the main game, unlocked all the ummm…. unlockables and played the whole game through on easy, normal and hard in single player and co-op. Younger readers may still be in this enviable place. My advice: enjoy it whilst you can because before you know it life just gets in the way. Sometimes in a bad way: working late at the office, attending friends’ weddings, doing grocery shopping, paying bills and just being too damn tired. Sometimes in a good way: relationship quality time, looking after little people you may have brought into the world, sleep glorious sleep, and generally doing the things people like to do in their free time.

These days, and I speak for some of the videolamer staff and some of my gaming circle friends, it is entirely possible to buy a game and not even take it out of it’s shrink wrap for days, weeks or even months – let alone play it, let alone complete it and certainly not play it inside out, upside down and become an online leaderboard legend. In a recent example, it took a friend and me about two months after the release of Resident Evil 5 to get round to playing it, despite buying it just after launch. Even then we knew we might not get a chance to get together to play it again for a while so we busted it in one 13 hour straight session. This meant that roughly a third of the game wasn’t experience by at least one player due to falling asleep around the 8 hour mark, and on top of that both of us were ruined for the next week because staying up all night when you are old destroys you. Absolutely. Much like the consumption of alcohol; you can no longer go on a 12 hour bender and be expected to function like a normal human being the next day. Or for the next week. And if you enjoy a beer or three with your gaming then expect a ‘session’ to knock you out of kilter for at least a fortnight if not forever.

Since the night of RE5 we’ve only played it twice more, completing the story mode again and having a quick play on mercenaries. Just to re-iterate: a self confessed gamer who loves Resident Evil so much he has a blog all about it has only played Resident Evil 5 three times in five months. Now compare my playing experience with, say, someone who has weeks to play it over and over for a review or some young whippersnapper who can dedicate as much free time as they wish. Very different experiences, I’ll hope you will agree.

Consequently, these days I am much more likely to play something that I can do in bites the size of a bus journey or in the half an hour or so it takes for oven based food stuffs to cook. So games that can be enjoyed over a long time in bite sized sessions get a look in. I’m talking about Animal Crossing, Brain Training, Wii Fit, Wii Sports, Wii Play, 101 Classic Book Collection and Viva Pinata. On the flipside reverse, it means that RPGs and FPS not divided up into convenient and predictably sized chapters start to gather dust on the shelves. Chrono Trigger, Dragon Quest and Fallout 3 are but three games I’ve been interested in but in my heart of hearts know I would never be able to enjoy how they were intended to be enjoyed. And, oh look we seem to have a casual/hardcore games divide. This is partly because casual games are made for people with real lives and partly because it’s less hassle to play games which aren’t boring for the people sharing your life to watch. Also, in my case, it helps if you can easily play the game on the tiny picture in picture screen on the TV.

A case in point of games that are too huge to fit into my life is Final Fantasy III for the DS. I bought it when it first came out but every time I load it up I have no idea where I am, what I was doing, where I was heading or why my guys have no armour on or why they are all on seemingly rubbish jobs. I hate to admit to it but Gamefaqing to get me back on the right track is now a commonplace activity. The exception to this is the Pokemon series of games, in which I’ve managed to rack up hundreds of hours on, but even then the continuity allowed by being able to move your guys from one generation to the next means that getting to the end game isn’t half as demanding as starting a fresh RPG might be.

Therefore games with story modes that are roughly six hours (or a TTECNK if you prefer) long I can probably enjoy in my lifetime. Games of 10 hours or so can be done but will, in all likelihood, take months, and games significantly longer than 10 hours just aren’t gonna get played in my household, sad to say. I’ve been sitting on Okami, No More Heroes, and Zack and Wiki for months now. All good games, but games that I find it hard to book time into my not-really-that-busy-life for in order to savour and not have to worry about needing to save in a position in which it is ABSOLUTELY clear what I was going to do next for when I get a chance to play it weeks down the line. The controls also have to be pretty slick so that it doesn’t take an hour or so for the muscle memory to remember what is what. Even though “only six hours” might be a negative point in a review, for me it is much more appealing than “hours and hours of gameplay”. I’m also less likely to pick up games that are dependent on, or flourish in co-op because organising a player 2 is tricky, a player 3 is hard and a player 4 is all but impossible.

This also means that sometimes I can have a hard time finding games in shops because I am buying them months after launch, sometimes I end up feeling guilty playing a game for too long because there are other games I haven’t started yet and sometimes (and this is the worst) I know I will not finish a game when I start it. I’m also not going to pick up a slimline version of a console or a upgrade to a handheld because the technology is still sufficient for the games I am playing months behind the curve. Games and the gaming industry seem to be more and more geared towards the new generation of disposable cash, unoccupied younger gamers and less and less towards the cash stricken, time poor veterans, this is probably because a majority of the demographic is ‘them’ rather than ‘us’.

Of course all of this is very much subjective but I’d be interested to see what others think about it and how gaming fits into their adult lives.

That’s how for now,

Cunzy1 1

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8 Comments

  1. jay said on August 26, 2009:

    This is an issue we completely agree on. Very few if any 30 hour games have mechanics that justify the length – mostly games are made of padding and plot. Short games tend to be better all else held equal because they pack their novel ideas into a smaller package so you’re more frequently surprised by changes to gameplay.

    Also I am now an adult and don’t have endless summers to rent every Genesis game ever made from Palmer video. I’m currently playing Dragon Quest 8 and it’s sucking the life from me despite being very good. There’s just no reason I should be 50 hours in and not done 30 hours ago.

  2. pat said on August 26, 2009:

    “How much weight should reviewers put on the price-point/length-of-game ratio in deciding whether or not a game should be recommended?”

    i’d like to say “none.” a game like ico is not long, but the experience of playing it is basically invaluable. in general, i despise the dollars per hour of entertainment calculation, although ill admit im occasionally surprised when certain games come out and are full price.

    i’m with you guys on length as well. fallout 3 is probably the only truly massive game i’ve played recently, and its taken me 9 months to get through the game and 3 DLCs. im much more likely to start a game if i know its in the ~10 hour range than if i know its going to be more like 50-60.

    as for the examples of games you listed as sitting on your shelf: zack and wiki you could easily break into 20-30 minute chunks, since few, if any, levels are longer than that and you dont really need much information from one level to succeed in the next. no more heroes (one of my favorites from this generation) is a bit tougher, but the game is broken up into discreet levels and finding your way after putting the game down for a while wouldnt be too tough. okami…despite its greatness, based on your constraints, it sounds like that one may have to stay on the shelf for a while.

  3. christian said on August 27, 2009:

    This essay is my life to a T. Sleeping? Weddings? Long work hours? That has been my life for a few months now. Hell, I even had the same problems with RE5 (only played through once!) and FF3.

    Lack of play time has a huge affect on me. For years it would be a rare occurrence when I went a day without playing something. Now it is the complete opposite situation. The less time I spend with my games, the less I WANT to play them. I start to feel guilty if I dare spend six hours on Sunday playing something, even if it is my only time in the entire week that I get to sit down at a console. I keep buying games that I know I can’t yet play, simply because I will know they will be out of print in just a few months (though I always take the shrink wrap off of everything as soon as I buy it). I look at those expenditures and ask myself what the hell I am doing laying down 60 bones on something that I will spend less time with than my vacuum cleaner.

    Thankfully, in the last month I have been trying to turn the situation into a positive. I spend less time on gaming sites, which means I am less aware of what is coming out, and thus can spend less on new games (the only thing I’ve bought this month cost me six bucks). This will hopefully allow me to work on the backlog, and appreciate the library I have without thinking about what I do not. It has also helped me appreciate the act of playing a game for the pure enjoyment of it, rather than get as many of them under my belt as possible. If my small bit of game time is spent playing Sonic 2 with the girl instead of my newest disc from Gamefly, I consider it just as good. Speaking of Gamefly, I have been stacking the queue with six hours games and portable releases, so I can get back to using it more instead of having something ship and mailing it back a month later. All in all, I aim to maximize my play time and stop worrying about what is hot in the industry. I have no idea how long this will last.

    As for reviewers complaints, I think it is a very telling observation. Aren’t these the same folks that will hit their blogs to lament how hard it is to be a games journalist? About how they have such razor thin deadlines and how they come home and have little urge to game in their free time? You would think that they would embrace shorter games, which leads me to believe that their review complaints are nothing more than an attempt to write to their audience, which in turn reveals that while the “average” gamer is close to 30, the “core” gamer is closer to half that age, where price and length are of the utmost concern. Not only does it make those reviews dismissible, but it also suggests that the industry is not growing up at the same rate as its player base.

  4. Bruce said on August 27, 2009:

    I agree 1000%. I tend to gravitate toward smaller games these days for the same reason, and why the slowly growing downloadable market has been nice to see. Take World of Goo. I actually appreciated getting to lament that it was shorter than I wanted rather than too long to hold my interest. In the end it was really just about right. I’d much prefer to play something short with a new and novel with a mechanic I’ve never seen than “FPS 12 : This Time With Feeling” that’s been padded out just to justify asking sixty bucks for it. And some small games have proven that short doesn’t mean “no production values” or “lean on aesthetic”. If anything, it lets artists hone the expression of their vision to an even purer form.

  5. Michelle said on August 28, 2009:

    I purposely ignore games I know I will like just because I know they will be too big and I will spend too long trying to master them.

    And then there are the games you’ll sink hours upon hours into happily just because you’re having so much fun – even though you know you should be getting on with something else.

    I long for the days when I had more free time, so shorter games are a definite godsend.

  6. christian said on August 28, 2009:

    I also long for the days when I could be playing a game within 20 seconds of hitting “power”

  7. chris said on August 29, 2009:

    I used to be disappointed if I couldn’t get $1/hour out of games I bought. That was in college when I had a limited budget and more free time than I knew what to do with. Now time doesn’t come into the equation; I’m just as happy to spend $40 for a short game as a long one, so long as I still enjoy the experience (SOTN, for example).

    It’s pretty rough trying to keep up with RPGs especially when you’re busy, since the average length is 40 hours now and only getting longer.

    I was thinking this very same thing when I beat SMT Digital Devil Saga this week. It’s 20 hours, and part of me was sort of disappointed – it didn’t have the lengthy dialogues and detailed characters of the Personas. But at the same time, cutting out that (arguable) cruft was what made it possible for me to beat the game in a little over a week.

  8. Cunzy1 1 said on September 2, 2009:

    Pat: Annoyingly, I’ve played through Zack and Wiki in bite size chunks but now I’m trying to play through getting all the extra treasures. Trouble is remembering the game and working out what I have to do for the lores means that it’s Gamefaqqing all the way to 100%. Even then, by the time I have found the right FAQ and got the laptop in a viewable position or printed it all out it’s time to make dinner or go sleepies :(

    Christian: I feel you Bro. What used to be Game in-power on-play is now game in-sign into profile-download update-sign in player 2-find a lobby-or server-if Xbox Live is working-find the game on the dashboard-download extra skins-bleeer- bler- bler.

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