Guest Post: So Why Do We Care about Game Lengths?


[Promoted from our Managing Editor’s inbox, here’s another fantastic Guest Writer! This piece comes from community member, Paul Duffy. Paul is one of two Toronto-based creators of Gamelengths.  Despite what he wrote here, he still has over 100 hours in Team Fortress 2, and, somehow, over 200 hours in Plants versus Zombies. You can follow GameLengths on Twitter, add them on Google+ and/or Facebook.]

Time is one of the most valuable resources we have.  We hate to have our time wasted, and love it when the clocks go back in the fall, granting us another precious hour in our day. This is why game lengths are such an important consideration for gamers. For some people it’s a value proposition – is South Park: The Stick of Truth worth 60 bucks if it’s only 12 hours?  Does that make Persona 4 the greatest single player game of all-time?  For others, like myself, game lengths matter because of  one simple fact – we got old.

Persona 4 Game Lengths

Persona 4 Game Lengths

Unlike when I was younger, I don’t have time to play games that I’ll never be able to finish (I’m looking at you, Battletoads speed bike level and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles underwater mine levels), or even to devote to endless hours of progression through a game like Grand Theft Auto IV.

GTA IV Time Distribution

GTA IV Time Distribution

The question I used to ask myself was, which is best, a 5/5 8 hour game, a 4/5 20 hour game, or a 3/5 50 hour game?  I think the answer to that is now pretty clear – there are so many great games that it’s silly to waste your time on games you don’t love.  In fact, I think the more interesting question is this – would you rather play a 5/5 8 hour game, 20 hour game, 60 hour game, or 100 hour game?  And that brings up the other question, should a game’s length influence its score?  Is it really possible to have a 5/5 2 hour game?   Ultimately I’ve decided that yes, a great game is a great game no matter how short, but I still debate just how long I want to spend with a given game.

This is particularly true for single player games.  It’s one thing to wrack up hours in World of Warcraft or Call of Duty while hanging out (virtually) with your friends, but it’s another thing to devote all your free time to the solitary experience of a new Bethesda game.  And while losing yourself in a game world can be a great experience, now that I’m old, life has taken over and I don’t have the time to devote to those experiences like I used to.

And that’s why game lengths are important to me, because life (job, girlfriend, exercise, board games with friends) are occupying that space that used to be reserved for video games. No matter how great Persona 4 is, in the time it takes to play Persona 4 I could play fantastic games like The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, or The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, and still have almost 30 hours left to watch Breaking Bad, have dinner with my girlfriend, and play some Pathfinder with friends.

The Last of Us Time Distribution

The Last of Us Time Distribution

And this brings me back around to the relationship between the length of game and it’s subjective worth – to me, there’s no such a thing as a 5/5 100 hour game, because just by being that long a game won’t be great for me.  It’s the exact opposite of when I used to get out of school at 3:15 and rush downstairs to the SNES.  Then I wanted the best value for my scarce paper route money, but with games getting cheaper all the time (I paid $99.99 for Chrono Trigger, but only $7.50 for Tomb Raider during a Steam sale), the dollar to length ratio is less and less important to me, while great and unique experiences, no matter the length, are what’s important.

I told you I was old.

  • Mike Jones

    i don’t really see where you’re going with this….you pose the question and then do nothing but explain why you personally don’t like longer games….im sure you are aware there are alot of people out there who don’t play multiplayer, that would free up alot of that time you don’t have,in addition to plenty of people who only play rpg’s,which would be no fun at all if they lasted a few hours….so….thats why people care :)

  • Paul D

    Oh I agree Mike. Sorry if my point wasn’t clear, but there are obvious reasons to care about the length of a game. I stated my reasons, but obviously some will prefer to play longer games to get more bang for their buck or to really immerse themselves in the game world.