When I released Venusian Vengeance, one of the complaints I got was about the length. The game only took a few hours to beat, they said. There are two reasons that the game is the length it is. One is that I tried very hard to avoid filler. Pretty much every part of the game serves some purpose or brings something new to the table. When I had the game’s 10 levels completed, I thought about lengthening the game, inserting new levels in, but I decided that I was happy with the flow and arc of the game as it was, and didn’t want to interfere with that. The second reason is simple. I like short games.
I think one of the reasons I’ve noticed a lot of people get burnt out on gaming is because of the sheer time investment involved in playing a game. A movie you can watch in give or take 2 hours and the experience is complete. A book might take a couple weeks reading maybe an hour or so a day. A song can take 3 minutes (or, if you’re a Prog fan like myself, ~20 minutes) and can be enjoyed as a backdrop for whatever else you’re doing. Games can take weeks or even months of playing hours a day to finish. Hell, I’ve been playing Persona 4 on and off for around 3 years now and I’m only about half way through. It gets to the point where gamers will amass a huge backlog of games, but not have enough time to play them all to completion before the next sale or bundle comes around.
And yet games continue to be the only medium which brags about how much of a time commitment it will be. If a movie is over 2.5 hours, people get really iffy about watching it unless it’s directed by a truly high-caliber director, but if a game is less than 15 hours, they want their money back. And so developers are encouraged to add filler. Put in more pointless encounters, force the player to grind for experience, anything to meet the time quota.
And so I like games that don’t waste your time. Give me a complete experience in a few hours, then let me move on to the next one.
And here’s another reason why games should be shorter: games should be replayable. Try different strategies, try to perfect your time, try different options. If RPGs were shorter, you could feel justified rolling up a new character once you’ve beaten it to see how taking a different path would go. In an action game, you could play again to see how efficiently you could beat it (As many people do with retro action games, which tended to be only a few hours long if you knew what you’re doing). At the very least, it’s like the comfortable feeling of watching one of your favorite movies over again, where each time you catch a few more of the nuances. At best, replaying a game lets you see an entire different side of the experience. Imagine a game that was only a few hours long, but was full of meaningful choices, complex dynamics and interesting strategies. You could probably play that game for 20+ hours because of all the different approaches you could take, but you could also get a satisfactory experience in one short playthrough.
I would also like to say that shorter games would lead to a larger number of people who are well-versed in the field of games, and would lead to a more interesting dialogue on design. The amount of time you need to watch and re-watch enough movies to consider yourself a “film-buff” is peanuts compared to how long you’d need for the equivalent knowledge of video games, and films have a much longer history. I think games would be much more interesting as a whole if they made their point in a short amount of time, then opened themselves up to repeated plays.