Game Length In Relation To Quality

If you haven’t heard by now, for a few weeks people have been up in arms about the supposed length of Konami’s upcoming Metal Gear Solid V prologue Ground Zeroes as well as its price. It got to the point where the company’s people, including Hideo Kojima himself, had to defend it. I don’t see it as cut-and-dry as a lot of other people seem to. I just don’t believe the idea of dollars per hour of entertainment applies to games.

Basically, journalists came back from preview sessions saying Ground Zeroes could be completed in less than two hours. Add to that the fact that some might be paying as much as $40 for it and it looks like a pretty awkward value proposition right? Based on everything I’ve heard about Ground Zeroes, and really my experience with video games in general, I find myself willing to wait and see.

The variable price is probably an issue. The digital PS3 and Xbox 360 version of the game is $20, the physical PS3/360 and digital PS4 and Xbox One versions are $30, and the physical PS4/Xbox One version is $40. Nobody else has done this — setting price based on console generation. I’d probably feel better if all versions were just at the minimum $20 price point.

My main issue here though is, I don’t think you can really accurately judge the “length” of a video game. At least you can’t do it in the same way as a book which has a definite number of words, or a movie which has an exact runtime. A game might have an average or minimum completion time, but in my experience it still varies wildly based on the player and the structure of the game itself.

I paid $20 for Gone Home which for most people I think takes around two hours to complete, but if you play it right the game can actually be completed in around a minute. People can also probably spend much more time on it. It’s possible to blaze through the first Mass Effect game in around 15 hours, some people spend as much as twice that amount of time on it, I’ve gotten around 120 hours of entertainment out of that game.

This changes even more wildly if a game is open-ended. If a game is linear then it’s fairly easy to determine its “length” since everyone who plays through it will have a very similar experience. Maybe people assume this of Ground Zeroes because that’s how past Metal Gear games are, but Kojima Productions has been adamant that Ground Zeroes is a stark departure. It’s not a massive sandbox like the full game The Phantom Pain is supposed to be, but Ground Zeroes is still supposed to focus on player choice. It’s meant to have multiple routes to completion, which by nature would make people’s experiences vary more wildly.

That doesn’t even bring replays into the equation, which Kojima himself pointed out in his defense on twitter. I’ve paid $60 for games that are pretty much only a singleplayer mode that can be beaten in five hours, and gotten much more time out of replays because of how good they are.

That brings me to probably my most important point — raw length kind of doesn’t matter in my experience. At what point did we start judging a game based on whether it’s long enough to be worth the price instead of whether it’s good enough to be worth the price?


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