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Videogames report - Does size matter? What's the sweet spot for the length of a campaign?

23 March 2013

There’s an unusual obsession with size among gamers, who more and more frequently are posing the question: how long will it take me to complete this videogame? We see it often on gaming forums way before a title has been released. “How many chapters does this game have?! How long will it take to finish the campaign?!” almost like every extra second is seen as a unit of currency and the longer it lasts for the more “value” is gained from it.

This infatuation with size has passed over to gaming media channels too who are eager to let their readers know just how long a campaign will take to finish. Only this week, IGN and other videogame websites report: ‘The Last of Us: Single Player Campaign's Length Revealed’, like it’s a major news story that people are desperate to know about.

             

Demon's Souls -  300 hours+ of gameplay

Even in developer interviews, journalists are keen to get the scoop on how long the fun will last for. There’s a video interview over at Grey Viper that showcases this trend well as the interviewer uses a great opportunity to ask the guys at EA DICE anything he wants, yet concludes with the flaccid question: “How long is the game? Can you talk about how long the campaign is?” You can’t really blame him; his question is driven by public demand and they want to know the numbers.

But why are people so obsessed with the size of a game? Didn’t someone once say that it’s what you do with it that matters? Shouldn’t the enjoyment of a game be down to the consistency in its quality throughout, rather than its length? We’ve all seen the detrimental effect of this obsession with length through the release by publishers of videogames that have a fleshed-out single player campaign that drags on for no apparent reason and deviates in quality.

The most recent example of padding out a game is with God of War: Ascension. Though it’s a great action-adventure, there’s a fair chunk of boring platforming and pointless on-rails sections that do nothing but break up the pace of an otherwise chaotic and enjoyable title. Here, it seems, the developer has compromised on quality in order to add on more length and give the perception that it’s released a single player campaign that offers value with a 10-12 hour campaign. Strip out the unwanted chunks of offal though, and we’re down to eight hours.

             

Rogue Warrior clocked in at a disappointing four hours

We also see developers creating tacked-on multiplayer components to try and make up for what gamers may deem to be a “short campaign.” Perhaps the publisher puts pressures on a the studio to create an additional multiplayer offering so that these extra hours worth of gameplay will appeal to gamers hunger for getting “value for money?” We see it time and time again though; these multiplayer add-ons are often rushed. How many poor/average multiplayer’s have we seen in the past few years? Far too many to count.

In a bid to find out why people have this obsession with length and to discover what the sweet spot is for the size of a videogame, we reached out to the PlayStation community and our own members of staff to gather their thoughts. As it turns out, we were quite surprised with the findings as it does seem that gamers really do care about videogame length much more than we initially thought and some even actually buy a game based on its length.

While posing the question "How long should a videogame single player campaign last for?" we were quite surprised to discover that only a couple of people said that they weren’t really bothered about length and that it was the quality of the game that mattered. Everyone else believed that length really does matter and that the sweet spot should vary per genre.

U.S. Managing Editor Timothy Nunes uses the known length of a videogame to work out where playing it will fit in with his own schedule.

Shooters should be about 8 hours long with about 2-hour leeway, RPGs about 50 with 10-20 hour leeway, and action-adventure around 15 with 5-hour leeway, for instance,” he says. “Really, I've always treated it like investment research: that way, I know where my time will go and if I can spare enough time to play the game.

U.S. Managing Editor, Kyle Prahl, tends to agree, though believes an RPG can still “feel fresh” after 50 hours.

To me, it couldn't be simpler,” he comments. “The more 'one-note' your game is, the less variety and the more it relies on one or two gameplay hooks, the less tolerance I have for its length. That's why shooters feel complete at around 8-10 hours, while an RPG--which have very deep, strategic mechanics and compelling narratives--can feel fresh after 50. Every genre has a place. Some games, like LA Noire or DYAD, are exhausting, and can't be played for more than 30 minutes or an hour at a time. However, both can have much longer total runtimes thanks to this "Play a bit and take a break" structure.

U.S. Executive Editor Adam Dolge agrees to a certain extent that non-RPGs should clock in at around 6-10 hours, but doesn’t like games that pad things out just to add on extra hours and perceived value.

If I'm reviewing it--6-10 hours is plenty,” he says. “Action/Shooters/Story-based-non-RPGs are great right around the 8 hour mark. Open-ended games (meaning, the main story isn't always the most interesting part of the game) like a Skyrim, Red Dead Redemption, GTA, etc. should be endless.

I'm probably in the minority to think most games (particularly FPSs) are too long these days. CoD/MoH/Battlfields are fine with a 3-4 hour story mode and I hate when they add filler just to get an extra couple hours out of it.

I hate when games drag. Catherine is a perfect example. Love the game! But it's a lot longer than it needed to be. After about 15-20 hours, you get an ending that leads to another ending that leads to another ending, which adds a nonsensical extra 5-6 hours.

Master PSU Poster Cyn goes a step further and believes that he’s being ripped off if a game clocks in at under 10 hours. He even has a set of rules that he sticks to when making a decision on whether to buy a game.

Anything under 10 hours I feel ripped off,” he says, stating his preferred lengths for all vidogame campaigns…

RPG's: at least 30 hours
Action games / shooters: 15-25 hours
FPS: generally don't care as I buy them for online
RTS: at least 10 hours

These are my general rules for full retail games, doesn't include small PSN games like Flower or Journey.”

Incredibly, we found one person that even applies a mathematical forumula to their process of choosing a game. PSU poster, Alpha 2, says “I always use this calculation to determine how much value I've gotten out of a game:

a $60 game should never last less than any other piece of entertainment you pay the same amount for. 12 bucks at a move theater will give you about 1.5 hours, 19 bucks for a home video DVD/bluray will get you roughly 1.5 to 3 on some occasions, A DVD box set of a TV show for 30-45 bucks might give you about 22 hours.

12x5=60: so a $60 game should give about 7 and a half hours at LEAST. = standard action/shooting game
19x3=57: roughly a 9 hour game = strategy or sports style game
30x2=60: 44 hour game = RPG.

Alpha 2 may be a little over-the-top and obsessive in his calculations but the length of a videogame does really seem to matter to the PlayStation community. The overall consensus agrees that, while videogames shouldn’t be stretched out for the sake of it, length should be taken into consideration by developers and publishers when creating their games.

We’ve gathered the evidence and here are our findings. These are the sweet spots that gamers expect when they purchase a videogame.

Shooter- 8-10 hours
Action/Adventure – 12-15 hours
RPG – 20 hours plus

Do you agree?


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