A reader is frustrated that publishers are obsessed with making video games bigger and longer and wishes they could be shorter and cheaper.
These are strange days for the world of video games. The pandemic saw them raised to a level of mainstream acceptance never before seen, but already publishers are reporting sales being down by 25% or more, as the pandemic catches up with them and the number of new releases slows to a trickle.
At the same time, everyone is trying to buy everyone else and already it seems as if there’ll only be three or four major publishers within a couple of years, with everyone else just being a subsidiary of someone else – with all that implies about homogenised end products and corporate interference (not to mention mass redundancies as companies strip out what they don’t want or need).
These are all worrying trends but what concerns me the most, especially as it’s not something most people seem to be talking about, is the games themselves. The quality of the best titles has never been higher, but I am increasingly concerned that publishers have got themselves into an inescapable cycle of believing bigger is always better, no matter the cost to the customer or the people making the games.
Back in the 90s, the average video game didn’t take more than two to four hours to beat, once you knew what you were doing, but that number has steadily increased throughout the years, to the point where even 12 hours is considered short for a single-player game. To me this is madness. Given how busy most people are it’s almost impossible to beat most AAA game in any less than a month. It took me three to beat Elden Ring and that was with missing out a ton of it, I’m sure.
Everyone wants value for money, obviously, but publishers seem to have given up any sense of the practicality of playing such games. Where are we supposed to get the time? I’m a Game Pass subscriber and I have access to so many 30+ hour games it’s literally impossible for me to play them all, whether I want to or not. Every publisher seems to design their games with the assumption it will be the only one you touch for months on end. But why?
What do they gain from that? You’ve bought the game, what more do they want? Sure, they probably want you to buy more DLC but it’s just as likely, I’d argue more likely, you’d do that if you beat the story and wanted more.
And what about the impact on stories? Most movies are two hours long, even the longest novel can be read within about 15 hours, so what surprise is it that most video game stories are terrible when they’re trying to drag things out for 60 hours? Just think of the ones that are good: they’re mostly indie games that only last a few hours. Or there’s Elden Ring, which doesn’t really have an explicitly told story but instead leaves you to fill in the blanks.
These games understand how to use their time to tell a story, but Elden Ring is still too long. The biggest complaint is the number of repeated bosses, so why do it? The game repeats lots of other things too, and while it doesn’t feel as bloated as something like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, I’m still certain a more slimline game, with less repetition, would have been a better game.
It’s far from the worst offender though. Consider games like Alien Isolation, every Assassin’s Creed, The Last Of Us Part 2, Persona 5, and Red Dead Redemption 2. Great for the first half but then they go on and on and on, never adding anything new but just never knowing when to stop.
This ruins the story and the pacing, but it also has the effect of increasing the length of time these games take to make. It was interested to hear that the reason there’s only going to be two God of War games based on Norse mythology is because it’d just take too long to make them. No-one wants to spend 15+ years of their life making a single trilogy, but that’s the reality of modern games.
I remember when Spider-Man: Miles Morales was reviewed and GC hoped that it would stand as proof of a game that was better than its predecessor precisely because it was shorter, more focused, and had no chance to wear out its welcome. They guessed, as I did, that it would have no influence at all, and was only that length because Sony wanted the game out for the launch of the PlayStation 5, but imagine if it had inspired a whole new generation of games.
Miles Morales is £50, lasts for about eight hours, and I enjoyed every moment. Compare that to the original Spider-Man, which would be £70 on the PlayStation 5 if it was new today, lasts around 17 hours, has a bloated story, is jam-packed with dozens of completely uninteresting collectathon side quests, and will have a five year gap between it and its sequel.
If games were shorter, cheaper, and quicker to make it’d be better for everyone. I’m sure that will never happen though. Bigger is better is the only concept publishers seem to understand and if you’re reading this and thinking I’m talking nonsense, just come back to me in 10 years when games are £90 each, last a minimum of 30 hours, and it takes eight years to make each one.
Maybe that seems absurd to you but think how bizarre today’s situation would appear to someone from the 90s. At some point someone has to say enough is enough and put a stop to the endless growth, but I don’t know who that’s going to be or when…
By reader Sandwick
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