A debate has raged on among video gamers for years, decades even. How long is too long? Is there an ideal length for a campaign mode? Is Assassins Creed simply too time-consuming for older generations to engage with?
Players expect a certain amount of content when they fork out the cost. And it seems like the standard price for a newly released AAA title nowadays is upwards of $60, no matter how much content the game does, or does not, contain.
The Order 1886, for example, was heavily criticized, despite the cinematic brilliance and excellent gameplay, for having a very short campaign – which only took around five hours to complete.
The Call of Duty series has also consistently shortened its campaign mode with every new release in favor of the multiplayer online experience, while still positioning itself as being valuable as a single player title.
Opinions on both of these games are divided. The Order 1886 still received praise for its quality and Call of Duty is still one of the most played games in the world. Yet the campaigns can be lacking.
On the other hand, short and snappy gameplay can be well suited to those who have less time. In online poker, players can choose from quicker variations that take minutes to complete, right through to lengthy tournaments that can last for hours.
Several highly rated video games have deliberately opted for bitesize experiences, such as Journey, which takes players on a two hour odyssey across the desert.
On the other end of the spectrum we have open world titles which can take literally hundreds of hours to complete.
Titles like Assassins Creed immerse the player in a sprawling map full of side quests and collectibles. The main story may only take 20 hours – but to collect everything would take players 100s.
Many games share this trait of having extensive side missions. It takes around 30 hours to beat Horizon: Zero Dawn and 80+ to complete everything. Similarly, it takes an average of 49 hours to beat Red Dead Redemption and 172 hours to complete everything.
When Dying Light 2 was released, the developers announced that it would take 500 hours to finish the game, “almost as long as it would take to walk from Warsaw to Madrid”.
This marketing angle divided opinion. To some, 500 hours seemed too much time to dedicate.
Narratives in story driven games
Story driven games are a lot like films. They have three acts – a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Often, developers draw out the second act of a game in order to make sure players get enough content to justify the often expensive price tag. It’s rare for a new release to sell for less than $60 and, for this, gamers have certain expectations.
Arguably, a tighter narrative experience can be achieved in a less lengthy game. The original Last of Us and the Resident Evil series achieve this perfectly, with both featuring campaign modes that can be completed in hours rather than weeks, while still managing to maintaining popular appeal and favorable reviews.
One argument for a shorter game then, is to keep the story interesting and engaging.
Story driven games, even if they have an option to free roam, have a natural ending. Some of the most popular games in the world right now, on the other hand, don’t have an ending. Instead, they aim to immerse players in an ever-evolving world. Think Minecraft and Fortnite.
Here’s what’s surprising. As well as the modern titles mentioned above, long and sometimes “endless” games have been around for a long time.
According to a list of the longest video games ever published on thegamer.com, Rollercoaster Tycoon 2, first released in 2002, is up there in second. Its combination of huge managerial campaign, challenges, and endless sandbox mode means players averaged 133 hours of gameplay.
Appealing to different demographics
The average age of gamers is shifting in an upward trend as those who grew up in the early days of Sega continue their hobby into their adult lives. The average age is now 35 years old.
In a different collection of statistics, 36 percent of video game players were age 18 – 34 and 41% were older than 34.
It’s likely that a growing portion of the overall demographic, those who fall into the 34 and older category, have less time for gaming than they used to in their 20s and are seeking shorter, more refined experiences.
At the same time, “endless” games continue to be a popular choice, especially among those in their 20s – who, on average, have more time to spare.