“Gameplay Time” Is an Illusion

“Gameplay Time” Is an Illusion

The latest scandal in the video gaming world is the supposed length of The Order 1866 . Though denied up and down by its creators, the claim is that this major PS4 exclusive only takes about five hours to beat.

Of course, this is a pretty hard claim to back up as “hours to beat” is already kind of a nebulous concept. Not everyone plays through games at the same rate, after all. Some of the games that sapped away hundreds of hours of our lives, like Skyrim , can be beaten in 45 minutes in a speed run setting. Just look at the awesome speed runs from AGDQ (Awesome Games Done Quick) and you’ll see what I mean.

But then, many people would claim that speed runs aren’t normal gameplay circumstances. In fact, they are built specifically for speed, forsaking all else such as extra content, character safety, and even game stability for runs that clip out of bounds and utilize glitches. For most people, game length talks about a “potential” for gameplay time.

Do you already see the snag here? Potential gameplay time is infinite, or at least pseudo-infinite. A player can play only one game for the rest of his life by trying to replay and master it to the best of his ability. For proof of this, just look at speed runs again! Some speedrunners have been playing the same NES games since the day they first got their hands on it.

Gameplay time increases if the player is just bad at it. Die a million times in Dark Souls and your gameplay time will skyrocket. At the same time, gameplay time can be increased if the game is just bad. Sonic Boom is by no means a short game, but isn’t exactly a fun one. All the time in the world can be sapped away playing around the game’s numerous bugs, glitches, repetitive jumping puzzles, and awful cutscenes.

And then there are whole genres of game that can be beaten between bathroom breaks. Take fighting games, for instance. Most people can run through a fighting game’s arcade mode in 10-20 minutes. If the game has a story mode, it can still be beaten in less than a day, at most two, and usually just stands as a sort of roadblock to unlockable content in versus mode. The amount of gameplay you get out of a fighting game is still tremendous, easily lasting hundreds of hours if you take it seriously. My copy of Super Smash Bros. Melee has actually maxed out its game timer!

“Gameplay Time” Is an Illusion

There are plenty of other genres where this gets murky as well – sports games, for example. Is gameplay length based on finishing a season, finishing a “create a character” campaign, or simply finishing an exhibition match? What about rhythm games? Are they timed to the end of their single player campaign, or until you unlock all the party content? What if there is no single player campaign, like early editions of DDR ? Heck, the “evacuation” campaign mode of Evolve can be belted out in 40 minutes, does that mean the game has a 40 minute completion time?

Then there are games that are notably short but are fantastic nonetheless. Look at games in the inside-sphere, like Braid . It wasn’t particularly long, but it was genius. Five Nights at Freddy’s , similarly not long, similarly a fan favorite.

By now you are probably asking “well what’s the point?” Well, look at The Order right now. Its creators are going into full scale defensive mode in order to keep interest in the game alive. A loud and vocal group of gamers have already decided that The Order is not worth their time, and word gets around in this day and age. A rumor like this could, essentially, make the game dead on arrival.

Frankly, that’s not good for the livelihood of games and the gaming industry. It means that there is just another avenue of creativity that will get cut off due to a laundry list of qualifications for a game to be “good” before it releases. A game can be short, but could be the best damn couple of hours of gameplay you ever played, well worth playing over and over and over again. Heck, as I said before with sports and fighting games, we already have games like this, and who knows what other experimental genres will crop up in the future that will work better with low gameplay time.

Long games have been good in the past, and they tend to show that effort was put into the game design, and so we immediately associate long with good. Just look at how Dragon Age: Inquisition was advertised: “hundreds of hours of gameplay.” As human beings we like numbers, because they simplify our world. It’s a lot easier to see a number go up and think “good” than to examine all the facets of a game’s design and wonder whether or not they work well with each other. But this doesn’t mean that short games are necessarily bad. Heck, it doesn’t mean that gameplay time is even a factor! If we want to really be fair to new games, we should wait until, at the very least, the public gets their hands on it to judge whether or not a short gameplay time label is good or bad, or even if it’s applicable at all.

To top