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I spent the better part of the summer of 2010 playing Red Dead Redemption on my PlayStation 3. It was an excellent game, and so I did every side quest and mission possible and thoroughly explored the game. I played the game for many weeks, often playing two or three nights a week. I really got my money's worth out of it, and probably put in about 30 hours of game time. When I finally did all that could be done, I decided to trade it in while I could still get a good price for it at GameStop.
Having spent nearly two months playing a game set in a western setting, I decided a futuristic sci-fi type game would be a good change of pace. I selected one called Singularity. It was $59.99, which is the normal asking price for a new game. Since I got nearly $40 credit on my Red Dead Redemption exchange, I hadn't invested too much more out-of-pocket. What happened next, however, was a serious letdown.
I took home Singularity on a Saturday afternoon, and by Sunday night I had finished the game.
Imagine my dismay with trading in one game that took me several weeks to finish, only to buy a new game that I beat the very next day. Both games had the same asking price at release date, but the amount of content was drastically different between titles. This got me to thinking about video game length and how gamers often get ripped off when they spend the same amount of money for something that was, at best, a weekend rental.
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Single vs. Multiplayer
When you purchase a game, do you look more at single player content or the online multiplayer action? With first person shooters, it's usually the multiplayer part of the game that keeps players coming back, whereas the single player portion is sometimes just an afterthought. However, not everyone gets into the online gameplay, because it can be extremely competitive. A good example is Crysis 2 or Battlefield 2, where ranking systems are employed to show how far along someone has gotten in the game. I have older friends who don't even bother playing online because they die too often and can't hang with the other players.
When a game offers no online component, this limits the long-term value of the title - unless it's really exceptionally good, like Batman: Arkham Asylum, which had an extra fighting component to give you something to do after finishing the main story. If developers put out a single player only type game, then it should offer a lot of options beyond linear play-throughs with no real options for the player. Without some kind of replay value added, what incentive is there to keep playing after you've finished the main storyline?
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Replay Goes a Long Way
Perhaps the intended long-term value of a game lies in its replay value, but that option isn't always so appealing. As pointed out by an article on Gamesradar.com, not all games offer anything new in terms of replaying them. There has been an obvious shift in gamer's expectations since the early days of the NES and Sega Genesis games that could be completed in under an hour.
Some games do offer an incentive to replay them because different choices can make for a different experience. A good example would be Dragon Age: Origins. Not only does it offer you options for creating a character, a huge variety of the outcomes are based on in-game decisions. On a smaller scale, Infamous was a PS3 game that let you choose to be good or evil, and those choices affected gameplay to some degree. Other games, like the Fable series, let you be good or bad. This offers players a chance to do things differently the second or third time around.
Not all games, however, offer the option to play it any other way. Singularity, for example, only had a few choices at the very end of the game. Even the uber-popular Call of Duty games, like the most recent Black Ops title, offers very little change in how the single player campaign is done. It has multiplayer options that keep gamers coming back, but of course the developer expects you to spend more money on map packs to get more out of it. Singularity also had multiplayer, but it wasn't that good and not many people were playing it when I had the game.
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I am the type of person who likes to know what I am getting into before I start something. I look at the length of a movie before I watch it, and I won’t pay to see one in the theater if it’s less than 90 minutes long. Before I read a book, I have a habit of looking at the page number of the last page, just to get an idea of how long it’ll take to finish. I would love to have the same option available with my video games.
Most console game titles, with the exception of download-only games, start out at $59.95. I think gamers should know what they are getting for their money. Perhaps a label system of some kind is in order. It could tell you the average completion time of the single player campaign, or even give a rough estimate of the minimum or maximum time needed. Some games do mention the amount of gameplay involved, but only a select few. I can see why developers wouldn’t want to do this, because what gamer would want to drop sixty bucks on a new game that features a seven-hour single player campaign with no multiplayer option? Instead, they’d just go rent it from Blockbuster and be done with the game before it was time to return.
It is unfair to gamers for some titles to offer so much while others offer so little by comparison, especially when the starting price is the same. Have you ever noticed how quickly the price drops on certain titles because of this? Perhaps the game companies would sell more of the smaller games if they’d price them fairly from the start. Otherwise, the slew of negative reviews that pop up online from angry gamers may hurt further sales, and force the game into the bargain bin more quickly than expected.
I just know that, when it comes to video game length, I don’t want to pay full price for another game that I will finish the day after I bring it home.