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How Long Should a Video Game Be?

November 29, 2011

It’s a long known fact that most of the games that gamers play are not completed.  Some games, such as Farmville or Tiny Towers, don’t really have an ‘end’.  Whereas other games such as Modern Warfare 3 (which I’ve just completed the single player campaign on) do have a very tight narrative structure.  It’s an important design question, because if most people don’t get to see the end of a game, then lost of development effort will be wasted.  As a games designer I want to make a game that most people will finish.  However that means balancing the time needed to complete, with the effort put into each section with the cost of the game as a whole.  As such there is this interesting chart on games and finishing:

The bar graphs show how many players earned a campaign completion achievement -- in other words, finished the game -- for the titles listed. (Gamasutra.com)

The above chart is part of a longer article:

Keeping players motivated is difficult. The most popular solution is to manipulate the game’s difficulty using tutorials, dynamic difficulty adjustment, player-selected difficulty settings, feedback systems, userfriendly controls, and in-game hints. The goal is to strike the right balance between difficulty and player ability, thereby always keeping the player within arm’s reach of a new achievement.

Now Modern Warfare is not a huge game to finish – it does not take long. However I don’t feel cheated as a player because the online and co-op split-screen play is great and that gives me loads of replay (assuming the publisher does not try to charge extra for that). By contrast GTA is a huuuuge game with loads going on, much of it not in the main narrative. The single player experience is more than enough to keep you busy, and you enjoy it even if you don’t finish.

As a games designer I use the rule of thumb that; I want to give the player at least 1 hour of gameplay per 1$ spent. So that when we compare the game experience with to going to the cinema (2-3 hours) or a football game (2 hours), it comes out as a good investment for the player. In this rough figure I include core re-play time, where I expect the average player to have to attempt some levels more than once but I don’t include mode replay time with different game modes – that’s a bonus I feel.

By following this rule of thumb, I feel we make games that are always both fun, not overly long and yet always value for money. (I’ve not adapted this rule of thumb for freemium games; that’s an interesting question though…)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 29, 2011 10:55 am

    I think that the length of games depend a lot on the game and the genre. MW games are not that long because you cant really squeeze 50+ hours of good gameplay out of a high action fps like that. Good RPGs however, should go over 100+ hours if possible.

    For me a rule of thumb would be to never go longer then the game’s fun lasts. Granted, that is easier to say then to do.

  2. February 7, 2013 10:15 pm

    Today’s video games are becoming just as complex and realistic as feature films – with the latest hardware allowing developers to push their character models, vehicles, and landscapes to new levels. And as the possibilities continue to evolve, the need for talented artists in video game production is more important than ever.

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