Should Console Games Be Shorter?


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It’s become something of a badge of honor for core gamers to put in long hours to get to the end of the latest console games. Not only is it accepted that these games could take more than a day of real life time to complete, it’s actually expected, and games perceived as being too short face the very real possibility of being criticized for a lack of content.

But should it be that way? In the latest installment of his excellent column, The DeanBeat, VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi explores the fact that many players never finish the console games they buy, robbing them of one of the most meaningful parts of the experience: the ending. Takahashi thinks this is a shame and delves into some solutions to the problem, including games that allow players to skip to later chapters.

There’s an interesting idea that he hints at but never states directly, and that’s whether we actually need console titles that offer 50-plus hours of gameplay. It’s fantastic that some developers can create games like that, and it adds a lot to the value proposition when you compare those games to movies and other forms of entertainment. The $1 billion and counting that “Grand Theft Auto V” has made is certainly powerful evidence that there’s plenty of appetite for marathon session on your console of choice.

Yet “GTA V” also cost the folks at Rockstar a hefty sum to develop, and it’s fair to wonder whether they could have made it half as long, spent less money, and still sold just as many copies without ticking too many people off—especially with “Grand Theft Auto Online” allowing people to play longer in that world if they so desire. Sure, some portion of the gaming community would be upset with a shorter game, but that could be balanced out by the larger number of players who finish it and have the satisfaction of seeing everything the creators had in store for them.

And sure, Rockstar is probably just fine if everyone keeps playing “GTA V” until the cows come home (otherwise known as whenever the “Red Dead Redemption” sequel is finished), so it doesn’t have much to gain from a hypothetical trend toward shorter console games. Other companies would. Think about an EA, whose goal is to simply sell as many total games as possible. Having gamers tied up for shorter periods of time is inherently in its best interest, as it frees those people up to move onto the next thing.

We’re not really that concerned about what developers and publishers want though, so let’s consider something more near and dear to our hearts: the success of the next generation of consoles. There’s no reason to expect that the PS4 and Xbox One won’t sell like hotcakes upon release next month, but the long term forecast is much less certain. It took the PS3 and Xbox 360 combined to sell as many units to date as the PS2, and only the brief but real runaway succcess of the Wii gave the seventh-gen consoles a definitive win over the sixth.

Since the Wii U is going to need a near miraculous recovery to contribute much to the eighth-gen picture, that means both the PS4 and Xbox One are going to have to be unquestioned, perennial favorites to avoid an overall dip in terms of consoles sold. It’s easy to assume that’s going to be the case as we bask in the pre-launch excitement, but it’s really far from a given. It’s a cliche to say this, but the world has changed since the turn of the 21st Century. There are many more devices and screens vying for our attention, more platforms on which to play video games, and if we accept a big part of Takahashi’s theory, less time for many of us to devote to games, period.

That reality has had  lot to do with the rapid rise of mobile and tablet gaming. There’s this thought that there’s some kind of hard divide between casual and core gamers, but the truth is that many casual gamers would probably love to delve into the deeper experiences provided by console games. They just don’t have the time (or want to spend the money, in some cases), so they play what’s convenient. Mobile games are increasing in complexity slowly but surely, and they’ll eventually provide more options for the masses to enjoy some meatier gameplay.

Console games can reach out to those people too, and the best way would be to simply not ask so much of them. I’m not talking about a straight play for casual gamers like Nintendo did with the Wii, because that ship has sailed, plus it has the nasty side effect of alienating core gamers. Ideally, we’d see both shorter and cheaper games, but since we all know the latter isn’t likely to happen, the former is something to think about.

There are always going to be games at both ends of the time commitment spectrum, with all-consuming fare like MMORPGs at one end and bite-sze casual titles at the other. But if the console games that make up the bulk of what’s between just dialed it back a little on length, players could finish more games, developers and publishers wouldn’t have to spend a small nation’s GDP on each product, and the community of console gamers might even grow a bit. In other words, it could help everyone win. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Tags: GTA V Video Games