The problem with long games

My favourite game of all time is Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.

Mechanically, it is almost perfectly balanced. It is artistically beautiful, at least by the standards of 2003. The puzzles are an intrinsic part of the world, and the time travel is perfectly pitched into the world and the combat. The story melds into every system flawlessly, including the pause menu. And it is short.

The first time I played Sands of Time, it took me maybe 12 to 14 hours to finish. After that, I could do a run through in 5 or 6 hours without particularly rushing.

Someone mentioned to me that they were looking forward to the Resident Evil 2 remake, but that they were worried it was going to be too short. But I’m fine with that. As a person with a full time job and a full time relationship and enough hobbies and interests to warrant quitting all of the above, I welcome short games.

That’s not to say I don’t like long games. 2018 was full of excellent long games on multiple platforms; I played through God of War and Spider-Man and Super Mario Odyssey. But my partially-played list also consists of Zelda: Breath of the Wind and Octopath Traveller and Red Dead Redemption 2 and Diablo 3.

Part of the problem is the perceived value for money from the gaming community. If a game doesn’t have 40 hours of gameplay plus side quests and post-completion content (and maybe a new game plus mode), then people seem to think it’s not worth £40 or £50.

But look at a game like Fallout 4 or anything from the Assassin’s Creed series (which somewhat ironically started out as spiritual successors to the Prince of Persia series). Massive open world games crammed with stuff to do, but most players will only attempt a fraction of the content. We talk about value for money, but if the average player is only seeing 10% of what Skyrim has to offer, why even bother paying for the other 90%? And in games like these, missions tend to be formulaic and side content only exists to pad out the experience. The games are often artistically bland, because assets must be reused to fill out the giant world.

I will never see all of this.

This is a generalisation: games like Grand Theft Auto 5 are filled with tailor-made missions and still clock in at 50+ hours for the main story alone. But GTA (and its Western-themed sister, Red Dead Redemption) is built on what is basically an unlimited budget by a company that publishes 2 or 3 games a decade. It is not the norm.

My point is, I disagree that a game must simply be long to be worth a full price purchase. There is a quality over quantity argument: I would prefer a polished 10-hour experience, where every element is hand-crafted and unique, over an 80-hour sandbox. I want to feel like I can finish a story without grinding through a plethora of side-quests and unnecessary filler. And if someone decides to remake Sands of Time* and sell it at full price, I would buy it in a heartbeat.

* On Switch, please.