Why We Need Short Games

In recent years the length of video games has become something of a hot button issue in the industry. The question of “how short is too short” has been asked numerous times before. Just last year it seemed to be a key criticism aimed at the downloadable title LIMBO. Why would someone want to spend $15 for just four or five hours of gameplay? Rather than focus on dollars to hours of gameplay ratios, I’d like to highlight why short games in general are important and necessary.

Just like any other entertainment medium, video games are something people enjoy playing in their free time, and we all know that sometimes life can get in the way of that fun, whether it be because of school, work, or even personal issues. That doesn’t leave an opportunity to invest in a time-consuming game, so having shorter games as an alternative is reassuring. Knowing you can play a game in short bursts and still complete it in a reasonable time frame means not having to worry about taking months and months to complete an epic adventure like Fallout: New Vegas.

Length can also be a testament to the quality of a game. Have you ever played a game and felt it had overstayed its welcome by the time you reached the midway point? The thought has certainly crossed my mind more than a few times. Sometimes developers just need to trim the fat in order to deliver a more well-rounded and satisfying experience. Uncharted 2 is my favorite game of the past 10 years or so, but it only took me about eight or nine hours to complete. Every moment in that game felt warranted, and the overall pacing (perhaps the most overlooked design factor by developers) was fantastic.

These are particularly attractive traits for downloadable game developers, specifically, to pay attention to. By creating a short downloadable title, there can be a stronger focus from beginning to end without the normal filler in between. This is especially true of games like Braid and LIMBO, where the length essentially comes from your acumen for puzzle solving. The resulting experiences were short on dull moments and more memorable for it.

Shorter games also allow more opportunities for gamers to get their hands on various different titles. This may be a bit selfish coming from someone who loves to play many of the big releases each year, but there are plenty of like-minded people out there who also enjoy playing games across a wide array of genres. Imagine if Dragon Age II and Mass Effect 3 had come out at the same time; there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

This isn’t intended to completely discredit the economics at play with regard to length. I’m all for advocating a video game as an experience, but $60 for a full retail game is a sizable investment compared to music, movies, or books. Nevertheless, I can’t help but appreciate that there are a fair amount of shorter games out there, limiting the concern of time management. That’s not to say I didn’t love spending 30+ hours with Mass Effect 2, but the balance between shorter and longer games doesn’t seem to be as big an issue as many people stress nowadays.

As it turns out, short games may be more important than many people consider them to be, and dollars per hour is not always the most appropriate measure of a high-quality virtual experience.


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Author: Anthony LaBella View all posts by
My first experience playing a video game blew me away. The fact that Super Metroid was that game certainly helped. So I like to think Samus put me on the path to video games. Well, I guess my parents buying the SNES had a little something to do with it. Ever since then my passion for video games has grown. When I found that I could put words together into a coherent sentence, videogame journalism was a natural interest. Now I spend a large majority of my time either playing video games or writing about them, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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