Size Matters

gone-home-4Gone Home has been available for less than a week, but it’s already one of my favorite games of 2013. The Fullbright Company managed to pump life into an abandoned house by using the resident’s earthly possessions to tell a beautiful coming-of-age story, and I was riveted from start to finish. However, given its 2-3 hour length and $20 price, a group of enraged gamers descended on Twitter and the Steam forums, demanding refunds and besmirching Gone Home’s value.

At first, I wanted to write a whopper of an article explaining why shorter experiences might be worth more than any game promising 200+ hours of content, but then I stopped myself. I shouldn’t presume to know the “golden ratio” for what a game is really worth, especially in an era where AAA titles like Dead Space 3 are legally obtainable for a dollar. Instead, I’d like the player to ponder something: Instead of labeling these shorter titles as scams, maybe you’re just not the right audience?

I don’t consider the “bang for your buck” mentality to be any less valid than my own. Some people enjoy sinking 200+ hours into RPGs like Kings of Amalur or Skyrim, or going on endless quests with their friends in MMOs. They revel in their 95th playthrough of Binding of Isaac, and build their Minecraft fortresses to the heavens over a period of months!  I can imagine these gamers tearing into the latest Game of Thrones tome.

The-Elder-Scrolls-V-Skyrim-DARGONHowever, I’ve never been one for heavy reading. My favorite books are slim in size but tell potent, impressionable stories. When a book lasts for thousands of pages, or a show asks me to commit my attention for seven seasons, I only last so long before it feels like the story is meandering and I lose interest. The same applies to my gaming time; I appreciate short, memorable experiences over some endless monstrosity. Final Fantasy XIII clocks in around 60 hours, but I could only make it to 12 because the game sunk into long periods of dull battles and insipid characters.

I truly appreciate the recent trend of shorter games. Limiting the length often means only the best material makes the cut, and thus you get an impressionable vignette of a game that never overstays its welcome. I remember every event from Journey with vivid detail. Besides the highlights, I would struggle to list off every discussion about old movies in Metal Gear Solid 3.

Of course, I can also appreciate the lengthier games from time to time. Despite that cheap shot at the radio conversations, I have a soft spot for the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Its length feels appropriate for the story Kojima Productions wants to tell, and they often avoid any mid-game slog with a good balance of tension and wit.

journey-game-screenshot-7I just couldn’t see Metal Gear Solid reduced to a three-hour tour. It wouldn’t leave enough room for the characters to become as memorable as they are, and sneaking around the snowy grounds of Shadow Moses never grows tiring. Similarly, Gone Home’s deep dive into the personal lives of a family just wouldn’t work if it were extended by several hours, with combat and death thrown in for good measure.

It’s important for developers to take the plot into consideration before deciding how long players will take to finish the game, and just as important for players to understand that not every game can be as long as The Elder Scrolls and hold the same focus or plot.  If that isn’t a satisfying excuse to try something like Gone Home, go play something else instead of trying to burn shorter games at the stake. There are bigger fish to fry right now, and none of them involve narrowing what a game can or can’t be.