What's Wrong With Video Games That You Can Finish In Three Hours?

from the that's-not-how-it's-done! dept

Clive Thompson tries to bust apart the commonly held wisdom that it should take 40 hours to complete a video game. He points to a recently well-received game that many reviewers dinged for the fact that it could be completed in three hours. They seemed to like pretty much everything about the game… other than that it was “too short.” The standard, apparently (I had no idea) is that a video game should take approximately 40 hours to finish. But Thompson points out how silly that is. For many games, they just start to feel repetitive or stretched out. If you can do everything that needs to be done in just three hours — why not do it. My guess is that many of the complaints just come from what people think they’re “buying” with the game, and that includes “time spent on the game.” So a game that seems short feels like “less value” even if that’s not necessarily the case. Still, as Thompson points out, the game he’s talking about, The Maw is much cheaper than the average 40-hour game anyway, so he’s not clear why people are complaining. To be honest, I was unaware of the 40-hour standard, and am a bit surprised that it’s apparently so standardized. I’d always just assumed that different games had different time-lengths (if they were “finishable” at all).

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Comments on “What's Wrong With Video Games That You Can Finish In Three Hours?”

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Brad Hubbard (profile) says:

When I was in economics, I was taught an interesting calculation:

If you assume that your life is split between work, leisure, and sleep, you can figure out what you SHOULD be paying for leisure. If you spend 40hrs a week working, 128hrs not working, your “cost of leisure” is 40/168 (hrs in a week) * your hourly wage.

If you make $25/hr, your “cost of leisure” is effectively $5.75/hr. Therefore, if the game costs $15 and you get 3 hours of entertainment out of it, then you’ve gotten a good deal. If not, you should make more money =)

(This of course assumes that personal wealth vs. personal leisure + sleep is a zero sum equation)

MadJo (profile) says:

The way I see it, if I have to pay 30 to 50 euros for a game, so it had better be a decent game, not one you can blaze through, and then wonder what the heck just happened.

2 Hours of entertainment for 30 euros is ludicrous!

Imagine movies (about 2 hours of entertainment) costing you 30 euros… I’m sure the whole world would raise a big stink, and movie companies would suddenly see their market dropping immensely, in favour of so-called ‘piracy’.

I agree, with 40 hours, the game might become repetitive and/or boring. But let’s say if it offers 10 to 20 hours of entertainment/gameplay fun. I call that bang for my buck.

Sure, if the game costs you about 5 euros, then I’d expect a shorting lifespan in the game (though I have been surprised)

Most important in a game is gameplay, but if the game only offers you 2 hours of gameplay, then I wouldn’t want to pay 30 euros or more for it.

Stew says:

3 hours is too little for most games

I probably wouldn’t be too disappointed if a 3 hour game cost 10 or even 15 dollars but it’s still too little for the money. Consider that you can rent a movie for 1 or 2 dollars and get 90 minutes entertainment. Paying 5 dollars an hour for a game is too damn much in comparison.

Trouble is most games cost 40 bucks or more. And the majority have bugs in the gameplay and too many have installation problems because of the DRM. Plus a large percentage are just not going to be much fun for a fair percentage of the people that buy them. So, if you’re selling a product that costs that much, has the potential to cause frustration and anger and might not even be liked enough for many of your customers to finish it, you better make damn sure that the ones that DO enjoy it get their money’s worth.

JonnyPaula (user link) says:

Hourly Rates

I have to agree with Brad Hubbard – I’ve always prescribed to the hourly-wage notion. But for video games, I’ve always held them to a higher standard. $1-per hour played, per player.

Take a game like GoldenEye 007 for the N64. I bought that for $55 or whatever it was – but me and my friends probably played that every day for the entire summer = money well spent.

But I’m talking about gameplay, not necessarily finish-time. If it takes 40+ hours to “beat” a game, it might be too much – I’d rather have a shorter game with great replay value, a la GTA series.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Hourly Rates

My best friend’s dad bought Final Fantasy 7 and put at least 300 hours tryign everythign imaginable to revive aeris … then he bought FFX and spent as much or more time perfecting all of the characters/armor/weapons and beating all the optional bosses

I’d have been bored out of my mind, but I think he got his money’s worth

Cap'n Jack (profile) says:

I remember how much buzz there was about the length of time it would take to complete The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, with many people claiming pre-release that it’s an 80-hour game. That thought alone made gamers very happy.

For hardcore gamers, 40 hours is the minimum you want to be playing a game, and it’s not just about value. It’s the fact that if a game is doing something right, we want as much of that as possible. When it’s a game heavily focused on online multiplayer, the single-player experience can be short; but for games like Zelda or Mario, breezing through them in a couple of hours would not only be unacceptable to most gamers, it would be offensive!

These games take years to come out, a really stellar title often only comes around twice a decade, and for it to have a long-lasting impression, it needs solid gameplay that lasts for as long as possible. the trend towards shorter games has been seen on the Xbox 360, and it’s perfectly acceptable for the mainstream gamers who aren’t very picky about content anyway, but I think there’s a niche and a huge appreciation for a long, epic, varied, solid game.

Peter (profile) says:

I would think 40 hours is a fair amount to ask for in a (RPG) game. All the best games I played in my youth were in that time frame (mostly longer).

If the game feels repetitive, then I think that’s a failure on the part of the developers. When I was a gamer, I would have wanted my money’s worth, but also just the pleasure of being engrossed in it like a good long book.

I would never expect a business book to be a certain length, but I would expect it of a good novel.

Jack Sombra says:

The Maw is a bad exmaple as it’s an exception to the rule, mainly because it’s a downloaded game rather than store retail, thus it broke out of the general price fixing by the industry of $40 to $60 for new games

Take 2 games bought in the store, both are of simerlar quality, but you know from some research that one provides 30 to 40 hours of “new” entertainment (aka not including replay) other provides 3 to 4 hours.

No issue so far, now look at price, both $60

Which will majority of people buy?

If the industry wants to do shorter games they have to be prepared to offer them for cheaper prices, as the years have shown that the consumers will accept in the region of $1 to $2 per hour of game play the the 3 hours game should cost $3 to $6 to buy, not $10 and certainly not $40 to $60

Jimmy says:


Different genres of games deserve different consideration when talking about time frames, but I am getting a bit sick of games using ‘online’ modes to make a game seem like a better deal. Gears of War 2 I beat far too quickly, I don’t go in for online gaming (especially on a console), so I felt cheated. $60 for what amounted to maybe 3 movies. I expect a game to take me at least a week at a few hours a day.

I can accept and appreciate a ‘much’ cheaper game only being 3-5 hours long, but I think that should be clearly stated. I cannot stand completing a game way before when I think it should be wrapping up. If I think I’m only half way through the game and suddenly I see the end game credits rolling it’s going to leave me feeling unsatisfied.

FPS/platform games do tell a story. I may enjoy the gameplay but at the end of the day it’s the story that draws me in. I rarely will rewatch a movie more than once a year, and I do think a lot of the ‘multiplayer’ additions are a cheap attempt at turning a story driven game into a game of replayability. Sports games, racing games, party games, strategy games- those are the gameplay focused. FPS/platform/RPGs should all be done without regard to someone playing through them again. I have no problem with side quests, an option for longer/more difficult playthroughs, but odd as I am I’d rather play Soul Calibur or Mario Cart than do Halo 3 or GoW2 online (especially without a mouse!).

Usmcdvldg says:

Re: Genres

I feel for you, If you are a big FPS fan I would suggest you get used to the online thing, because that is the direction that genere is heading.

I miss a good engaging fps, the ones that suck you and make you forget your playing a game. But the majority of (non geeky gamers) would rather shoot people instead of a poorly written AI acting out a story that forces them to think to much. There won’t be another Deus Ex worth playing anytime soon. COD4 was an excellent game, and entirely to short. But worth the money if you enjoy the online thing.

Jeff Rife says:

Re: Re: Genres

There won’t be another Deus Ex worth playing anytime soon.

That’s a real shame, too, because that’s the gold standard for immersive FPS/RPG crossover.

A single play takes at least 10 hours, even if you breezed through because you had already played and bypassed every optional mission, with normal first play about 30+ hours. But, then, you could go back and play again with completely different specializations, weapons, and upgrades and end up with a radically different experience. It was easy to spend 200 hours playing.

Nick says:

Competition for your entertainment dollar

Another way to look at the “cost per hour” for entertainment is to think about other activities that you will pay for.

Here in Australia, full price for a movie is about $15. For a 90 minute movie, that’s $10 per hour. If the movie is longer than that, or you get one of the many discounts that are available, then the price per hour of entertainment may end up closer to $6-7 per hour.

Things like concerts are generally much more expensive – easily reaching $20 an hour.

Something like a WoW subscription is a lot cheaper – even if you only play for a couple of hours each weekend, that’s still around 8 hours of entertainment for about AU$15-20 (depending on the exchange rate). And of course, you can play a lot more than that without paying any extra.

A game which offered 1 hour of gameplay for every AU$10 in the purchase price would be pretty expensive, but not insanely so, while one which offered an hour per $5 would be very reasonable.

SteveD says:

Value for money

Its not about how long the game is, but how much it costs in contrast to how long it is.

For example, if you were to spend $10 to see the Watchmen and then $50 on the game of the Watchmen and found out both were exactly the same length, you’d feel a bit cheated.

It’s not that rational, but it’s still a perception of value for money.

R. Miles says:

It's not the hours, it's the game itself.

As a gamer, I’ve noticed “completion” times of games are getting shorter. There could be a number of factors for this, most notably is the ease of gameplay.

Briefly, it seemed games were getting a bit more challenging, but this stopped. Now, games seem to be easier to play, and I’m guessing (for me) it’s due to repetition. I know what’s coming and what to do next.

This is why I won’t pay full retail for a game anymore. They’re all the same, with different settings. To me, there’s no difference between Call of Duty, Gears of War, or Halo.

One of my favorite series is the Legend of Zelda, but since Ocarina of Time, the game play of this series hasn’t changed one bit. So much so, I finished Twilight Princess in less than 20 hours.

When these two games are compared, it’s easy to understand why price becomes a factor. I don’t see many gamers complaining about price as much as I do game play.

And I agree. If a game is going to be 3 hours long, fine, but it had better be challenging to do so.

Ikaruga was a game developed within a week, but its simplicity made it incredibly challenging, especially when working to get 100% in chaining bonuses.

So much emphasis is being place in graphics today. I believe studios need to sit back and focus on immersing the player, not just showing pretty pictures. They need to break apart the monotonous repetitive game flow. They could easily start by chaining two 3 hour games together, each having their own unique game play mechanics.

For I can not fathom for the life of me why a “40 hour” game has to be so damn repetitive, forcing many gamers to walk away due to boredom.

Once studios figure this out, I may return at buying $50 games. Until then, the $19.99 bin is the first place I go.

Kevin says:

Only 40 hours?

I remember back in the old days (1980’s), when you saw a game review it usually included an estimate of the number of hours required to complete it. It wasn’t uncommon to see a game rated at 80 hours, or 100 hours, or even more in some cases. It has always been a great disappointment to me that playing times have steadily been decreasing.

I do understand why. We have shorter attention spans these days than we did 30 years ago. Video/computer games have so much more competition from every conceivable outlet, too, so games are competing for a smaller slice of the pie. Unfortunately prices haven’t shrunk similarly. I remember paying $30 for a game that would last 80-100 hours, and now we pay $60+ for a game that lasts half of that time, if you’re lucky. And to add insult to injury, instead of focusing on developing quality content for the games, many companies will give you 8-10 hours of solo content and reply on “online multiplayer” to fill in the void.

Anonymous Coward says:

40 hours is definitely NOT the traditional amount of play time you get from games. I’d say it’s between 10 and 15 to play a game from start to finish. You might play it a few more times straight through, or play the multiplayer modes with some friends. If not though, those 10-15 hours can still be very satisfying and feel like money well spent.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think a standard of 40 hours makes no sense, different types of games are going to take longer than other types for people to play, or for people to lose interest in.
If I had to play a simple brain-dead game with little to no story for 40+ hours, I would probably want to shoot myself.
But if the game has a really good story, and I mean a story that’s really immersive, 40 hours may not be enough time to fully explore the game or the story. Also, it may seem too short if the game is over in 20-30 hours, leaving you wanting more.

NSMike says:

Rectal Pluck

This guy pulled the “40 hour standard” out of his butt. It’s not a standard. There are a lot of major blockbuster games that are WELL under 40 hours. And I don’t know specifically about those reviews, but I imagine the cries of “too short” from those reviewers was more about wanting more game, and less about bang-for-your-buck value.

Anonymous Coward says:

short games suck

I hate short games. If it takes me less than a day to complete, it was a waste of money. (unless it was under $5)

Like Quake 4, It took a mere 7 hours to complete, I didn’t feel it was worth the $45 price.

but something like Assassins’ Creed, that was worth it, (time wise) it took me 3 weeks to run the game on casual time (2 or 3 hours here and there).

When i buy a game, i want content, lots of it, something that will not only make my $ worth it, but something worth the entertainment, short games wont entertain me for long, and they keep me starching my head wondering if i did something wrong.

Matt says:


This 40hr notion has been around for a long time, since the nintendo era where it would be advertised on the back of the box.

Now, content producers can’t make enough legitimate/good content to last 40 hours for 99% of the games out there.
It’s all filler, level up so you can do xyz, unlock xyz through some repetitive action.

It’s sad, but even the Final Fantasy series has leaned towards the “lazy content model.”

usmcdvldg says:

There’s nothing wrong with a game taking only three hours, as long as I didn’t pay $50-80 dollars for it. And I would be willing to bet the majority of these games he’s speaking about not taking long to finish had a large multiplayer element, extending the life of the game.

A bad poorly written game that gets repetitive is a bad poorly written game that gets repetitive. If you get sick of it after 10 hours then fine. But the guy who loves it shouldn’t be spending $50 on it.

If game developers can no longer make a 40hour game thats not all filler, and completely lacking in substance, maybe they should lower there prices.

TechWeasel says:

Awesome content and gameplay are achieved through the creative process, which is not easily reproducible.

In contrast, great graphics and more realistic physics can be achieved through taking advantage of new generations of hardware and improving existing systems. Also, most advertising is visual, and better graphics translate to better screenshots and more interest.

If you’re a game-producing studio and you want a game that is visibly and unquestioningly better than previous generations, are you going to gamble on a better storyline and gameplay, or throw money at programmers, designers and graphic artists to get better visuals?

DS78 says:

It depends really.

The 40 hour mark seems a bit random to me. I’ll use Fallout 3 for an example. I paid $50 for that game. It’s single player only. It took me way more than 40 hours to complete it the first time round (I’m an explorer what can I say). I was so smitten with the story and the world Bethesda created I played through fully 3 more times with different character attributes, taking more good or evil path. It was a blast. Money well spent.

Lets take Left 4 Dead as the second example. I paid $50 for this game. The completion time for the single player portion of the game (even on advanced mode) borders on 5 hours. The hook is the online play. My Steam account says I’ve spend just under 70 hours the last two weeks playing this game. It’s all online multiplayer. Money well spent.

I’m still trying to figure out where the 40 hour mark comes from…

Usmcdvldg says:

Re: It depends really.

Left for dead is a game that should have been multiplayer only, the single player portion was tacked on because when they finished the multiplayer they figured why not, it will take us five minuets.

If you really like the gameplay, and play online, you’ll get far more than 40hrs. If you don’t like multiplayer, you had no business buying that game.

Fallout three was an excellent game!!!! God bless bethusda for not f’in up something as holy as fallout!

Mr_Sok says:

Since when was it 40?

I’m sorry but who is this guy writing this article. The industry standard for finishing a game is much closer to 20 hours in the current generation. And isn’t it obvious from the success of LIVE arcade and PSN that shorter games at lower price points are well embraced by the community. However, the concept of a 3 hour game sold at full retail price is an interesting one. If it were of a outstanding quality and offered reason to play again, such as multiple paths, then it would be an interesting concept.

Nethos (profile) says:


Some games I can understand taking 40 hours to complete, like big RPGs and similar styles of games. However, as more and more games these days are focused more on multiplayer gaming (Halo 3, the latest Call of Duty games, etc.), I believe it is perfectly fine for the single-player portion to take just an afternoon to complete. There should be at least some single-player campaign to play, but it doesn’t need to take two weeks to complete it when the best part of the game is the online play.

chris (profile) says:

the new breed of gamer

40 hours to a hardcore gamer is like 4-8 days. that sounds like a pretty good deal for a single game. i’ll bet it took me 40 hours to finish the whole halflife2 + episodes 1 and 2.

but there is a new breed of gamer now, the casual gamer. they play games from companies like bigfish, you know the tycoon games and the diner dash knockoffs. i don’t think those games take 3 hours to finish, but it’s definitely less than 40. the pricing is different too, $10-$20 instead of $50-$60.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: the new breed of gamer

Tycoon games have been around for a very long time, they are in no way “new”.

I will admit that this generation of gamers who think that being a “hardcore” gamer means playing Halo and whatever the other big name console shooter of the day is and bashing the “casual” haven’t experienced quality tycoon games until recently.

But I have thousands of game CDs, some dating back to more than 15 years ago and there are tycoon games among those, hell I remember Oil Barons which was released about 25 years ago.

hegemon13 says:

Replay value

It all depends on replay value. If the game allows for variations based on character selection, or rewards for finishing “perfectly,” etc, then in doesn’t matter. Case in point: it takes about 2-5 minutes to finish a race in Burnout: Revenge on my XBOX (yes, I am still using an original XBOX). I have probably 100+ hours in that game. I finished every race a long time ago. But I keep coming back to try to get every race up to the 5-star level and complete all the little challenges. Tony Hawk can be the same way. If someone made a 3-hour adventure game that offered the same kind of replay value, I’d be all over it. I just don’t have time to finish these 20+ hour games. I play maybe 1-2 times per month, with an occasional few minutes here and there. I have started and lost interest in many RPGs. I want to like them, but I can’t get lost in the world when there are several weeks between gaming sessions.

Rekrul says:

You can’t just make a blanket statement about how long a game should be without considering other factors.

If a game is like one of the GTA series, which are free-form and you’re basically going to be running around the same playfield for the length of the game, then you definitely have to balance the length of time it will take to complete and how bored players will become. If they’re just running back and forth doing the same things over and over to build up money or character stats, it gets boring. However if new things keep happening, giving the player something new to look forward to, then the game can go on much longer.

When talking about FPS games, my personal feeling is that they can never be too long, as long as they’re well-designed. While the weapons and enemies may stay mostly the same, the levels themselves are usually new and unique. I like seeing what’s around the next corner and feeling like I’m working toward a conclusion. When it’s over, I’m usually disappointed that I’ve seen all the game had to offer. Others must feel the same way, judging by the amount of fan-made levels that get posted to the net. Most of them are just single levels with no real story, but occasionally, you find an entire new game to enjoy, like Thief2X, a whole new mission set for Thief 2, or Convergence a new set of missions for Deep Space 9: The Fallen.

If I were to buy an FPS game and beat it in just a couple hours, I’d feel cheated.

Anonymous Coward says:


the “40 hour” rule first appeared back in the N64 days, with the release of Legend of Zelda: ocarina of time. reviewers and gamers latched on to the estimate that it would take about 40 hours to complete the game start-to-finish. The game was highly anticipated, and at the time a 40 hour long game was massive. players latched on to the Time thing, because it meant the experience of a game they had waited years for would not be over too quickly.

it seems that since that time, the “40 hour rule” some how became standardized as just-long-enough.

Chad says:

40 hours is WAY TOO SHORT for some games… the good ones. This is especially true for games that you space out. I like to play a game, put it down, and a few days layer pick it up again and have another few hours of gameplay time.

If I picked a game up and finished it in 3 hours, I would be devastated that I just forked over $40-$60 on a game that I could finish faster than lunch.

I remember back in the 80s, games were so challenging that you could spend hours and hours on a game without EVER beating it. The challenge was what made those games fun. Remove all of the challenge of a game, and it’s not even worth playing anymore.

Part of that challenge is in how long it takes to complete certain tasks, how long it takes to complete the game as a whole…

I guess they’re appealing to the ADD -stricken children of today? The thing is… if a game is a really great game, people will want to play as much of it as they can.

Take Fallout 3 for example, it was a relatively short game, but thanks to the side-quests a person could easily spend 40 hours playing it. Even then, I wished there was more to it. Had the game only been 3 hours in length to complete, I would have felt that it just wasn’t long enough. The reason behind that feeling is that you don’t want such a good thing to end so quickly, because good games are hard to come by these days.

Chad says:

I’d just like to also make a point in saying that I have never ever believed that a game should be 40-hours in length. 40-hours is actually a bit much. Some of “the longest games” available, I have completed in about 10. That being said, I would then assume that the average game is around 10 hours to complete by an avid gamer.

$60 for 10 hours of play time with next to NO replay value? That’s lame! At least give me my money’s worth… say.. $1 for every hour!

Sisiutil says:

I should think that the ideal time varies depending upon the category of the game. Speaking as a long-time Civilization fanatic, total game-time in a high-quality turn-based strategy game can clock in at several hundred hours. Frankly, if I mastered the game in around 40 hours, I’d be enormously disappointed!

However, in a “quest/puzzle” game like Myst (yes I know I’m dating myself), 40 hours of increasingly frustrating puzzles would probably lead to dissatisfaction with the game. Someone who’s used to first-person shooters can probably fly through the levels in a few hours–but the replay value from multiplayer sessions and mods can be very high and also amount to many, many hours of play.

So, in short, it’s hard to apply one standard to all games.

batch says:

Gameplay time differs

I played The Maw as well, and enjoyed it. It was a Saturday well spent. I wouldn’t have played it for 40 hours, or 20 for that matter. It was as long as it needed to be.

40 hours is something I want out of say, Mass Effect, but there are plenty of other great games that fortunately didn’t run on that long, like Bioshock which takes around 20. Left 4 Dead takes approximately 1 hour per campaign in Co-Op, with a total of 4 campaigns and plenty of replay ability, especially the Versus multiplayer mode.

I’d rather the game end before it gets repetitive and irritating, so setting some arbitrary standard of gameplay time is uncalled for, in my opinion.

Griffon (profile) says:

bang for buck

I have been playing games a long time and there is no 40 hour standard :). But I think this complaint (often valid often not) comes from a lot of companies charging full price for very short games (say 8 hours) but really what that type of comment is about is, not enough bang for the buck regardless of how many buks we are talking about, It’s arbitrary but so are all reviews, to short just translates to felt short and he doesn’t think people will quite feel they got their moneys worth.

Usmcdvldg says:

I think Most are right

The more I think about it the I agree with the statement “most games aren’t 40 hours long.” The reason why is that most games are crap. The complaint about games not being the 40 hour standard comes from real gamers who take their games seriously. They don’t bother with the crap of the industry, to them, these games don’t even exists.

With the exception of games bought for there multiplayer content; ie the left for deads, the wow’s, and to some extent the CODs, Gamers expect there $50+ games to be both engaging and long. They expect them not to be repetitive tripe but to stand on merits that provide a since of challenge and accomplishment.

Chronno S. Trigger says:


The only way one should ever expect 40 hours of game play is the replay value. If a game developer can create a game that the customer plays over and over again then the developer did his job if the game is 40 hours or 1.

Portal, Mirrors edge, Soul Caliber 4 are all short games but are vary much worth a replay. Mass effect, Blue Dragon, Fallout 3 are all vary long games but also worth the replay value. I still think all six of those games are worth the money I payed.

Buzz says:

It really depends on the game.

Personally, I favor Diablo II’s approach. It doesn’t take all that long to “conquer” the game (by completing Acts 1 through 5). However, there are several classes to choose from, each requiring unique strategies to win, so it invites the player to try again. Also, conquering the game in “normal” unlocks “nightmare” (and subsequently “hell”). The upper difficulties start your character (the one who conquered the game) back at Act 1, but you keep all your gear, skills, etc. It is not the same game repeated! The monsters are beefed up drastically to match your newfound power; there are new items to obtain; the strategy changes radically.

So, it gives the player flexible choice. A casual player can use one class, conquer the “normal” difficulty, see the end cinematic, and call it good. Meanwhile, a more dedicated player might be interested in “truly conquering” the game by defeating all three difficulties with every single class. The casual players often see that as repetitive and boring, but that’s OK. The game simply offers that flexibility.

AC says:

What a dumb standard

Any of the NES Super Mario games could be beat in an hour or so without even rushing, but when people are still playing them (and paying for new copies, even) 20+ years later, then $50 for one of them is a better investment than getting a long, boring $20 game today.

In the end, everybody is going to define value differently, and trying to boil it down to a single number (dollars/hour, or something stupid like that) is a fruitless exercise.

Sbard says:

For me replayability and playtime are absolute non-issues. I have way too many games in my backlog to replay many of them. My view is that games have been getting longer and longer over the generations, especially console games. A typical arcade shooter or beat-em-up from the 80’s could be theoretically finished in one sitting of maybe an hour at most. Most players ended up taking much longer to actually beat them since said games were effectively ports of popular arcade games that used punishing difficulty and forced repetition (repeat the whole level if you die, etc) as a way to get players to regularly feed more quarters into the machine. Compared to these games, the five to six hours of a modern single-player FPS is actually pretty long.

Back in the 16-bit era, a typical console RPG would take about 20-30 hours to complete. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for one to take 70-80 hours, heck I ended up putting in over 100 hours into a single playthrough of Persona 3 (although it turns out that I didn’t really need to). I would love more tightly focused and well designed single player experiences that designers didn’t feel the need to pad with needless scavenger hunts and forced timesinks to bump up the advertised hours of play on the back of the box.

Michael Talpas says:

Too long!

I couldn’t get through all the comments, because they were too long. I’m one of those people who has a short attention span. I need something to either grab my attention and keep it, or be short enough to fit in my attention span.

That said, one of the greatest games I have ever seen (who’s name escapes me for some reason) is one that takes about one or two hours to get through. The point of the game is not how long it takes to get through, but that everytime you play it (assuming you make different choices each time) the game is totally different. The game follows an unnamed samurai who enters a village oppressed by bandits (or some such). The story is a familiar one, but the story runs over the course of three days, with a ticking timer that determines how much time you have. The game lasts a fixed amount of time (unless you die) and there are hundreds of different choices you can make.

The crux of the matter is, the game is constantly replayable, giving a completely different (and satisfying) experience, each time you play. You’d have to be some kind of tactical genius to play all the possible variants, and it probably would take you up to or more than 40 hours to play them all. But, as this game proves (name still escapes me) you can make a short game that will give a lot of satisfaction.

Other games in this vein include Star Ocean, Fable, Black and White, and most Online RPGs. Star Ocean offers the same thing as above, where your choices in the game have a profound effect on the rest of the game. It is impossible to get all the possible events with just one play through. Fable, Black and White, and most Online RPGs offer a nearly infinite level of customization, and are literally impossible to do everything that can be done. These games can be boring (Online RPGs are infamous for their grinding) but they are dynamic and constantly changing, which is what keeps audiences coming back.

Another favorite is Metal Gear: Solid 2. I beat the game in 6 hours, and I felt very satisfied. Like I’d eaten a 3 course meal, reclining on silk cushions, while belly dancers performed and slave children fanned me with palm fronds. Oh yes. Very satisfied.

chad says:

are economists the only ones posting comments?

if you’re playing a game so you can complete it for some sort of notch in youre belt you probably lack a purpose to start with. im a mathematician rather than an economist and my problem with everyone, including the authors approach, is that you people assume in all of your equations that the value of a movie or game is fulfilled only when its completed. try turning on a movie and watching just one scene for a change. try watching trailers, playing demos and reading sample chapters before you blow an investment of money and more importantly, time, on something you wont enjoy.

FrellMeDead (profile) says:

Average time to complete a game

First off different types of games have different amounts of time needed to complete them. Secondly the only time of game that requires 40 hours is RPG (role playing games) and possibly Strategy based games. Action, FPS (first person shooters)/3rd person shooters range between 8- 20 hours on average. Quite a few games are meant to be replayed on different difficulty levels, to acquire/unlock different parts or unlock able characters/weapons, and multi player modes. For instance Resident Evil 5 has various unlockable content including unlimited ammo, professional mode, as well as a 1 to 2 player in addition to the standard game called mercenary mode. On average the more popular games by the big name developers have longer games. It basically comes down to the type of game play. Most people expect the average game to be at least 8 hours long. Obviously the more skilled gamers can go through a game fairly quickly since they won’t die as easily and can quickly unlock items on the highest difficulty. For me I can finish a game very quickly and I personally never chose anything but the hardest degree of difficulty on the first pass. People expect more since the price of games as steadily increased over the years (especially the current generation of game/game consoles). This generation of games went up 10+ dollars for the standard game not including limited/collectors editions. I just wanted to clarify this point since the person that informed you of the 40 hour rule should have told you of the different genre’s that dictate the amount of time to complete the games. Hope this helps.

jason says:

It depends

A video game is long for many reasons including an amazing single player story with increasing twists, turns, new moves, suprises, etc. you know where I’m going. Added things like being able to replay it differently or get stuff you missed or replaying it because its really fun also contribute. Multiplayer fun can make it long. Short games can be short because they are boring, fun with great replay value just not meant to be long or not a lot of story or stuff put into it. It depends. If you get an amazing long game for a decent price you did good. Get a short game for a decent price then you did good. Get either and they’re bad you did bad. Get amazing game and make it into something better then you did great.

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