I still cherish the memories of my life as a hardcore gamer, playing until the first rays of sunlight and beyond, unlocking everything the game had to unlock and if the game failed to keep me up until the morning, it wasn't worth its money. But surprising things happen when you grow up and reach adulthood: all of a sudden real life takes so much your time that long hardcore sessions are out of the question. Besides taking a lot of time to complete, these 20+ hour beasts require too much learning and devotion right from beginning to learn how to actually play them, so it's not hard to just forget the whole thing and leave your 60$ purchase gathering dust. Surprisingly, the games industry has already addressed the problem of people having less and less time at their hands. The rise of casual games has been noticeable in recent years to an extend that even a mammoth company like Nintendo has changed its philosophy in favor for this market, and looking at the DS sales data, I don't think they have regretted their decision for one second.
The problem with game length is that there are two types of people who need to be considered: gamers who can spend upwards of 50 to 100 hours on a single game in a couple of weeks, and gamers who might only be able to squeeze in a couple of hours a week. Unfortunately, these two camps seem to be polar opposites. I am sure that others will argue many good points about increasing the length of games, so I will try to briefly acknowledge the other side of the coin. I have heard game designers try to label the latter group as "casual" gamers, but this is shortsighted. Sure, casual gamers may only play a couple hours a week or for shorter periods of time. What about those people who simply do not have time to play? How about the full time parent who can only muster an hour or two after the kids are asleep, or the 70-hour a week worker who barely has the energy to pick up a controller after work? These people may still want to play the latest epic game, but it might just take them a little longer to finish.
The question naturally then becomes: "Can a game be too long?" Finishing a game should provide the player with a sense of accomplishment. Should gamers who cannot invest 10 hours a day be prevented from enjoying this? Should a game's length suffer just to appease a 1-2 hour gamer? How about a mix of both by providing a natural sense of progression through logical separations in the game, such as levels or distinct areas of play. I have been on both sides of this problem. There have been games that I could continue playing for months after conclusion. There have also been games that have been painful to get through. It can be very stressful to plan a schedule around playing a game for a couple of hours a day for a week, but have to play a few extra days to finish the game. While it is true that no one is forcing me to finish a game, it is difficult to just abandon a game after committing so much time to it. While a game should never drag on for several extra hours just to fill out the game play length, it should be long enough to make players fulfilled, but craving more. Of course, there is no simple equation for this as each game, and each player, is different.
Chris Covington, PouncingKitten Games
I don't really have a problem with games that are rather short. In fact, as someone with a huge list of games I would love to play but relatively little time with which to play them, terrific titles that don't break the 15 hour mark (two such games that come to mind are God of War and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time) come as welcome. Remember, a two hour movie can easily cost upwards of $10, which amounts to something like $5 per hour of entertainment. And though many people regard this as expensive, most will still gladly pay the price. Buying God of War for $60 when it came out, however, got me a good 15 hours of entertainment (not including the replay value afforded by playing through again on more challenging difficulty levels). That's $4 per hour of entertainment, which is a better deal than the movies. Now consider that as games go, God of War is not that long. A Final Fantasy game can feasibly get you over 100 hours of gameplay, meaning you're getting a rate that's significantly less than a dollar per hour of entertainment. And for a game with nearly infinite replay value, like Super Smash Bros., it's an even better deal.
While the advent of moderately priced episodic content should help solve this issue to a small degree, there needs to be some standard by which a game is priced based not the value of the IP, but on the value the game holds for consumers. Branding, licensing, and nostalgia make this nearly impossible, but the ECA should have some say in it soon I would hope. Personally, I think a short game, like a short movie, should cost less for the consumer. If you include all the extras, HD-DVDs and DVDs are about $20-40 for a good 5-6 hours of entertainment. Video Games should manage to be priced accordingly.