[The "10 minute rule" governs the creation of films, but is there a similar rule that could apply to game narrative? Game writer and academic Leanne Taylor discusses the possibilities, and examines narratively successful games for clues.]
Games are like movies -- or so some would have us believe. With their ever-increasing budgets and graphical realism, they're certainly heading down that path.
In movies, there's something that's colloquially known as the "10 minute rule". The idea is that, after 10 minutes, the viewer will generally have a good idea of whether they'll enjoy the rest of the movie or not.
In games, which are exponential in terms of cost and time for the audience when compared to movies, where does the 10 minute rule lie?
The reason it's called the 10 minute rule is because that's when the hero usually receives their first inkling of the events that are about to unfold: 10 minutes in.
In The Princess Bride, the 10-minute mark falls conveniently on the point where Princess Buttercup is about to be eaten by a Shrieking Eel. If done correctly, this moment will convince the audience to keep watching, in order to find out what happens next.
In a similar way, games need a hook to convince the player to actually start playing. This can come in the trailers, before the game is released. In earlier days, when advertising for video games was all but unknown, it had to come from within the game itself.
Simple and to the point.
Spinning a tale to hook players was where cinematics came in -- they told the player the story, linked the gameplay to something the player could relate to, understand, or wonder about. Far apart from the gameplay, they gave the player a reason to start playing. They acted as the first intellectual or emotional half of the 10 minute rule, with the gameplay acting as the second, tactile half.
This meant that both facets had to combine to create a certain level of interest. Most gamers can agree that if, after playing through the opening cinematic and tutorial, you still aren't hooked, you've got a problem. And, more importantly, as games are becoming more expensive to both produce and procure, the publisher has a problem, too.
Australian price for the Fable III Limited Edition
So it's important to convince the player that they have spent their money wisely. And because games are so much more expensive for the player in terms of time and money than movies are, it has to do so quickly.