The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is set to release in a little under a week, and it promises to deliver over 200 hours of gameplay. This fact alone has been a motivating factor in some of the 1 million pre-orders the game has raked in. Gamers see a sprawling open-world game and jump at the opportunity to get lost in side-quests and story missions alike. For many, the mere opportunity to spend a cumulative 8 days in a particular universe makes their mouth water. Some would even argue the length of these game is what makes the game worth owning.
However, we’ve seen games released with shorter campaigns that were received extremely well in gaming history. Portal 2 can be completed in just around 5 hours and retailed for $54.99, and many people consider it to be a great game, Mirror’s Edge has a rabid cult following with a run-time between 4-6 hours, and Dishonored was a game of the year contender in 2012 with a campaign that could be finished in 6-8 hours.
So, what determines a games value? How long does a game have to be in order to justify the price that you pay? Does the opportunity to sink 200 hours playing an RPG deserve the same price as a game that can be consumed in just a few sittings?
The truth of the matter is that value is entirely subjective. While it may be true for some that $60 for a 5 hour campaign in The Order 1886 seems a little steep, many others thought a highly polished, cinematic experience that can be fully had in just a few sittings is a refreshing sight in a gaming landscape that pines for 100-hour open-world epics.
I’ve heard many different discussions on this topic, and I’ve noticed a trend in all of them. The argument for many boils down to “a game has to be x amount of hours long in order to be worth $60.” For example, That Game Show’s Curtis Koh talked about how a game needs to be at least 20 hours in order to be worth the full retail price tag. Many people share this sentiment, crucifying Ready at Dawn and Sony for having the audacity to ask for $60 for what amounted to a 5-7 hour game for most. However, the logic is at best incomplete and may even be flawed. The argument is entirely one-sided. While people may all nod their head in agreement that a game that is 20 hours is worth the price, the discussion rarely goes the other direction.
Think about it! The Order 1886 has a 5 hour campaign, which by many people’s standards means it should have been at most $29.99. A 15-20 hour campaign can be had with The Evil Within, warranting a full $60 price tag. Now take Skyrim, which can easily stretch over a hundred hours. How willing would people be to pay $150-$200 for that game. Sure, fans may be quick to step up and say “me,” but let’s be honest: if Bethesda steps onto that E3 stage and announces that the new Fallout 4 game will retail for $149.99, the full weight of Reddit, IGN, NeoGaf, Twitter, and probably a mysterious resurrection of Friendster will cascade down on Rockville, Maryland in a way that would rival the day Xbox One announced their always online console.
A minimum time limit can’t be placed on AAA games. It’s unfair to developers, but it is even more unfair to the consumer. Publishers won’t allow developers to launch an 8-hour game that they can only sell for $40. No, they will force them to add copy and paste side-quests, require you to solve unnecessary puzzles to unlock a door, throw in out-of-place or poorly developed multiplayer, or add countless hours of mindless grinding to be able to beat the final boss. One of the biggest complaints about Alien Isolation is that it dragged on unnecessarily for several hours. If the consumer makes their voice heard that 20-hour games or longer are the only games that will open their wallets, many games will take the Alien Isolation route.
And what are we even measuring here? Base campaign length? Campaign plus side missions? Time it takes to platinum or unlock all of the achievements? What about games that have multiplayers modes alongside their story? What if a gamer only prefers one of those? What about a game like Titanfall, that has online only? Are we measuring the amount of unlockables? How many times you can “prestige”? What if I want to complete an RPG with every class or race of character available? Do I then multiply that 100-hours by the 4 classes? Can my game potentially cost more than the console I’m playing it on? Let’s be realistic, we want our games to be a certain length, but we also don’t want games that are longer than that to be more than $60.
No game is locked in at its original release price, anyway. And no one is forcing you to pay full price for them. There are flash-sales, price cuts, bundles, trade-ins, gamefly subscriptions, redbox rentals, bargain bins, and the hopeful anticipation that it will be dropped in Games with Gold or Playstation Instant Games Collection. If a game doesn’t seem worth $60 for you, then wait for it to not be $60. It won’t take too long.
For me, personally, I finished The Order in 6 hours and sold it to a buddy for $40, thus making the overall experience a $20 investment, only a few dollars more than a 2 hour movie. My point is this: games aren’t locked in at $60 for all-time.
When it comes to value, campaign length is far less important than polish, gameplay mechanics, story, fun factor, replay value, and more. These are the areas developers should be focusing their attention rather than bloating their game with senseless side missions, trophy hunting, and grinding. These are ultimately the areas that will determine if a game withstands the test of time.