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We all like to get good value when we buy a game. How many times have you brought home a fresh new title and been absolutely frustrated with it, finishing it in just a few stiff, unenjoyable hours? I know that I have fallen victim to this several times in the past, particularly in the days before the Internet and having dozens of reviews within easy reach. With the release of BioShock Infinite earlier this year, I have seen a lot of discussion (again) about the concept of the length of a game directly relating to its value and price. This is a discussion that has always annoyed me and made me feel like writing something in response.
I understand why this concept exists. In today’s world, with people losing their jobs left and right, money is a tight commodity in some households. Spending $60 on a brand new release that you feel didn’t gave you a worthwhile experience is a constant problem. This is the reason why reviews exist, however, and why most of them tend to have an hour count somewhere in their text. Those people who rush out to the store to purchase something on day one can only blame themselves for buying a stinker or something that isn’t as long as they expected. A few days of patience and research can save a player from blowing hundreds of dollars a year on titles that aren’t quite for them.
Reviews aren’t perfect, though. The real issue with the whole price-versus-length discussion is that each person has his or her own set of ideas on what makes something worth the purchase price. A reviewer might look for different things in an ideal game than a reader. For example, a group of people out there will probably always think that any release without some kind of multiplayer is a rip-off. When you compare the potential longevity of a multiplayer game such as Call of Duty to the 8-10 hours of your average single-player focused offering, it’s not much of a competition. Multiplayer games are obviously the better value for those players. While plenty of role-playing titles out there contain 60-plus hours of gameplay, they still don’t quite match up to the potential longevity of a good multiplayer-centric release. This is an understandable conclusion to make for some value-minded consumers.
To me, the defining characteristic of what makes a game “worth the money” is my level of enjoyment with it. I paid $50 for Portal 2 when it came out and beat it in an evening. Did I regret that it was so short? Maybe a little bit, but the experience I had with the game was great enough that I didn’t care. I played through Journey in about three hours, but it was one of the most powerful experiences I had that year. If it was a couple of hours longer, I might not have thought so highly of it. Journey is so sharp that any more content might have diminished what was so great about it. In my mind, the best games don’t become stale by padding themselves with useless and boring content. I can think of few things worse than a title that takes a fun idea and runs it into the ground by being too long for its own good. Length does not directly relate to quality. Instead, an experience’s length should match its gameplay systems and content.
I’m just going to have to accept the fact that everyone thinks of a title’s value in a different way. While I might have no problem with a $60 game that contains only 5 hours of (amazing) content, some people won’t be satisfied with those numbers. Some players out there have more time on their hands than money, and they need releases that will last for a long time. While I still think calling a game like BioShock Infinite a “poor value” is ridiculous, I am at least beginning to let myself accept other people’s reasons for these beliefs.
After all, we are all looking for different things in our titles, and that is one of the main reasons why gaming is such an interesting form of entertainment.