Look through anyone’s games collection and I doubt you will find more than 20% of games they have completed. Yet look through the same person’s DVD collection and you won’t find very many films they haven’t watched. It can’t be that games are too easy as we discovered in a recent article. It could be that the titles themselves aren’t as good as they sold themselves to be? However, I’d suggest that 2009 produced some of the highest quality games ever, yet looking through friends’ and colleagues’ gamercards shows even these extremely good titles are going unfinished.
I believe most of these games remain unfinished because they are too long.
How much time do we spend playing games?
According to the NPD 2009 Gamer Segmentation Report, 169.9 million Americans play games in one form or another. They break the US gaming population down into seven groups including PC gamers, secondary gamers, console gamers and extreme gamers. From their data it shows 67% of gamers play up to 6 hours a week, 20% play 12 hrs/week, 10% play on average 23hrs/week, and finally with 3% of extreme gamers playing a whopping 40hrs a week. Although a large portion of these reported games players are classed as secondary gamers – mostly female gamers who play less than four hours a week and don’t own a console – it still shows that only a fraction of gamers actually dedicate enough hours to the games that demand the play-time required to finish them.
Perhaps game length is one reason that seven of the top ten selling titles from sales are Nintendo titles. Games on the Wii such as Wii Fit, Sports and Play fit perfectly into the majority of gamers allotted game time i.e. you can play and enjoy them in very short bursts. On top of this if you think about the titles that the secondary gamers will play, such as Farmville, iPhone games and other free-to-play titles, it becomes even more apparent that a massive portion of gamers don’t have the time required to finish games. If games want to capture more market they need to reduce the time they demand from players.
Is a longer game better value?
I think we have a misconception that the longer a game takes to complete, the better a game it is. If a game only takes 10 hours to complete you might feel short-changed on your investment. Modern Warfare 2 is the biggest-selling title of 2009 but is also one of the shorter games; the main story weighs in at approximately five hours long. With a shorter time to complete I expect more players to have finished this game comparatively to any others this year. At the same time, a game such as Assassins Creed 2 – stretching over 20 hours – leaves players exhausted and bored, abandoning the game before completion.
In the old arcade days, gameplay was balanced in such a way as to keep punters feeding money into the slot; nowadays we try to offer a player several hours worth of gameplay for their money. This results in high price points and balanced gameplay with inflated development budgets. In other words, a game that costs $30 and takes you 30 hours to complete is damn good value for money compared to a movie, theatre or sports event.
If developers could reduce the length of the games they could reduce development budgets and in turn lower costs while still giving the player a very good play-time to cost ratio.
Episodic content and DLC
So far episodic content has not been hugely succesful at retail; one reason for this I think is the cost and time consumed for the development of the initial engine and the subsequent development per episode versus the profit. However, content delivered in bite-size chunks fits perfectly into the allotted gaming time available to most players. If developers could navigate around the high costs involved with engine development and deliver a successful model, we could see much shorter games at lower price points.
If an initial episode of a title could be delivered with only one or two hours of gaming time required on a regular basis, then it’s clear that the huge percentage of gamers – namely the secondary category – would have time to play. Shorter games could compete with movies and TV for entertainment time. Farmville has over 70 million players at the moment, with its free-to-play combined with optional payments model; perhaps this could be replicated on consoles.
If players do have the time to finish a game, and indeed unlock all achievements, would they be more likely to purchase further DLC? Maybe a title such as Modern Warfare 2 with its shorter game time and higher completion ratio will see a rise in add-on sales.
One thing is certain: while we continue to make games that require more time to complete than gamers actually have, more games will continue to go unfinished and the more achievements that will remain unlocked.
Those wishing to purchase NPD’s 2009 Gamer Segmentation Report can find out how on the company’s official web site.
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