These days gamers expect a lot of bang for their buck when it comes to games. The average price of a AAA game has not radically altered in a long time, yet our expectations of their quality, length and feature suite is probably higher than ever. Recently it was revealed that Devil May Cry 5 will be a paltry 15 hours long (although there will be three characters and multiple playthroughs are often encouraged in DMC titles), and immediately there were some who figured this simply wasn’t enough. However, what some of these analyses of a game’s value are missing is the fact that the gaming population is aging, and with that comes a vastly different landscape of responsibility and an attitude to gaming that has to evolve with that. You will find many out there who breathe a sigh of relief when a game is only 15 hours long, because it means we’ll actually be able to fully play and enjoy it in its entirety and it won’t take us a year to complete it.
The average gamer is not a 16 year old skipping school to play Fortnite, they are in fact about 31. They likely have full-time jobs, a husband or a wife (or both, who am I to judge?) and children. Any one of these things is enough to shift your life’s focus in profound ways, and it’s a cold, hard fact that for most of us out there, as you get older you simply can’t afford to play video games as much as you once did. I can personally attest to this. Having a full-time job and two children (out of wedlock, sorry Catholics) and being the Editor-in-Chief here at WellPlayed, time that is able to be spent on myself and myself only is a rare and precious commodity. My children are not quite of an age or temperance where I can share my love of gaming with them, and my partner isn’t big on it either (although she’s incredibly understanding of my passion for gaming and did dabble in Call of Duty for a time). So for a large part of my evenings and weekends it is not Skyrim or Rivia that needs me, it’s my family – it’s an obvious and easy choice.
Not tonight Geralt, I’ve only just got the kids to sleep
But where there’s a will there’s a way, and I have become an expert at cramming in gaming time wherever I can so I can keep up. But when I think back to my favourite experiences of the past few years, they are the shorter, tighter and more focused adventures I’ve had, and they are also mostly single player. God of War, The Last of Us, DOOM, MachineGame’s Wolfenstein titles and the Metro games are recent examples of games I have played to their full and adored, and with the exception of perhaps God of War, their play times are relatively short. Despite their comparatively shorter length they were certainly of no small value – I gladly paid $80 for all of them, and would do it again in a heartbeat. I do not crave games as a service that can be played for eternity as long as you keep paying, I do not crave RPGs with endless fetch quests and empty checklists – I am the antithesis of the EA/Activision/Ubisoft target audience, and as a time-poor gamer, I don’t think that I’m alone.
Now, this isn’t to say I don’t love RPGs or MMOs, and a part of me mourns my inability to commit to a lot of these titles anymore. The Witcher games, the Elder Scrolls games (particularly Morrowind and Oblivion), the original Mass Effect trilogy and even vanilla Destiny are all experiences that I sunk countless hours into. Additionally, even on a time budget that’s tighter than Toby Abbott’s budgie smugglers after they’ve been tumble-dried, there will be instances where even though a game will swallow every screed of my spare time whole, I will have no choice but to take the plunge (Anthem and Cyberpunk 2077 both certainly fit in that category). But by the same account, even though Persona 5 has been on my list of wanted games since it released, in my heart of hearts I know I will never play it, because to dedicate the 100+ hours required to complete it could take me half a year. Being a time-poor gamer is about being judicious with what little time you have, and on the balance of things it’s simply smarter to go for the shorter experiences so you can have more of them. This has also led me to seek out shorter indie games such as What Remains of Edith Finch and Firewatch, and my gaming life really couldn’t be richer for having spent time with these short but beautiful experiences.
As a side note, the life of a time-poor gamer has also highlighted for me an element of game design that I am coming to despise, principally the empty checklist gameplay perfected by Ubisoft. I recently made the choice to purchase Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which was touted as a shot in the arm for a series that was fading into obscurity with repeated stale entries. Part of me expected that this would mean doing away with a lot of the needless gameplay clutter that Ubisoft games have become infamous for, but really the game if anything revels in its empty checklists even more so. It is filled to the brim with pointless fetch quests and continually opening the map to figure out which symbol I’m going to go to next. This isn’t to say that the game and its new action-RPG leanings don’t have appeal, and I am mostly enjoying myself, but every new region that opens up with new symbols littering the map does deflate me somewhat. I’m also going to go out and limb and say the same is true of the latest Spider-Man game. The bones of Spider-Man were fantastic – good story, simple but fun combat and traversal that felt like you really were the nerd-cum-web-slinging acrobat himself. However, tracking down over fifty meaningless backpacks or looking for small cat objects in twelve locations to earn tokens to buy more suits simply wasn’t compelling and didn’t represent value to me – it was just incredibly tired cookie-cutter open-world design that felt like time poorly spent.
A team of historians are responsible for making sure there is rigorous attention to historical detail in the Assassin’s Creed franchise
A game does not have to be fifty hours long to be valuable, and many of us who don’t have time to burn anymore appreciate the value of a tight and focused experience. Money spent divided by hours played is not in any sense of the word equivalent to value. Yes, there are those out there who love long RPGs or constantly evolving MMOs and they will always be well catered for, but the renaissance of the shorter single-player experience I think is a reflection of the changing needs of the average gamer who must navigate the choppy seas of responsibility before sitting in front of their console or PC. At the end of the day I would much rather play a game that has eight hours of compelling gameplay than fifty hours of collecting 459 goat foreskins so you can clear an icon off a sprawling map. Gaming will always occupy a part of my world, but given the dwindling nature of the moments I have to spend on it, to me a game that values its player’s time is worth its weight in gold.