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Is length everything?
Edge #172, February 2007
The other night I watched the extended cut of Peter Jackson's King Kong. The original version was widely criticised for being an hour too long, so it seems a peculiar editorial decision to then extend it even further.
After the first hour - which admittedly would've benefited from being half an hour - the middle and last acts reminded me of a game (and not necessarily one starring Donkey Kong). There's very little plot development from scene to scene, it's merely a series of action sequences to provide an eye-candy adrenaline rush. Nevertheless, as mindless entertainment, I actually quite enjoyed it. Only an idiot would argue that you don't get your money's worth.
This got me thinking. A few years back there seemed to be a shift in the opinion that the longer the game the better it is. 'They' seemed to be telling us that we were going to get shorter, but sweeter, gaming experiences. Games wouldn't have so many levels, but the levels they did have would be full of innovation, and all that.
Why was this going to happen? Apparently because our lives are now so hectic that we no longer have time to sit down and play through 30-plus hours of a game. Nothing to do with the fact that the shorter the game the more games people are going to buy, and the cheaper they are to produce, or anything.
However, I'm not sure this revolution ever really happened. In an age where games like GTA and Oblivion take weeks to complete (providing you don't succumb to narcolepsy first), and where the new Zelda game is the biggest yet, there are plenty of 'big' games still out there.
What has changed is that we now have more open-ended gaming experiences. Things like Animal Crossing, and Electroplankton, and Buzz, and Guitar Hero are games you're likely to return to long after you've seen everything they have to offer. The amount of play you'll get out of something like Nintendogs or The Sims is determined entirely by the attention span of the individual. Which begs the question: how much life should you be able to get out of a game? How much is a game worth?
I completed Gears Of War recently. What it does, it does brilliantly. Just imagine how great it would be if it took longer than a couple of afternoons to complete? What's that you say? I haven't played it on all the difficulty settings, or collected all the COG tags? That's not gameplay. That's like making a cake go further by adding sawdust to the mix. Oh, by all means whinge about the fact I'm not including Xbox Live in all this. Yes, I know I can play the game online, but I didn't spend more than £40 just so I can be called a 'faggot' by some American teen. I know that I could play it through again, this time alongside my special manservant, but the core experience is the singleplayer missions, and that's what I'm paying my £40-£50 for. And I came away from GOW feeling ripped off.
I've always objected to difficulty settings in games (the exceptions being Perfect Dark Zero and Timesplitters 2, whose objectives differed dependent on which settings you chose). They always felt to me like a way of artificially extending a game. Why bother with the hassle of generating extra gameplay when you can just add a couple of extra lines of code?
I wouldn't actually feel this way were it not for the fact I'm spending £40 or more per game. I know the price of games is an old debate, but it's a debate we no longer seem to be allowed to have. The last man to suggest that we cut the price of games was handed out of town by a mob brandishing pitchforks.
Back in June last year Sony's Kaz Hirai said: "Generally speaking, over the past 12 years or so, there has been a consumer expectation that disc-based games are maybe $59 on the high end to $39 on the low end." Does that seem to you like he's admitting that $39-$59 is what they can get away with, rather than the price games have to be? It's madness. Games do not need to be as expensive as they are - no matter what they tell you. They're just that expensive, because we've all swallowed that bitter pill, and the minute anyone suggests that they're a tad on the pricey side the entire force of the games industry is brought to bear on them.
Cutting the price of games across the board would benefit everyone. It would benefit consumers because they'd be able to afford more than one game every six months, and it would benefit games companies because people would be buying more games.
I'm not even advocating a massive price cut. I don't expect games to be brought in line with the price of DVDs, because films have already had an outing at the cinema (although movies can cost ten times the price of even the biggest game). I just wish there was a sensible reduction so I don't come away feeling ripped off.
There's no way on Earth it'll ever happen, because it would require an industry-wide effort, and no one wants to be first. And while we're all stupid enough to buy overpriced games they're going to keep overpricing them, and literally wiping their bottoms on our money.
Mr Biffo co-founded Digitiser, Channel 4's Teletext-based videogames section, and now writes mainly for television
Do you know of any important moments from the annals of Digi history that have been omitted? If so, then mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) right now, man. Credit will be duly given for anything that gets put up.