This has actually been on my mind since I first started playing role playing games, such as Realms of Darkness and Pool of Radiance. While RPGs are known for long story lines and expansive worlds, they are often plagued with game play times that exceed the 50 hour mark. In some cases, they actually exceed 100 hours of play. Though I will grant that the games that go over 100 hours are rare, they often are the ones that most players will call too long. The Final Fantasy games and Lost Odyssey are some examples of games that hit that 100 plus hours of game time.
However, Final Fantasy games are not considered too long, by most gamers who play RPGs. In fact, all the gamers I have ever talked to who play those games say they are totally amazing, and all that the time playing those games was always exciting.
So what makes a game too long? I will posit that a game becomes too long, when the story in the game becomes boring or disconnected, or when the gameplay is based mainly upon grinding without significant story progression, rather than any quantified number.
When the game flows from one segment of connected story to the next, it keeps the brain involved. This can be done quickly, such as in games like Lollipop Chainsaw, Resident Evil 4, or even Dragon Age: Origins. Or it can move at a much slower pace, but keeps everything connected so that even little events seem to advance the story, such as in games like Portal, Alan Wake, or Mass Effect.
The games that capture the imagination of the players, are often the ones that have well written, and well paced, stories. These games drive the player to continue to the next step. They get players wanting to find out that crucial answer to the question of “What happens next?” What new thing does this developer have that makes me want to find out how the story progresses, as well as how it ends? This is seen, obviously, in games that become huge fandoms, such as Mass Effect, Final Fantasy, and even MMOs such as World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic.
And it can also be seen in badly paced games, such as Batman: Arkham Origins, Watchdogs, and Alien: Isolation. Games that should have done very well, but obviously lack in pacing for the story line.
Batman: Arkham Origins tried to pace too fast. Everything seemed to happen so quickly, that you almost thought the game was going to be over in a couple hours. Then it slows down drastically, to the point that I wanted to stop playing due to boredom.
With Watchdogs, they packed too much into the game, and let the player free roam to the point that the most interesting part of the game was the multiplayer portion. (Only reason I even load the game up anymore is to jump into someone else’s game, and see if I can hack them)
Alien: Isolation started out perfect. It had the mix of scare and jumping at shadows that the original movie made famous. But then they made the huge mistake of introducing the alien at an early point in the game. That wouldn’t have been a killer of the game, had they not relied so heavily upon the alien throughout the rest of the game, making the gameplay stale so fast.
No game will ever be perfect. Games are often hit or miss with their audience. But the best games are the ones that find that right balance between keeping the story interesting, and keeping the story moving forward. Finding the balance between giving clues to what will happen, with keeping an interest in how it is going to happen.
In this gamer’s opinion, games become too long when you lose the balance between pacing out what will happen next, and keeping the player’s interest in how will it happen.