Adam's Rant: How Long Should It Take For A Game To 'Get Good'?

By Adam Ma on February 27, 2011, 8:34PM EDT

As a famous cartoon character once said, "the first one second of any movie is the most important." The idea here is that within the first second of a film, the audience must be completely enthralled with whatever it is they're watching. Now of course this sort of humor is picking on people who complain that a movie isn't exciting when it may have just began, but this same sort of logic applies to the gaming industry as well. How long should it really take before a game offers an enjoyable level of fun? Some would say that this is a completely subjective question and that every game has its own pace that must be followed. To a certain extent, that's completely true. I would never hold an RPG to FPS standards, or any other genre for that matter. However, some developers seem to have convinced themselves that "pacing" and "bad game design" are one and the same, blaming gamers for having unrealistic expectations for their creation.

When a developer boasts that their game will have over 40, 50, even 60 hours of gameplay, it's hard not to wonder how much of that is going to be a dragged out grind and how much of that is going to be really engaging content. How long will it take to beat the game and how much of that 40 hour block is going to be bonus content? This is the problem I have with many modern games that supposedly set amazingly unrealistic expectations for themselves before forcing players to listen to developers cry about how gamers simply don't understand their product and next time they'll try harder.

A fantastic example of this is Final Fantasy XIII, which wasn't a bad game by any means necessary once you reached the "fun" part, but when it takes anywhere from twenty to thirty hours to start having a good time in the game, something has definitely gone wrong. The developer has failed in making an engaging product. This isn't an issue exclusive to RPGs either, it's simply a genre that falls prey to this problem with more frequency; however, there are plenty of FPS titles that have committed the crime of misunderstanding its audience. Medal of Honor immediately comes to mind, a title which not only fell short of it's multiplayer expectations, but was also harshly criticized for its campaign mode that failed to deliver anything but a false sense of Hollywood glorified combat.

On the flip side, you have titles like God of War that knows how to draw the player in from the very beginning. Just pushing the start button will toss players straight into the storyline, rapidly setting the stage and the mood while letting the gameplay take over to determine the pacing. Not every title needs to start off with a massive bang in order to draw in an audience, but knowing your audience and what they want should be a developers sole focus.

I personally feel that from the very moment you pick up a controller to when you've hit the start button and the first inevitable cinematic starts to run, the game should be entertaining you. There's nothing wrong with "where do I go?" moments or points in the story that lose your interest more than others, but there should never be a point in time where a player is waiting for the fun to start outside of the tutorial; and even then there's an unwritten rule on how long any tutorial should be taking place for. Learning the basics shouldn't take a day or two. After all, that's the entire point of advanced moves/complex fights, they keep the game interesting as time goes on.

Perhaps this is unreasonable to some, but I don't think so. I should never have to wait until I'm halfway through with a title for it to become awesome, nor do I invest in games that only become interesting after a prolonged set of time. Those kinds of titles are bad games for the exact same reason that they're bad forms of entertainment. No one wants to sit through an entire movie that only becomes amazing at the very end, but not until the crowd sits through two hours of meaningless footage. How many authors make a living writing massive stories that only becomes interesting after the first two volumes? Not many, and the same holds true in the gaming industry. Few developers can make a boring game and survive for very long and many still manage to kick out a title or two before inevitably closing doors for good. The sad reality of the situation is that with just a little more time and research, developers like Midway or Secret Level may still be around today.

So if you take some time to think about it, there really isn't anything unreasonable in asking a developer to craft an experience that players can be drawn into from the very start. It hurts so much to pick up a game and feel almost no soul to it, almost as if players are supposed to accept that going through the motions is somehow going to be fun. Nothing is more obvious than when a developer cuts a corner or gives up in a particular area, and everyone knows where that sort of thing leads to. I'd like to imagine that the future of gaming is filled with heart-pounding adrenaline filled experiences around every single corner, but the reality is that for every single AAA title there's a clear list of disappointments that could have been easily avoided. The most gamers can hope for is that list gets smaller every year, or in my particular case, that more developers learn to cut to the chase sooner rather than later.

blog comments powered by Disqus