Game length- Quality, quantity, and that all important price point

mgs zeroesGame length has always been a topic for gamers, perhaps even more so now with current economic conditions having players wanting to get the most bang for their buck. But common sense alone dictates that there is no hard and fast rule to this. Rather, it is more of a subjective thing, something that is one of an individual choice or preference. There truly is no objective way to measure game length versus value. What some may deem as too long another may say it wasn’t long enough. Often game length can depend on just how much fun we’re having while playing. Let’s face it- if you’re having a blast, hours will fly by with you hardly being aware of their passage. Getting frustrated with a level could have you checking the clock and wondering how much longer the torment can go on. In this way, games can be akin to movies in this respect. Watch a three hour movie that fully engrosses you, and the time flies by. Conversely, watching a 90 minute flick that utterly bores you and doesn’t capture your interest could have you checking your watch often, only to be dismayed that only a couple of minutes have passed.

Game length has recently come to light again in the wake of a Game Informer report the Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes has a main campaign that can be completed in under two hours. True, they did make mention that there are side quests to do as well, plus additional game modes, and Konami has defended the length on their game, with designer for Kojima Productions Jordan Amaro commenting, “Are Journey and Dear Esther long? [Voltaire’s 18-century writing Candide] is like a hundred pages at most. Yet they are masterpieces of video game and literature. This smearing will not stain and affect what we’re aiming to achieve with MGS, the game industry in Japan, or video games as a whole.”

Konami even issued a long statement via its Facebook page in defense. The statement reads:

“METAL GEAR SOLID V: GROUND ZEROES features a non-linear, open world environment that allows players to choose how to approach each mission. Players can use a variety of tactics, from a run and gun action style to true stealth-ops, to accomplish any one single mission, true to the METAL GEAR SOLID series. With freedom to choose multiple paths, by foot or by vehicle, to dynamic enemy engagement, players are sure to find a deep gameplay experience across a central story mode as well as numerous side-ops missions.

“Also, METAL GEAR SOLID V: GROUND ZEROES offers a number of additional achievements and unlockable platform-exclusive content for considerable replay value in the true cinematic style and ground-breaking graphics that has become the hallmark of Kojima Productions.

“Similar to a television series, GROUND ZEROES serves as the first act that will bridge the gap between METAL GEAR SOLID PEACEWALKER, serving as the prologue to the highly anticipated METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN, the second part of the METAL GEAR SOLID V Experience.

“KONAMI expresses its confidence that METAL GEAR SOLID V: GROUND ZEROES represents an overall excellent experience with its expansive gameplay, replay value, as well as its compelling and deep storyline.”

There are a couple of issues with these statements. First off, a couple of things to mention. One, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is not a demo for The Phantom Pain. Kojima has said it is a prologue, and it does serve as a “tutorial” for the much larger game. Ground Zeroes was split off from The Phantom Pain because Kojima wanted to get a taste of the overall experience into gamers’ hands, and The Phantom Pain may not be ready to ship until the end of 2015. While the game isn’t carrying the full price tag of a full game, its pricing is one of the main issues gamers have been expressing their dissatisfaction with. Priced at $20 (USD) for digital and $30 (USD) for retail for the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions and $30/$40 for their respective counterparts on the Xbox One and PS4 is what is drawing the ire of many, some of whom say it is “akin to charging extra for the Tanker section” from Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Amaro in particular has missed this point, as both Journey and Dear Esther sold for 14.99 regardless of what platform you played them on. There were not multiple price points for those games, and even some players did balk at the $15 for Journey due to its short length. Yes, it is replayable, especially online, but some still thought it was a bit much. At least the retail disc version of Journey contained two other games, Flower and flOw, as well as a couple of minis for your 30 bucks.

No one is saying that Ground Zeroes will be lacking in quality, or that it will not be a pleasurable experience for fans. But mgs5the price point is an issue, and an understandable one. Many fear this could set the stage for other developers/publishers following this model, splitting off a chunk of a game at a slightly reduced price and following it up with a larger and more complete version at full price later. For PS4 and Xbox One users that can equate to a 100$ price tag for the full MGS V experience if they get it retail, and for PS3/Xbox 360 users it would run $90 for the full story. Yes, you can go cheaper with the digital versions, but not by much. And Konami is making a lot of assumptions that people will take to the game and want to replay it. Replayability certainly does figure into the scheme of things when deciding what game you wish to purpose, but it’s only a part of your decision, and you shouldn’t have to replay a game to get your money’s worth out of it.

So what is a good game length to make it worth your hard earned cash? As I said before, that is an individual choice. My personal rule, though certainly not a hard and fast absolute ironclad rule, is that I prefer to get one hour of gameplay for every dollar I spend. While that is my preference, obviously other things come into play for me- primarily story, characters, and gameplay. If those are enjoyable to me then I will want to revisit a game and play through again, especially if there are multiple endings or paths to choose from. But that would be my choice, not a publisher or developer assuming that I will want to replay their title in order to get my money’s worth. The main campaign has to grab me. Side missions and other game modes are all well and good, but if the main core of the game isn’t up to snuff for me, I’m not going to care about those extras. At least not at full price.

Obviously, every game can’t run 60 hours or more in length. That works for RPGs mostly (though even some of those are padded out to try and justify their length), and wouldn’t work for a game like Uncharted, The Last of Us, or even Metal Gear Solid. But still it seems Konami may have overreached a bit here, and should have reconsidered their price point for Ground Zeroes. But again, it’s up to individual gamers to decide with their wallets. If enough buy into this, it may set a trend for future games to follow. Understand this doesn’t mean it will, but it might. If more hold off, waiting to see if Ground Zeroes will be packaged with The Phantom Pain, even if it would be in a special edition, we may see that price point come down in a hurry. Others, like myself, will opt to play it through a rental service like Gamefly and hold off purchasing until it is closer to The Phantom Pain’s release. A year and a half is a long time to wait, so it is understandable Kojima wanted players to get a taste earlier. But Konami may be asking too much, and the fact that they have had to rush to defend the length suggests (at least to me) that they overestimated gamers anticipation for the next Metal Gear game and their willingness to open up their wallets.

We’ll see how this all shakes out come March 18.

Thomas Juretus

Born in 1963. Enjoy videogames, movies, comics- anything that tells a story. Have written three novels (The Zarchler Chronicles Book One: The Cassandra Crisis, Shalgroth The Zarchler Chronicles: Book Two, Madman's War The Zarchler Chronicles: Book Three) all published and available through PublishAmerica. Currently working on my fourth book, a sci-fi/murder mystery.

Thomas Juretus

Born in 1963. Enjoy videogames, movies, comics- anything that tells a story. Have written three novels (The Zarchler Chronicles Book One: The Cassandra Crisis, Shalgroth The Zarchler Chronicles: Book Two, Madman's War The Zarchler Chronicles: Book Three) all published and available through PublishAmerica. Currently working on my fourth book, a sci-fi/murder mystery.

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