Jacob Zinn :: journalist + photographer

Too Long, Didn’t Beat: The Bane of Video Games

Posted in Opinion, Video Games by Jacob Zinn on August 23, 2011
WARNING: This article contains spoilers related to Red Dead Redemption. Read at your own risk.


In the last few years, I’ve found myself struggling to finish a lot of video games. I first blamed it on a lack of free time, but when I found the time to play games, I realized that I was not entirely at fault.

Last week, video game news site Kotaku confirmed my realization. They cited a report by social gaming network Raptr, finding that only 10% of gamers finish the game they are playing. What happened to beating the final boss? To saving the princess? To actually beating the game?

Turns out, people are just giving up. Why? Because current games are way too long.

The Offenders

Back before the internet went mainstream, if you wanted to find out how a game ended, you had to reach it yourself. You couldn’t trust your friends–they’d make up an ending to make you think they’d beaten the game.

Now, any frustrated teenager can go to YouTube and watch the closing cutscenes of any video game, and that’s what the 90% who don’t finish are doing.

Rockstar is notorious for making such outrageously long video games as Grand Theft Auto IV, L.A. Noire and Red Dead Redemption.

GTA IV was a pain in the ass to beat, but it is considered a landmark video game of the next generation consoles. If you own it, you have to beat it, but prepare to spend a good 30 hours getting through the main story missions.

The same high regard can’t be said for Red Dead Redemption–while it is a solid Rockstar title with strong gameplay, it had no payoff. Completing GTA IV gave me a sense of accomplishment, but Red Dead Redemption ended on a low and disappointing note.

In the course of the game, I put up with the captures of Javier Escuella and Bill Williamson being stepping stones to Dutch van der Linde. I put up with Dutch’s cliché and unfulfilling suicide. (Why couldn’t I lasso him mid-fall? Or better yet, start a duel and shoot his smug mug off of the mountain?) I put up with the underhanded government agents and needy townsfolk and monotonous farmwork missions preventing me from cutting to the chase.

I put up with all of that only for the legendary John Marston–who slayed the Old West for some 25 hours of gameplay–to be killed by an ambush by a backstabbing U.S. government.

So, for all the gamers who bought Red Dead Redemption, and for the 10% who made it all the way through, you take away the gunslinging protagonist who they’ve grown accustomed to? Just like that?

The main character can’t die! If they were to carry on with their government ambush, it should’ve ended in a high stakes shoot-out and a ride into the sunset.

To me, the ending was weak and unrewarding, but what made it more unrewarding is the fact that I invested so much time reaching it. If I could beat Red Dead Redemption in 10 hours, maybe I wouldn’t have been so let down, because I would’ve wasted 10 hours and not 25.

The Solution

There are some sandbox-style games that kept my attention all the way through. I’m a sucker for gangster flicks, and by association, games based on gangster flicks. I beat The Godfather for PS2 to 100% completion, and I spent three solid weeks doing the same for Scarface: The World is Yours.

Select Games by
Average Time to Beat

Grand Theft Auto IV
41 hours

Red Dead Redemption
27 hours

L.A. Noire
23 hours

Dragon Age: Origins
60 hours

Assassin’s Creed II
26 hours

Borderlands
34 hours

inFAMOUS 2
16 hours

Metal Gear Solid 4
18 hours

Final Fantasy XIII
68 hours

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
120 hours

Stats via HowLongToBeat

That was when I worked 20 hours a week.

Now I attend university full-time, work part-time and try to maintain a social life. That doesn’t leave much time to roam the streets of Liberty City or the deserts of New Austin to find strangers or hunt wildlife.

Developers and publishers need to make moderately lengthy games–games that aren’t 40-hour epics, but also can’t be beaten during a one-week rental. And still long enough to justify a $50 to $70 price tag.

A game can’t be overtly long for the sake of. It has to offer the gamer a reason to keep playing. Publishers seem to think couch potatoes will stay on the couch if they include a laundry list of optional achievements and trophies, or if they release premium downloadable content.

The truth is, most gamers don’t care about achievements and trophies. There are communities of gamers dedicated to earning as many achievements and trophies as possible, but most ignore the virtual pissing contest.

As for DLC, Rockstar released two expansions for GTA IVThe Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony–and RDR‘s zombie-killing spinoff, Undead Nightmare. They have already put out an extensive collection of downloadable content for L.A. Noire, which is sure to increase the overall gameplay by at least another aggravating 10 hours.

But if a game is good, it doesn’t need DLC, achievements and trophies to entice gamers. They’ll buy the content and earn the accomplishments because they like the game, not for bragging rights.

Assassin’s Creed II was worth staying up past 1:00 a.m. nightly to get one stealth-killed soldier closer to another codec.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was worth playing through four times on different difficulties just to hear the ding of the platinum trophy.

Interactive Drama’s Heavy Rain boasts a 72% completion rate because it’s a high-quality, top-notch, totally original game. It has a powerful, compelling story arc leading to four alternate endings, driven by emotionally connected characters over a solid musical score.

It’s art–the core of all video games–and it’s more important than dragging on the storyline of yet another needlessly long game.


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