I was going to skip The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.
It's not that the game looked bad, or that the reviews rubbed me the wrong way — in fact everything released about the game made me believe it was right up my alley — but I knew I didn't have the time or energy for another game of standard length. And by standard length I mean anything that's eight hours or more.
Then I got to the end of Polygon's review, and learned that the game was only a few hours long. You can beat it in three or four hours! It's $20! I bought it as soon as I was in front of my gaming PC. I'm looking forward to playing through the game, hopefully in one sitting, in the next few days.
There is nothing more exciting to me than a short game.
Under five hours? Sign me up
It's not that long games are bad, or that I'll never buy another one. Long, expansive games can be a life-saver for people with limited gaming budgets but more free time, and I'm looking at everyone out there without children. The value to be found during Steam sales on a per-hour basis borders on madness.
But I'm in the odd position of being more time than cash constrained, and I enjoy being told a good story. This is why the Telltale games grab me so hard; you can sit down in front of your console or PC and see an entire episode of a great story in just a few hours. It feels episodic, and satisfying. I finish them in one session, and after every session I feel great about the time spent with those characters.
I'm not alone, there are many other adult, or younger, gamers who enjoy being told a complete story in only a few hours. If you have a very limited time in which to play a game, it's helpful to know that you'll be able to finish in a moderate amount of time.
Those 60-plus hour games everyone claims to miss from years ago? They can stay in the past for all I care. They have their place in the industry, and I'd argue they're out there for anyone who wants to look, but when I sit down and play one of them I do so with the uneasy knowledge that I'm not going to finish. I'll often note in reviews when a short length is noted, usually as a negative. I don't care that reviewers sometimes look down on that fact, I just appreciate that the data point is in there.
My evidence is anecdotal, but there seem to be plenty of gamers who love to spend $20 or under on short, four hour or less narrative games. You can play them in one sitting, you get the rush of finishing a game, and get to experience an entire story that you can be pretty sure you'll finish.
In my mind, it's a positive.
This was a plan
Adrian Chmielarz is one of the developers behind The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and he used to be the creative director of People Can Fly. He knows what he's talking about, and he came out swinging for shorter games in a blog post written at the beginning of last year.
"I’m telling you right here, right now, that our game will be short. I don’t know if that means an hour or five, and if it’s going to have a fantastic replay value or not. It’s still being designed," he wrote.
"But I know we don’t want to make a long game just for the sake of it being long. And yes, we’re a small studio, so we could not make a big AAA game even if we wanted to. But in the future, if we become bigger, we’d rather have five smaller games in development than a single big one."
"I’m telling you right here that our game will be short."
The entire post is wonderful, and talks about the often needless hooks that extend a game's life. He also discusses how shorter, more focused experiences, distributed digitally, can take more risks than a $60 game with a huge budget. Indie development is a great place for short games sold for under $20, a strategy that leads to games with reasonable budgets that can find an audience that loves them. If you know what you're getting, and you're comfortable with it, that's a great value for the money.
Hell, you'd be surprised at how many people buy games with a moderate length and never finish them. On PC over 50 percent of the people who bought the latest Wolfenstein, a game you can beat in under 15 hours, never earned the achievement for finishing the story. Only 31 percent of Dishonored players on the PC beat the game. People think game length is mandatory, but even shorter games aren't finished by the majority of players.
If you disagree with my love of short games, that's fine. The industry loves a longer game, and you'll have your pick.
But I wish developers would stop being afraid of creating shorter experiences, and celebrating how short they are for the audience that adores that "one and done" experience of a four hour game. Shorter games, great stories, lower prices and I'll buy them all. How about you?