The Order: 1886 has many, many problems, and its relative lack of length is not the most troubling.
But the pre-release stories about its supposed length, and what it means for its success, were passed around and fretted over endlessly among the gaming press and social media. The question of game length, and what it means for players, is a contentious one.
Developers would like to remind you that graphical fidelity comes at a cost, and the longer and more varied a game with visuals of this quality, the higher the development price. Many players demand longer games as a sign of value, where more hours for the money is a better bargain and thus a better product. Many critics, myself among them, rolled their eyes at this perception of value. I even made a joke about judging paintings by their square footage.
The Mona Lisa is, after all, very small. Does that mean it's a lesser work of art?
Here's the secret: Everyone is right.
Games are expensive as hell
The secret lies in the $60 price tag we put on big budget games. Or rather, that's the limited factor. Games are expensive to make, and there are some indications that the $60 price tag is itself too low and perhaps unsustainable.
This creates a terrible tension in our hobby; $60 for a single piece of entertainment is a huge price, especially when combined with the fact that it costs hundreds of dollars for the console needed to play the game. Heck, each console only plays certain games on the market, and you'll need at least three machines to play everything in our hobby.
I'm not arguing that it's not worth it, as gaming is a fulfilling hobby that often justifies its high cost. But we can never forget that the cost is still a huge ask for large swaths of players.
Keeping up with games is expensive in a way no other art form can match; being a fan of books, music, television or film is a bargain in comparison.
Being able to argue for or against game length as an indicator of quality is a bit of a privilege when games are so expensive that most players have to look at games in terms of value. You may not get more scotch when you pay for a better bottle, and the quality is certainly there, but it's also important to stop sneering at people who just want to get a bit tipsy at the end of the day and have a limited budget.
There's nothing wrong with the belief that $60 for five or six hours doesn't offer the value necessary for a purchase
I enjoy the discussions of gaming as a serious art form, but it often leaves behind the fact that for many people gaming is a fun hobby that is used to blow off steam and enjoy themselves. The $60 price may get you a great game, but if your entertainment budget for the month is $60 in total, it's not unreasonable to look for a game that's going to last you an extended period of time.
There's nothing wrong with the belief that $60 for five or six hours doesn't offer the value necessary for a purchase. You may be discussing a very good game, but in this situation the quality of the game is almost beside the point; there are plenty of very good games that will offer many more hours of entertainment, and if you only buy one or two games a month that's something you have to consider.
This is leaving aside the fact that short length hasn't necessarily lost that customer at all, and that buying a game at launch is kind of a fool's game to begin with. Games like The Order will drop in price, and they may be repackaged with some DLC and sold with more content at a lower price. Patches and updates will also be added. If a player cares about dollars per hour as a metric for value, they likely know that games are often rapidly adjusted in terms of pricing and features to become more attractive.
Buying at launch helps support the industry, but it's also the time you'll pay the most for the least.
You can see paintings at the museum by paying a few bucks or showing a student ID and getting in for free. High art is, in many ways, much more accessible than gaming, and less expensive to experience and enjoy. I'm currently listening to music on the free version of Spotify, which gives me access to nearly everything I want to hear. TV is streamed for free over the air.
High art is, in many ways, much more accessible than gaming
There's not much chance gaming will ever be offered this way, and certainly not brand-new AAA games, but we can't ignore the fact that gaming is perhaps the most expensive form of popular entertainment one can experience. It's not offensive for the buyer to worry about value, nor does it lessen gaming as an art form. It simply means they have specific needs for how they interact with their hobby and are being smart about buying exactly what they want.
We don't judge paintings by the size, but by god if you want to cover a wall you're still going to get annoyed at the Mona Lisa. Gaming is a powerful art form delivered as a consumer product, and thinking of it in both of these terms, or either of them, is perfectly OK.