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Does This Quest Come with CliffsNotes?

Stephanie Carmichael | 19 Oct 2012 13:00
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Because of this mindset, Chen says developers "assume a longer time is a better score and a better opportunity to get sold. But are these hundreds of hours of content really good? Nobody knows."

As Chen explains it, "People would rather get back into the game world and do something ... People don't like boring things."

A study conducted last year by Raptr, a popular social networking site for gamers that boasts about 15 million members, showed that only 10 percent of users were finishing games. The average age of gamers, the growth of online multiplayer, and the overabundance of games - even greater now thanks to digital platforms and opportunities like Kickstarter, which can be a perfect launch point for independent developers - are all contributing factors. There's a lot to choose from, and too little time for most people to play it all. Not to mention, it can be costly.

Of course, it's hard to say whether we'll forgo console generations for the fresh face of mobile and social games, which often cost much less or operate entirely on the increasingly popular free-to-play model. Even now, technology is changing the way we play, with a whole selection of tablets and smartphones offering a wide range of quality games for way under the price of a normal retail game.

"I think all of these things will go away in 10 years," says Chen. "It's just the residuals - the kids who played these games growing up are still expecting these games to be a certain duration. And if they know a game is shorter than that, they're like, 'Oh, bullshit. This game is shorter than all the games I bought, and it's the same price.' It's just what they are not accustomed to. But if you play an iPhone game, which is one buck, and that doesn't last more than three hours, you'll complain. It's just what people are used to, and eventually ... people will just get used to the fact that games can be a different duration in the future, rather than laying on to one criteria for what a game is."

Perhaps what games need is more attention to modern innovations - the kind that use convenience and speed to improve gameplay, regardless of a game's duration or platform.

"I think people have a bit of 'nostalgia goggles' for old games," says Oster. "You remember the great and forget a lot of the bad ... Our goal with Overhaul Games is to keep the game and remove the horrible stuff. We err on the side of keeping the game experience intact."

Some of the changes that have "smartened-up" Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition include a more detailed character screen, which gives players a better read-out of actions and effects during battle; a tutorial on the main screen that familiarizes them to the interface and 2nd Edition D&D rules; and, of course, skippable cut-scenes. Oster says players can bypass all in-game events but those essential to the story, a minor annoyance that will be "compensated by the quality of the rest of the experience."

And the experience, not length, should be the main priority for any game. It's "high-quality, well-executed content" that matters, according to Oster. As Chen explains it, "People would rather get back into the game world and do something. The loading bar is the most boring thing ever in this world. People don't like boring things in general. And that's a great sign of why we have to make sure our game is always entertaining by avoiding repetitive play, grinding the player, and making them bored."

Games can deliver entirely different experiences, and as the industry enters a new era and younger generations pick up controllers or tablets for the first time, we're learning more about how valuable (and flawed) both short and long games can be. It's hard to say whether the future is headed toward one or the other, but the mere possibility is enough to remind us of their worth.

One thing is clear. Despite the rise of mobile and social gaming, developers aren't afraid to give people more content - whether it's in the form of downloadable content or 80-hour RPGs on platforms ordinarily reserved for shorter games - even if they never finish.

"I think the appeal of a massive interactive world is timeless," says Oster. "The mechanism for delivery has changed, but the concept has not."

Stephanie Carmichael (@wita ) is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture. She loves Batman, coffee, and cats.

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