This week on Extra Punctuation, Yahtzee discusses the problem with trying to use the metric of game length as a PR selling point, as seen recently with Techland saying Dying Light 2 contains 500 (or 20) hours to complete.
January being its usual void of significant gaming events because all the publishers are too full of Christmas turkey to want to commit to releasing any big titles until mid-quarter one, the upcoming Dying Light 2 was able to grab a few headlines by boasting that it will take 500 hours to complete it. And the response was immediate. My first response was to conclude that Dying Light 2 is trying to kill me, specifically. No reviewer can play 500 hours of game in the week we have before we all move onto the next temporary headline occupant. But they damn well know that. Clearly this is yet another blatant attempt by the big money industry to undermine legitimate criticism. Either we die of malnutrition trying to beat it or get an earful of apologists moaning that we didn’t give it its fair shake and REAL gamers know that it gets really good around hour one hundred and twelve.
Okay, let’s put Conspiracy Yahtzee back to bed and wake up Analyst Yahtzee, killer7 style. 500 is a pretty vague number that smacks to me of someone needing a quote and someone else getting caught on the spot. Instantly the scenario unfolded in my head – Johnny Development got cornered at the water cooler by Sally Marketing and pressed for some selling point to start driving those social metrics and that was the only thing that sprang to mind. So Sally Marketing hurried off to start pushing it before her brain could kick in and start thinking about it.
Because 500 hours is a lot. It’s like 500 lunch breaks. Two thousand if you work in an Amazon warehouse. You know Persona 4 Golden? You know how it’s a pretty long game, like most JRPGs, full of story and lengthy dungeon grinds? I’ve played through Persona 4 Golden like three times because I feel guilty about not giving equal attention to all the waifus. With all that in mind, all my playthroughs combined have only clocked 160 hours in Persona 4 Golden, according to my Steam profile page. 500 hours, that’s like Persona 4 Golden nine times.
It feels like too much, even non-reviewers want to get through games in time to move onto the next dish on the buffet of the popular vogue. It especially seems like a lot for this kind of game. I’ve checked some other metrics on my Steam profile page and most of the games that crack three figures on the hours played column are my comfort zone games that I tend to put on to idly kill time while listening to podcasts. So dungeon-grindy Persona 4, Stardew Valley, FTL, and, uh, Dark Souls. Which I’m so familiar with now it’s more of a comfort zone for me than parts of the actual house in which I live.
The point is, these are my quiet time games for zoning out with. Five hundred hours of full on triple-A action sandbox feels like it would be very mentally exhausting. Maybe that’s my age talking, there, but I can’t have been alone in expressing some misgivings because Sally Marketing was quick to come back with some clarifications on the 500 hour boast – they added that this was just for one hundred percent completion. If you’re hammering through the critical story path because you’ve got a deadline or need to rush out to buy Ritalin before the shops close, you can expect a much more easily split up across a weekly schedule twenty hours, and eighty hours if you just throw in the sidequests. Okay, fine… no, wait, not fine, how exactly are we defining “100% completion,” here, if not just main game and sidequests? Like, getting all the achievements? Yeah, I’m pretty sure there are a lot of games that will take hundreds of hours to achieve that. That’s why the only people who try to do it are psychotics.
I guess we already know this is 20 hours of main story and 480 hours of other stuff, which is probably why the announcement was met with a sense of foreboding by some. I happen to know from the E3 presentation I attended in 2019 – you remember E3, it was that thing from the before times when all us video game insider types met up in person to complain about people like you – that Dying Light 2 will have binary choices throughout the campaign that open up some parts of the map and lock off others, so you can’t see all of the game in one playthrough. If you have to play the game multiple times to get all the content then there’ll be an awful lot of repeating the fixed parts of the game to get to the new bits. But this was years ago so who knows if that’s still the case or if they’ve feature creeped it out.
Besides that, the general assumption was that “other stuff” consisted of slogging across a map sprinkled copiously with copy pasted side mission dandruff in the characteristic manner of what we tend to think of as the Ubisoft-style sandbox – one part actual game to ten parts faffing about. I note the 500 hour promise doesn’t include the caveat that it might vary depending on your skill level, which supports the assumption that this is all busy work, box ticking and going to the icon on the map and standing on a thing.
But hell, we don’t know that. I haven’t played any Dying Light 2 at time of writing. For all I know they could have stuffed the game up to the eyeballs with Witcher 3-style artfully crafted sidequests all with unique plots and characters that’s all so bloody well written that by the end of it my trousers will be more spunk than fabric. Kinda doubt it, though, mainly for the reason that Dying Light 2 is apparently the sort of game that boasts about its playtime length, and that’s not the sort of thing a smart game boasts about. Perhaps this gets us to the root of the negative reception to the 500 hour announcement, because I think what rubbed people up the wrong way is that it’s just not a classy boast for what we still generally pretend to be an artistic medium. It’s like telling everyone how big your dick is.
Yes, there are game databases online that list average playtime lengths, but that’s not a marketing boast, that’s a reference for people who want to know if they can fit it into their schedule. It’s the difference between telling everyone your dick size and carefully measuring your dick to make sure the thing you’re about to jam it in isn’t going to inflict serious trauma. Or undergo any.
To reduce your game to some purely quantitative statement like hours of playtime, as a selling point, well… it’s really illustrating the point I made back in my video about open worlds, isn’t it, when I compared triple-A games to the old Hollywood epics that just kept ramping up the spectacle and the number of extras and the budget because bigger was always better. It’s like Dying Light 2 saw that and immediately set out to double down in the exact opposite direction to the path that makes games less emotionally numbing to play and nightmarish to develop. Our game is better because it can kill the most time. Is that seriously the limit of your ambition? Do you have no higher aspiration than to distract us plebs from the nightmare of our shared reality with greater efficiency? Talk about giving the game away. Although I assume they’re not giving the game away. Not yet at any rate. Give it a few years of Steam sales. Anyway, can I have my review copy now?