Why I want shorter games in 2024
Every year, video games are bigger and better than ever. There are some true belters of years in the calendar (I’m looking at you, 2016, you saucy little minx), but year in and year out, we feel more and more spoiled by the sheer number of video games that we’re seeing touch down on the market, and though many of them might be live-service games that expect a lot of replayability, there are also those games created by huge teams with gigantic, over-arching narratives that demand a huge number of hours just for a single playthrough.
And I can’t be the only one, but I’m not sure I can manage these games anymore.
The Diablo Effect
To indicate it started this trend would be unfair as game development takes a lot longer than a few months to turn around, but the first indication that 2023 could be more than we had bargained for began with a comeback.
Diablo IV’s launch was a big deal, not just for long-term fans of the series, but the gaming industry as a whole. The game’s marketing was gargantuan, taking up residence in Times Square (in pretty poor timing, given the game’s “Welcome to Hell” tagline while New York’s air was stifled by residual debris from wildfires) and using Megan Fox for advertising in a push that brought the game to the masses, and shockingly, pushed Diablo onto the world’s stage.
It was a huge marketing squeeze that justified itself well, and was pretty much perfect for the title, especially given its size - the campaign of the game takes roughly 35 hours to topple, or up to 150 (according to game director Joe Piepiora) if you wanted to see it all. With Diablo being a series that promotes return visitors, too, this was telling of just how monstrous games this year could be - and yet, we couldn’t have been ready for Baldur’s Gate 3 even if we’d dedicated the rest of the year to it.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is big in a way that few games are - its sheer scale comes from its difference in playthrough from dice roll to dice roll, making the branching narratives of the Fallout series look like chicken feed. You can go anywhere and do anything, and with an estimated 56.5 hours of gameplay time even in spite of this, it’s immensely easy to feel overwhelmed. Hell, I haven’t even played it, and I’m overwhelmed from this distance.
This is incredible for the player, and a feat unlike anything that any year before now has accomplished - but there’s a lot of fear that can stem from this, and even in the face of such excitement, we can’t be blamed for being a little unnerved.
Which way, western devs?
With these games looming over sales, popularity and critical acclaim, there’s a reasonable fear that this could become an industry norm in an industry that’s already fighting for its life. There are ongoing fears that developers being squeezed to make live-service games after the successes of Fortnite and Destiny are going to be squeezed once again to create games that breach the possibilities of the medium. But also, I’m worried about me.
As a journalist, there’s only so much I can do to keep on top of the industry I’m expected to know all about - but as I catch up on one game after launch, I’m expected to play through another that caps at about 60 hours long. F**k off.
These are all self-inflicted expectations, yes, but they’re echoed across the world - how are we ever supposed to build a world where everyone can play all of the Game of the Year nominees when one of them takes three months of a normal person’s free time to make it through? What about the rest of my life, Larian? I have to clean my flat and call my mum, and I’m expected still to roll die for two and a half hours every night?
We’re truly blessed to be able to worry about these things over, you know, real problems, but good grief, they don’t half feel real when your friends are boasting about toppling the daughter of Mephisto after thirty hours when you’ve only just played Resident Evil 5 out of a feeling of necessity and preparation. Expectations on the industry become expectations on the player, and when a feeling of obligation swells when there are so many modern masterpieces to tick off, are we going to forget that we probably shouldn’t be stressed out about this?
Hell is coming for developers
Ultimately, we can’t be too upset with developers for their lofty ambitions, especially when they work so well for the likes of Larian Studios, but we’re going to have to hope that shareholders aren’t putting pressure on unprepared teams to create similar experiences, as we’ll end up working them to the bone in an industry that already wrings out its developers with endless overtime and crunch, or padded experiences that drag.
The huge games we got this year need to be respected for what they are and held in esteem, but if they fall over the edge of that and become aspirational points of interest for the rest of the industry, we’re out of luck. And I’m out of a job, probably. I don’t have the attention span for an industry dominated by 60-hour campaigns, let alone the time. Keep feeding me 2-hour indie titles, and I’ll be happy enough.