As an accomplished nerd, I have played my fair share of board games. It’s hard to go a week without inviting friends over for some drinks and cardboard. It’s a routine by now. Stop by the shelf, pick up some German game about farming–because it’s always about farming–and two hours later, deal with everyone’s complaints that my complex math-saturated euro-game took two hours to play. Guess I should pay more attention to the game length slapped on the side of the box.
Similarly, my most recent video game obsession has been Persona 5, and by the time I had played about 40 hours and only gotten to the third dungeon or so, I became curious as to how long the game would last at this rate. So I signed on to the PSN to check the advertised game length (since my copy is digital) and…nothing. Strange. I decided to check out my hardcopy games to see if any of them advertised length and, sure enough, not a single one did. Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, PC, even DS games have tons and tons of info plastered all over the back of their box, but game length is not part of it. Every board game I own advertises the time it takes to play in big letters right on the side, but every video game I own does not.
Do You Have The Time?
That seems odd, right? I mean, the video game community seems to really value game length, far more than the board game community. You’ll see marketing materials advertise games as having “hundreds of hours of content” as a selling point, but this same info is not on the game box or on the website where you actually buy the game. Meanwhile, no one actually buys a board game for “100s of hours of content,” even if it actually has that much (and yes, some legacy games have definitely eaten over 100 hours of my life).
In fact, board games are usually seen as flawed if they take a particularly long time to play. It’s difficult to get people to sit down and play a 12-hour long game of Twilight Imperium and much easier to get them to play a short half-hour game of Settlers of Catan.
My first thought was that video games are simply an entirely different experience, not analogous to board games. However, that’s not always the case. Granted, a 60-hour single-player RPG is certainly different from Monopoly, but single-player games are actually in the minority of games on the market right now. We, as an industry, love multiplayer games, and there’s no particular reason why a fighting game or shooter can’t advertise how long a match takes, just how board games advertise how long a single game takes.
It’s possible that games don’t advertise their length because their fundamental interactivity makes their length vary greatly. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild can be beaten in as much as 300 hours for a 100% playthrough or in 40 minutes for a speedrun.
But board games vary, too. Any board gamer can tell you to add on time for teaching if any player is new, and we all have that one friend who succumbs to analysis paralysis and takes 15 minute turns that make you just want to strangle him–COME ON STEVE MAKE A MOVE ALREADY I’M LITERALLY WRITING AN ARTICLE IN THE TIME IT TAKES YOU TO DECIDE!
My point is, the length posted on a board game box is not a concrete total, but an estimation. So there’s nothing stopping game developers from estimating game length as well. In fact, we already do! That’s exactly what those marketing blurbs are doing when they advertise “hundreds of hours of content.”
It’s Not The Length of the Game….
That’s when it hit me. The reason that we don’t advertise game length on our video game boxes is because our attitude toward game length is particularly flawed.
In the board game world, game length is a signifier of the type of game you are going to buy. Some people want 2-hour long strategy sessions, some people want 15-minute party games. Any good board game collection has a variety of games of different lengths because they represent a variety of different play experiences.
But in the video gaming world, our attitudes toward game length are far less complex. Long length = good. Short length = bad. That’s why games advertise their hundreds of hours of content. We immediately associate greater length with greater value. After all, we are all paying the same sixty dollars for any AAA game. Longer games means you are getting more game for your money right? That’s why we were so upset when The Order: 1886 could be beaten in four hours, and why open world games like Horizon: Zero Dawn are so popular with their huge maps that take hours to explore.
So maybe we don’t put game length on video game boxes because no short length game will sell itself. Board gamers might specifically seek out a game with a short run-time, but video gamers don’t do the same. Any advertised length could only stand to lose game sales compared to longer, more complex games.
Yet, we understand that different games need to be different lengths. We might fall head over heels in love with The Witcher 3’s 100+ game length, but if Street Fighter V advertised a campaign exactly as long we would say it far outstayed its welcome.
Maybe the problem here runs deeper than I originally thought in a way that can’t be fixed by slapping an hour total on a box. Maybe we need to change the way we think about games. We need to stop thinking that more is better and start thinking about whether or not the size of the game that is presented to us fits the scale its designers were aiming for.
In doing so, we might just change the market. We may see more games developed for people with less time in their schedules; games that can be picked up and put down without getting involved in a play-session that takes several hours. Maybe the trend of buzz words and “genres of the day” will give way to a more diverse array of games built for a market with widely varying preferences. Perhaps a small shift in the way we think about game value will greatly increase the value of all the games we play.
Or maybe it’s just because we don’t look at boxes anymore, and we can all find a game length estimate with a quick Google search.
It’s 80 hours, by the way. Persona 5 can be completed in 80 hours. NOW TAKE YOUR TURN STEVE!
What do you think? Should we make information about game length clear to the consumer before they buy? And is our current perception of game length flawed? Let us know in the comments.