When is a game too long ?

Everything is in the title.

Did you ever find a game that you thought was too long ? I don’t mean “boring” or whatever. I mean : my God this is never going to end, I’m leaving before the end even if I’m interested…

Most games that I stick with beyond ten minutes are good enough that length doesn’t bother me. I’ve never been “not bored” and thought a game was too long. Hopefully, by the point a game is long enough to get the “too long” feeling while not boring the player, the player is engaged for the duration. People read novels, and many people who partake in IF will stick with a similarly-sized story so long as it’s engaging.

More often I have encountered games where the prose between interactions is wordy and I start losing interest and will skim, and if it remains low-interaction, I will give up. This is most prevalent in choice-games, but I’ve played parser where it feels like the author was going for James Michener with room and object descriptions. I want to know what the key looks like; seldom do I care about the blacksmith who forged it and the dubious history of his parentage and the his rocky eight-year relationship with the locksmith who installed the lock.

Although, now I totally want to write that game packed with superfluous detail.

If it takes a full year to play game, it is long.

Of course a game can be too long, but it’s a player’s reaction to the particular game from their own particular perspective.

It’s often valuable to signal to the player how long the game is, or how far they’ve gotten, so that their expectations aren’t out of line with reality.

I had a bad experience with Sunset (graphical narrative game from Tale of Tales) – it’s based around a calendar, and I got the impression the game would end at the end of 1972, but in fact it continued through spring of 1973. So I played several chapters of the game with an attitude of “please let this be the last one…” Which was unfair from a mechanical perspective – nothing said that the game ended in 1972 – but then, nothing cued me that it wouldn’t, either.

IF games often use an explorable map as a sign of progress: you have a rough idea how close you’ve gotten to Mordor. Or you might have seven chapters, or Twenty Treasures of Zork, or whatever.

It took me at least 10 years (on and off) to solve Zork 1, and similarly for Zork 3. Zork 2 was darn near impossible, but I kept going back in to try to catch that unicorn and solve those other enticing-looking puzzles (not realizing that they have to be done in a specific order and most of them couldn’t be solved without solving the one I was stuck on first). I played Wizardry 1 for at least 5 years before finally beating it. I think of Baldur’s Gate as a shorter game because it only took a few months to explore it all.

If your game is interesting enough people will want it to be longer.

The keys are, (a) to make it clear how much progress the player has made, (b) to avoid boredom, and © to avoid frustration.

I guess the correct way to put it is that people will give a short game more leeway than a long game. I can think of several short games which had parser frustrations or irritating bugs or obtuse pozzles or slow, dull starts where I was willing to push through it because I knew the whole game wasn’t very long. Some of these are arguably pretty good – Edifice by Lucian Smith has an excellent second section, but I found the first section dull.

If I encounter that sort of stuff in a long game, I quit. (I hit a dead end early on in The Witness – it was clear to me who’d done it and how, and I had it right, but I couldn’t figure out how to prove it to the satisfaction of the game – so I just gave up on the game.)

A long game has to be higher-quality than a short game in order for me to give it a chance.