Games Should Be Shorter and Easier

So here’s a troubling little nugget of information I ran into recently – many gamers don’t finish the games they buy… as in, an absurdly high percentage. According to Activision’s Keith Fuller, that number is a whopping 90%!

Sadly, that number seems to be largely correct, too. A lot of Steam games have achievements for beating the whole game, and those statistics are globally available. To give you an idea, here are the percentages of people who have beaten some popular games:

  • A.R.E.S.: 11.8%
  • Serious Sam 3: 30.0%
  • Super Meat Boy: 6.0%/1.7% (light world/dark world)
  • The Binding of Isaac: 39.7%/24.9%/12.8% (there are multiple final bosses)

As a developer, this is particularly worrysome to me. This means that a lot of the game’s content that we’re working so hard to make won’t ever be seen or experienced by a large majority of the players who pay their hard-earned money to play. By financing a lot of the game’s later content, I may as well be flushing money down the toilet.

... or buying Facebook stock.

“But Carn!” you might be saying. “That’s just from people buying or being gifted games and then not getting around to playing them! Once people start, they play to the end!” Sadly though, this is not the case! Using achievement statistics once again, as you recall, 30% of people who bought Seroius Sam 3 beat it. The number of people who beat the first level? 71.5%! This means that more than 40% of people who started playing it don’t end up finishing it! When’s the last time you went to see a movie, and 40% of people walked out before it was over?

Fact is, a lot of people are getting lost along the way from start to end – either because the game is too long, too difficult, not captivating enough, or some combination. Now, this is quite bad for developers because:

  • Your players aren’t getting the full experience. If you’re building up to something amazing at the end of the game (be it the climax of the plot, some awesome gameplay mechanics, an amazing finale area, etc.), there’s a strong chance that it’s all for naught with a large percentage of your players.
  • Budgeting concerns. If you’re giving the ending as much attention as you have for the rest of the game, and 90% of your players aren’t even going to see it, then do the math – you’re wasting a lot of time, effort, and money.

FUN FACT: At over 400 words, this article is now too long and you probably aren’t even reading this!

So what can be done to fix this? Look no further than the article title! Making games both shorter and easier should do a lot to fix that problem. Here’s how that would help:

  • By making them shorter, you narrow your scope and allow the quality level to increase on the content that you’ve got. Generally, if you can make something shorter and better, that’s optimal. By offering people better quality, you’ll further captivate them and make them want to play to the end. Plus, the fact that it’s shorter will make it easier for them to do so with their busy schedules and other entertainment options.
  • By making them easier, you take down a lot of the roadblocks that stand in people’s way of finishing a game. In the same way that people don’t go to movies looking for the most complex and difficult to follow plots in the history of the universe, most gamers aren’t looking for ultra-difficult games either that they can thump their chest about beating afterwards.

I know that this is something I’m seriously thinking about with Wrack. There’s so much to this game (new environments and gameplay mechanics every 2 levels or so with totally new stuff in each episode) that I’m beginning to wonder if I should reconsider some of what I’m doing. Should the full game of Wrack just be the first episode? Should the other episodes be strictly DLC? Should I turn it into a block-based exploration/building game?!

So, what do you think? I certainly don’t expect anyone to admit that games are too hard and you’d like for them to be easier, but how about games being too long? Which are the biggest offenders?

You? NAH!

Let’s hear from you!

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33 Responses to Games Should Be Shorter and Easier

  1. Tima says:

    Speaking for myself, I am more likely to return to playing the game, if my previous session ended at the end of a chapter/quest/chunk of content. So splitting the game into episodes should help. :)

  2. Marneus68 says:

    Good games are rare, and games that perfectly fit ones tastes is even rarer. I bought a lot of titles thinking that they would please but faced several disappointments while playing the actual games. Skyrim was, for me the perfect exeample of a title I bought as a fan of the elder scrolls serries but ended up playing for much less than a week, and I don’t consider playing it again, mainly because it didn’t have the “spark” to it… I didn’t like it. I think that, no matter who you are, as a gamer, you’re looking for something that suits you perfectly, and if it doesn’t you know it pretty quickly. Rare are the hardcore players playing a game til the end as a chalenge, but people like that still exist.
    On an other hand, I sometimes avoid finishing certain titles. That’s the very reason that got me into the elder scrolls series ! I wanted to be an adventurer, a rogue and a smuggler, not a faggy “Epic Hero” of some kind. I played the hell out of Daggerfall and Morrowind and never finished any of those. Not even once.

    Does that mean that developers should do shorter games ? By all means, I hope the good developers will say “yes” to that. Selling unfinished games saying that “we will finish them if it attracts enough players” and voluntarily restraining what could have been a bigger game in anticipation of bad sales would have been a terrible move to make in the past.
    Outstanding lost gems could have never happened with that way of thinking. That’s thinking about the video-games as the product of an industry when I think is should be viewed as a product of art… or at least craftsmanship.
    Finally, making the games easier would make the experience much less impressive and memorable… it’s simply not worth it. If you hand-crafted a superb story where’s the pleasure if it’s simple as hell to get to it.

    On a personal note, I love my games long. Very long. Possibly endless. And reasonably hard.
    In my opinion, that makes the whole thing much more enjoyable. But these are not the only two characteristics of a good game. Sometimes, Sugar, Spice, Everything nice, reasonable difficulty and a good lenght are united, and then, only then I end up finishing the game. Often with a lot of pleasure. But is most players don’t even play the games they buy, they probably don’t care in the first place. That’s the buyer’s problem, not the game maker’s.

    PS: sorry for the broken English and the endless post. I don’t pretend to have a definitive answer, I just gave you my point of view.

  3. Cranky McCoder says:

    This is what happens when you let marketing rule game design. It’s bad for the game, it’s bad for the player.

    Game designers of MUDs would put in TONS of content that they knew that most folks wouldn’t ever see. However, that’s what makes them so great, they have a depth that modern games lack because marketing forces all the content in the gamers face at one play through.

    “Look at What I Made!” — it’s pride, not love that is making such statements.

    Part of the problem is that you make a game, then hope people will like it then try to market it to them. The other way to do it is to get paid for the work up front, and give the game away for free. You feel out what folks want, ask for funding to make it happen (maybe provide a small demo), then you don’t have to market anything. You know people know about the game, and that they want to play it.

    This article is evidence of a broken system, where recreational art is neutered to become like mass produced happy meal toys. Protip: No one will by your shitty short and easy game, or play it more than once.

    Games are already Shorter, and Easier. Try to differentiate yourself by… doing the same as everyone else.

    Those stats are skewed in a way your small marketing minds can not comprehend: Games are more popular, it’s not just hardcore gamers buying them anymore: Casual gamers are buying them now too. They don’t complete them because they’re casual gamers. The hardcore gamers that are the small vocal minority are what got you those sales.

    If want to market to casual gamers, do so. Personally, it think there are enough uninteresting Bejeweled and Tetris clones already. Protip: No one beats these games either.

    • Brad Carney says:

      In certain games it’s certainly appropriate. MUDs are a perfect example of that. It’s very easy to add a lot of content in a MUD – it’s just a programmer or game designer typing in some text. But for a lot of other games, adding more content takes an incredible amount of resources – you need lots more concept art, modeling, texturing, animation, and maybe even more from the game engine. It’s not some randomly-generated content that can be made easily – it takes real time and money to make, and if it’s not adding value to the game for the majority of players, you have to wonder just how worth it the extra content is.

  4. Weiss122 says:

    I’m guilty as sin of doing this.

    Just about a week ago I bought Lollipop Chainsaw, a game that shouldn’t have taken more than a couple days to beat. I still haven’t gotten around to finishing it. Same goes with a lot of the games I buy for the PS3. It’s not that I don’t WANT to finish them, it’s just that I get hooked on a different game halfway through.

    • Brad Carney says:

      We all are! That’s part of the point! :) By games being too long, their quality gets diluted, so people get bored of them after a certain point and move onto something more interesting. The same thing would happen with movies if they were 3+ hours long.

  5. Grindbore says:

    To be fair I wouldn’t see the steam-achievements as an accurate example. Steam has a lot of what I would call game-hoarders. People who buy games during the sales because the games are so cheap and never even install them. So it would make a lot more sense to see the 70% who finished the 1st Level as the 100% of the actual gamers. People who have installed the game and bothered to play it more than 20 minutes. But even then the numbers look bothering. I agree.
    But making games shorter and easier is like saying everyone should only record 3-minute-pop-songs from now on because longer songs aren’t going to be played on the radio. Which sadly is somehow the case but a different issue.
    Luckily videogames are an interactive media. So there are more options to tackle these problems. The solution for this could be to try to somehow add more replay value to the game and providing more challenging game-modes.
    I think the advantage with episodic gaming is that the player isn’t hit in the face with a 10-15 hour game right away but with little chunks that are released over time which also could give the developer a feedback on wether or not there is a huge demand for new/more content.

    • Brad Carney says:

      Right, and that’s why I compared the 30% of people beating the game to the 70% who beat the first level – not the number of people who bought the game.

      Pop songs don’t need to be shorter though because I don’t think people get bored halfway through a 4 minute song and then turn it off :P If they do, either the song is terrible, or people have far worse attention spans than I realize! :P

      Also, I agree that our episodic release could help with this problem. It’d be unfortunate though if people didn’t get through one of the earlier episodes and as a result didn’t bother to check out the other (probably better) episodes.

  6. Steven S. says:

    Personally, I find that games that take around 5-10 hours to beat are best. And better, if those games have a good developer base or a company that cares about releasing source to developers is also one who is thinking about their gaming community. This is why I tend to play games like DOOM or Quake, since they have a lot of user-developed content and mapsets, as well as each mapset taking as long or as short as you need, depending on their length. Not having forced savepoints helps as well. I also find that games with a simpler mechanic but a lot of depth tends to work well for me too, i.e. the Worms series.

  7. Jeppe says:

    I agree with the analysis but the whole conclusion. I don’t think the problem is the length or the difficulty, but rather than many games really aren’t that good and gamers is very quickly jumping to something else.
    That aside, I think a big part of it the linearity of many modern games and how much storytelling with cutscenes they are trying to cram in. This gets in the way of actual playing the game and you skip to something else.

    From a developers perspective I can certainly see the problem with spending alot of time making 10 levels if your players only do the first 3. That isn’t neccesary solved by making the games shorter or easier. Better and more engaging will be better. My wife dont play nearly as many games as I do, but what she does, she does well and to the end. She has put like 70 hours into getting 100% in New Super Mario Bros Wii and probably the same with Donkey Kong Returns. I think that says something about the quality of those games, or maybe just me that is having a shorter attention and thus is switching between tens of games without finishing many of them.

    Other solutions could be to make the game more open and less linear. With open world games like Skyrim og the GTA games, players of all skillevels and attention spans can get to experience a very big part of the total game, rather than being restricted to having to complete the first level before getting access to the second and so on. Or it can be done like Mega Man where you can play all the levels in any order you like, so that you can still try and play all the levels, even though you might never beat any of the bosses. That is brilliant in my opinion.

    If I where a game developer I would for sure like gamers to experience as much as possible of my game, and I think the best way to do that is break out of the storytelling linearity and allow the game to be experienced in many ways rather than the only scripted way.

  8. Eonfge says:

    I understand your problem. The beginning of a game should rock, and should get a lot of attention. It’s the point where most people decide if it’s worth their time or not. Putting most resources in the beginning makes sense, especially when founded on a Demo or Free to Play system where the customer doesn’t pay up front.

    On the other hand, most people that buy a game do so with a greater prospect then ‘the first map is kinda cool’. Skyrim, already mentioned, promised a large world of adventuring and combat. If the designers didn’t make more then 10 hours of gameplay, it would be a lot less promising.

    As a FPS, you promise a large and fast land, with many different monsters and weapons. Although most people might never see it, the argument that it’s there sells a lot of copies.

  9. f_zul says:

    well, obviously, the problem is that there’s too much games around, you can’t beat them all. as being said, steam discounts makes it even worse. at those doom/quake times you own 2-5 game boxes in your hands (no internet) and playing them step by step.
    I’m just that guy who thinks that all the lessons could be taken from the origins of the genre. you know, not every gamer beats the Doom, but many of them still get back to it, and the game itself is pretty enjoyable.
    so, I think that episode structure is the best thing for fps genre. it is simple and attractive. as a developer you can divide game into parts, and make faraway levels attainable with ease.

  10. 75 says:

    Ironically, I just quit Blake Stone E2M10 because I died in less than 3 seconds on a level that used the same textures I’ve seen a hundred times; I already had all of the weapons, and I had full ammo, really the only thing the game had left to offer me was points (which only serve to get me… weapons and lives) and extra areas to explore (but since the textures don’t seem to change much… what would I find, except more points and more of the same?) . Blake Stone, though has the added disadvantage of being completely flat, and even a full library of textures can get repetitive, though Spear of Destiny did a much better job with their design.

    If you make each episode unique, and even have areas within a single map that look a lot different than the rest, it’s very likely I’ll play through the entire game, just to be sure that I didn’t miss something.

  11. Ninjaman999 says:

    Make the game as best as you can, do a speedrun with your fastest time being around 5 hours, then do a run while trying to get all the treasure etc. to see how long that takes since the 3 to 5 hour mark for a speedrun and an 8 to 10 hour standard playthrough and around 13 to 15 (15 or more is pretty damn good IMO) hour completion run is a good length for a shooter in my honest opinion since
    A: If the game is good, people who WANT to beat it will be happy with the amount of content and length they are given for the price
    B: You wont be screwing over the people who LIKE or LOVE your game due to the people like me who are picky with games or dont have enough time to play everything I buy
    C: You wont get shat on in reviews for makeing half a game

    Just my 2 cents. I also pre-ordered and found the game to be solid as hell so please, dont cut content cause of people who have a short attention span. <3

  12. FalconHeart says:

    You are led by the misconception that every single game, if done right, does appeal to every single player. All kinds of players have all kinds of different preferences, what they like about games and what don’t.

    Player 1 puts 100+ hours into game A, because he likes it, but only 2 hours into game B, because he doesn’t like it. Player 2 puts 100+ hours into game B, because he likes it, but only 2 hours into game A, because he doesn’t like it. Following your logic, both games should have ended after 2 hours, so that both players would have seen the end credits. Do you see what’s wrong about this notion?

    The same goes for game difficulty. For example, Serious Sam 3 offers different difficulty settings, so in this case, difficulty doesn’t seem to be an issue.

    I don’t want Oblivion or Skyrim to be reduced to 10 hours of gaming content, because I want to play these games longer than that. The same goes for difficulty. If I feel that a game is too easy, I stop playing it, because it gets boring. There is no way to get all players to play to end of each game, except if you have them ending at the title screen.

  13. Brett says:

    I actually think that in some cases, high difficulty can be a great asset to a game. Take, for example, Spelunky. I have been playing that game for a few years, and I have never gotten past level 10 (out of 16 total levels). The beauty is that each level takes only a minute or two to finish, and due to random level generation, the experience is unique each time. The key there is to create really tight game mechanics and allow procedural content generation to take the grunt work off of content creation.

    Of course, if you want to have hand-crafted content that takes a long time to produce, then making a game exceedingly difficult isn’t a great idea. You can make the game nice and easy so that the player can get through the whole game and see all of the lovely content you’ve made.

    The problem is that once a game is too easy, it’s not really a game anymore. It becomes more like watching a (slightly interactive) movie. Without a challenge, some players will be bored. That’s a trade-off that needs to be taken into account as well.

    In the case of Wrack, I would love it if you could have some sort of random elements to the game to keep it fresh on each play-through. For example, you could have some random enemy spawners that would replace certain enemies in the level with other enemies of a similar difficulty level, which would keep the player on their toes.

  14. Erik says:

    I agree. Here are some examples.

    Avernum: Escape from the Pit. I loved it. I’m not sure how many more hours of gaming I have to put into it till I finish it, 10? 20? There was definitely a peak of enjoyment and then a couple of annoyingly bogged down battles and a visit from the in-laws and I just didn’t pick it up again.

    Minecraft. Perfect the way it is. Activities within Minecraft are varied and range from easy to challenging. It’s sort of like a bunch of mini-games in that way. I’d love anything they could throw into it because it’s so vast and there are no story points to accomplish. I put it down for a while because I wanted something with more structure (Avernum) and my son got really into Minecraft so I let him have a go.

    Plants vs. Zombies (iOS) – loved it. Played through and got most of the achievements but the harder ones just were too hard. So those were unchecked. Still I could pick it up and play for however long I want to (just like Minecraft).

    In two of the examples I included the internal and external reasons I stopped playing. I find it’s hard to get back into taking down Ganon if I was just on vacation for two weeks. It’s hard and don’t remember how to use all of the weapons. When the mother-in-law was in town it would have mostly been rude of me to play Avernum. So something external pushed my focus away, then I crave to do something but it’s hard to be excited about the thing that got too bogged down in complexity.

  15. David Wicks says:

    If you make the game one episode long instead of three, just so more people finish it, then you better refund me and everyone else 66% of the money we spent on this game, if we will be losing 66% content we were promised when we purchased. Besides, the loyal players will finish it…you’ll already have the money from the people who don’t, so why does it matter? people are still gonna see everything you put into the game…just because everyone doesn’t doesn’t mean the rest of us should suffer with a shorter and easier game!

    • Brad Carney says:

      Just to clarify, everyone’s pre-ordered only the first episode. Everyone was always going to have to get the other two episodes as DLC. I apologize if that part is unclear. But anyway, the only questions at this point are a). Should there be a version that contains all 3 episodes that’s just “Wrack” – ending the availability of purchasing the standalone first episode, or b). Should “Wrack” just be the first episode with the other two being strictly DLC-only? Hell, is there even enough demand for the other two episodes? Time will tell.

      In any case, nobody is getting ripped off – episode 1 is being made to completion and everyone will get 100% of what they paid for. I have no intention of shortchanging anybody – that’s not what this article is about.

      • David Wicks says:

        Yet games are already too easy. All my gaming friends complain about the same thing. We all remember older games where there was actually a challenge, and now every game holds your hand what with regenerating health and other nonsense like a checkpoint every 5 seconds and/or absolutely no penalty for dying. This game is challenging enough, challenging like DOOM, without being annoying. That’s good. Don’t dumb that down.

        Anyway I would go with A. If B were to happen, a loyalty discount would be nice. As it stands now, no, there isn’t enough demand…this game needs more marketing. Marketing can be free if more “unconventional” means are used to promote it (like how Minecraft was promoted on a certain website that shall not be named, and it is for that reason alone that it was made so popular).

  16. Creaphis says:

    The stats in your original post don’t mean that 90% of players aren’t finishing the games they buy. They mean that there are nine times as many “game hoarders” as there are dedicated/completionist gamers, and if you design a game that doesn’t appeal to the game hoarder then you’ve lost 90% of your potential sales. Any development effort that you put into extending a game’s length is completely worthwhile because it attracts more interest from game hoarders by adding more perceived value, even though this 90% of your market will never see that content. Strange but true.

  17. Joe Schmo says:

    You’re trying to justify pandering to the lowest common denominator which shouldn’t be something an aspiring dev should be doing at all. Make excuses and write up articles justifying why you don’t want to put in the work, but don’t try to act like it’s for the benefit of an audience you deem too lazy and stupid to even finish a video game.

    You guys, you guys gotta smarten up. I can safely say I won’t be purchasing a copy of your game if you’re just going to short change me because you think I want a smaller piece of pie. Damn.

    • Brad Carney says:

      Make sure you read the whole article. The idea isn’t to just chop off part of the game and charge the same price. The idea is to give people a higher quality product that they’ll actually *want* to finish (which they should charge less for).

      Maybe I should have called the article “Games Should be Higher Quality”.

  18. Gregor says:

    The most casual article ever

  19. Rupture says:

    “Games too hard and long” in this generation? Are you for real???? I cannot even fathom the idiocy of this entry. Since when trophies and achievments go hand in hand with quality? Quallity has more to do with creating a good storyline, mechanics, creativity characters and innovation.than puny things like lenght and difficulty. I mean holy shit talking of industry going casual… Here is an idea for quiatly products.. come closer.. listen… MAKE A FUCKING VIDEO GAME!

    Not a cash in, not a fucking sequel of a franchise already ran to the ground, not a spinoff of another game, and ceirtanly not repackaging the same game over and over ad nauseam. In other words get a decent publisher who doesnt kicks puppies in his spare time, and BE CREATIVE, sheesh.

  20. Nicolai says:

    What are you trying to achieve by making the games easier? Easy doesn’t equate to a better gaming experience when most people I talk to want more difficult games. Look at DayZ and the popularity that game has gotten due to it’s difficulty. Reading this article, and your responses to the comments, have put me off a game I would otherwise have bought on release.

    Surely a shorter game would mean you would have necessary funds to make the game more difficult, no? You are caught in a catch 22 where you want gamers to complete your game, yet you are willing to sacrifice the incentive of doing so.

    You tell me, why should I purchase your game? And why should I finish your game? If I want a short and easy FPS experience I will play one of the 3 COD games I regrettably bought.

    To answer your question of what is the biggest offender: an easy game will always be the biggest offender, in my opinion, since it makes the entire experience playing the game null and void. There is no challenge and no enjoyment playing a game I can rush through carelessly. This is the number one reason why I am very careful purchasing any game.

    A long game is only an offender when the game stops being innovative, or stops being a challenge. Then completing the game becomes a chore because there is no more enjoyment to have out of the game. The game out stayed its welcome.

    However, in recent times these two offenders have been incorporated into every single triple A title I’ve played. And that is the way you are headed with this article.

    • Nicolai says:

      However, in recent times short and easy have been incorporated into every single triple A title I’ve played. And that is the way you are headed with this article.*

    • Brad Carney says:

      Yeah, but here’s the thing – you’re obviously pretty hardcore. Sadly, that is not the majority of gamers – it’s not even close! Trying to appeal to the slim minority of gamers who want something ultra-difficult would be a mistake. It’s frightening how many people didn’t even get past the first world of Super Meat Boy – and don’t say that was because of time constraints! That game does NOT take long to get through!

      Anyway, as much as I sit here and say games should go in this direction, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Wrack is. When I take it to QuakeCon and people are ragequitting on the first or second level… trust me – it’s plenty hard. If it’s not, I can guarantee you that people will make far more difficult maps/mods for the more hardcore. Everybody wins!

  21. GodOfGaming says:

    These who played the first level of Serious Sam 3 but didn’t continue were obviously casual players that got the game because they saw the nice graphics. My observations are that most of the casual gamers that go for first person shooters only care about the graphics of the game… and the story to some extent. Then after playing it a bit they saw that it’s not just another Call of Duty clone and was too hard for their skill, which was weak since they only play dumbed-down games. So they rage quited it. That’s what most probably happened. These players will not be even interested in Wrack, and I’m pretty sure about that.

    So don’t make it shorter. My opinion is that FPS games that you can complete in under 1 day are way too short and don’t give enough enjoyment. FPS games that need 3-5 days to complete are about perfect. Now, if you go longer than 1 week, I’d understand why many players may start getting bored, but I don’t think you’ve ever considered making it that long.

    And don’t make it easier. Put varied difficulty levels instead. On Easy difficulty, you can put less enemies and on Hard difficulty you can make it pretty sadistic. That’s what difficulty settings are for.

    IMO you should consider your main playerbase for Wrack the old-school players that have enjoyed games like Doom, Quake, Unreal, Serious Sam and Duke Nukem 3D (and many others), and you can be sure that they’ll enjoy having a long and challenging experience out of Wrack.

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