in Game Design

Forget Length. Give Me Awesome

harold-lloyd.jpgIt pains me to see great games criticized for being too short or not having a lower price point. In a world where everything surrounding us is constantly vying for our attention, time is a premium, and filling it up with mediocre experiences, a waste.

I want to have great experiences, not just long ones, and I’m willing to pay for them. Just like other media, each game has an ideal length to develop its ideas fully, and we shouldn’t fall to pressures to make then any longer than they should be. I don’t want endless grinding or backtracing through the level to meet a minimum time quota. Just like every book doesn’t have to be The Lord Of The Rings, there is room for both epic sagas like Dragon Age and Fallout and short experiences like Limbo or Braid. Maybe there’s even room for the equivalent of Italo Calvino’s shortest short story, The Dinosaur.

I would go as far to say that games should err on the side of being too short rather than too long. There’s a saying in Spanish that goes “Lo bueno, si breve, dos veces bueno“, which roughly translates into “Good things, if short, twice as good”. I’d rather be left wanting more than not being able to finish something. As a busy gamer, I don’t get to finish many games these days, and the ones that I do really stand out from the others and hold a special spot in my heart.

Besides, a lot of other games can’t even be measured in length. How long is Starcraft? Team Fortress? Civilization? Tilt To Live? They are as long or as short as you want. Should we be docking them for being too short? Should we force all games to have infinite replay value? No, the important thing is that they’re great experiences.

Forget length. Give me awesome.

Other Indie Voices On Game Length

Twitter tag: #gamelength


  1. It’s always amazing to me that people try to assign some sort of ‘fun per hour’ metric. Despite the rave reviews of games like “Portal” it was still dinged for being short. The value system for some people defaults to time spent even when it may not be the best metric to measure something such as entertainment.

    Always reminds me of this quote:
    “Picasso was in a park when a woman approached him and asked him to draw a portrait of her. Picasso agreed and quickly sketches her. After handing the sketch to her, she is pleased with the likeness and asks how much she owed to him. Picasso replies $5,000. The woman screamed, but it took you only five minutes. No, Madam, it took me all my life, replied Picasso.”

    • Fixed! Did you form the company just for Shadow Physics? You’re still involved with Flashbang, right? I’ve been curious about the idea of forming small companies for collaborations, but haven’t found anything about it. You should blog about that a bit (hint, hint) 🙂

      • There was a games company doing exactly that here in Vienna and terming it the “Hollywood approach to game making”. They copied the model of how movie companies form sub-companies for every film. Tried themselves on a Wii and a PS3+XBox360 release as their first projects. All of them were industry veterans. They went out of business recently.

  2. We still share office space with the Flashbangers, but I’m officially Enemy Airship now and will be going forward.

    The Wahoo/NinjaBee guys have some raaad thoughts on forming small companies for various game projects, perhaps we could bug them :).

Comments are closed.