Warren Spector on 100 hour games

Warren Spector…yes, the designer that brought us Deus Ex, Thief, and Ultima Underworld among the other titles in his long history…doesn’t think we need “100 hour” games as he says on Gamasutra. Although most of the article focuses on teaching the next-generation of developers the skills to get in, stay, and maintain relationships within the industry and how to go about doing it, it headlines with his quote in saying that 100 hour games are on the way out.

That’s what caught my eye. The rest of the article states pretty much what most anyone can tell you…that the games industry, much like any industry today, requires people that can wear several hats as opposed to simply the one that they left school with. But what I’m wondering is how he thinks that long games are supposed to be bad for the business.

Costs have ballooned along with the industry’s growing market. Games are getting more sophisticated, people want eye candy and will shell out the bucks to get it. From my meager perspective, it looks as if every game is caught up in a wild race to outpace its peers in terms of graphics, sound, and overall presentation which adds to the cost. Just as movies have gone into the stratosphere with their own budgets, games are practically doing the same thing. And Spector points to “100 hour” games as one of the problems.

First, you don’t need a massive budget to create a solid game that people will like, or need a huge publishing name attached to your development house to break into the industry. That’s not necessarily vital. Smaller devs are getting their titles out there all the time. Just look at Darwinia, Uplink, or Galactic Civilizations for that kind of inspiration. Those devs have made their ideas work for them without the multimillion super budgets.

Second, he states that the “100 hour” game is a problem because the demographics are changing…people with families want to spend more time with them which is not the beef I have with that argument. But he completely ignores the demographic that is looking for them, the one that THRIVES on immersing themselves within the developer’s vision, the same generation that is replacing the one that worries about weekend time with kids and have other responsibilities to concern themselves with. The days of diving into an NES RPG or action title for hours on end may have narrowed for those players that Spector is talking about, but I wouldn’t want to short the players that have the time and the inclination to sit through the worlds crafted to meet their particular expectations. I’ve gotten to the end of every GTA on the PS2 and, most recently, GTA4.

There is an “end” to their story without having to spend 100 hours on the game unless you want to collect everything that there is to find. Players are free to play what they want. If you want to simply finish the story, fine…there it is. But here…these are the extra options for you in case you want to try something else.

He also seems to miss the fact that side quests, such as those in RPGs, can be ignored. Several RPGs today can be as long or as short as you want them to be if you decide to simply miss out on any of the extra quests or jobs that they might offer. Sure, you’ll be leaving behind a lot of the color to the world such as in The Witcher, but at least you will still see the “ending” to the story. For players that have the time to enjoy the game for what it is and revel in poking through every niche and cranny in the hopes of finding a lost treasure, the option is there for them to explore. And who says that you need to finish the game on a schedule? Not every title has to be played, and many players like to focus on the genre that they appreciate most, leaving them more than enough time to savor a new release that they’ve been waiting for.

I respect Warren Spector for what he’s brought to gaming and consider him one of the most talented individuals still in the industry today. I’m sure that he means well and is concerned for the direction that games are taking today in terms of their production costs…no one wants to budget a game for $20mil and not have anyone play through it. But is guaranteeing that ending worth the reduced content in a game? Or has the industry become shackled to the bleeding edge? When I read articles like this one, I can’t help but think that the creative vision of a game that I’ve played had been compromised by the fear of how long it may take for a player to actually finish it. And I don’t want that.

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