If I say a game is too short, what do I actually mean to say?

The following text is actually a comment that I posted in response to a post by Ron Carmel of 2DBoy.

In response to “If I say a game is too short, what do I actually mean to say?”:

I think that many players and critics may base their definition partially off of the classic childhood meaning of “too short” which means that the game did not fulfill its purpose as a time-wasting mechanism… From personal experience, as a kid I played games to waste time and be mildly entertained at the same time (entertainment quality was less important back then). Being a kid, I became bored quite a bit and video games were my simple solution to this problem. Pokémon Blue was a good game because it wasted 143 hours of my life. It fulfilled its purpose… at the time.

To assume that all players expect video games to fulfil the purpose of “wasting time” is ridiculous, as most adults (I would guess) would not be looking for this element as strongly as when they had “all the time in the world”.

To go back to the original question, here is what I personally would be saying if I was taking this lazy shortcut:

“Because of the price that I paid for this game, I was expecting to receive more raw time in fresh, new experiences.”

Interestingly, this statement has a natural contrast which is: “This game was too repetitive”. In this contrasting statement, the meaning is actually /exactly/ the same (“Because of the price that I paid for this game, I was expecting to receive more raw time in fresh, new experiences.”) — but in this case, the game is “too long”. Or, said differently, it stretches the game experience too thin so that it does not maintain a “fresh”, “new”, or “novel” experience throughout.

I agree with William’s comment that it is definitely something that is an audience problem more so than a critic problem: But, that said, critics should also be careful of using these lazy shortcuts because they may not totally understand their audience and therefore may be failing in communicating effectively with them.

Sadly, today, “too short” inevitably spawns directly from price in the video game world. If all games were free, we would never hear of a game that was too short unless we were simply saying that we wanted more of it. In terms of marketing and finding the right price for a game, I think it is not possible at this time to have the general audience of the world (and therefore the critics) to change their mind about what they feel is the right amount of “fresh experiences” for the price that they pay. It’s something you have to feel out, understand, and get lucky with as a developer.

I’m not sure how this series of posts came to be organized, but I thought I’d record my thoughts as a developer – Other posts that were part of an industry-wide commentary by indie developers on the subject of short games are as follows:

Ron Carmel of 2DBoy

Jonathan Blow of Number None

Chris DeLeon

Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Eye Games

Matt Gilgenbach of 24 Caret Games

Michael Todd
Eitan Glinert of Fire Hose Games

Cliff Harris of Positech Games

Chris Hecker of Spy Party

Scott Macmillan of Macguffin Games

Noel Llopis

Peter Jones of Retro Affect

Lau Korsgaard

Martin Pichlmair of Broken Rules

Greg Wohlwend of Intution Games

Jeffrey Rosen of Wolfire

Steve Swink