Monday, September 21, 2015

Spending Time On Life - Games Optional

It takes a long time to play video games these days.

When my brother asks me why I haven't purchased Grand Theft Auto 5 for my PS4 yet, or bothered to play the unopened copy of Destiny, I point to my PC and show him the myriad of games that are in my backlog. During the Steam Summer sale, I purchased about 20 games knowing full well that I wouldn't be able to play any of them for at least another year. But I got them when they were 75-90% off. It was worth the savings even though they remain untouched. And it's not just me. I hear from my gamer friends all the time how there isn't enough time to play. "Have you tried this yet?" "Nope. There's too much play with this other product."

Games today seem to fall into two categories: they are either easy to pick up and can kill time for 10-30 minutes. Or you get these action/rpg/adventure epic's that require 50+ hours. There isn't a happy medium.

And that's what Kotaku UK writer Keza MacDonald is struggling with. There are too many great games that released this year, and it takes too long to complete them. Sure the base game may be 15-20 hours, which is still a good chunk of time to spend on a game. But you miss out on the flavor of the world by avoiding all of the side-quests when you focus solely on the main story. With a BioWare game, by skipping the quests you're inviting bad things to happen to you core team members. Or in the Batman Arkham franchise, entire villain sub-plots can remain unknown if you don't take the time to explore the city. By skipping these sections and focusing on the main story, you're doing a disservice to the game, and yourself.

How do people handle playing multiple 50+ hour games in a year on top of their life responsibilities? I.E. Work, school, family, social life, hobbies, sleeping, etc.

Now when your job is to review and research games, you have to make time magically appear out of nowhere to accomplish this. It also means that 8-10 hours of your working day are devoted to playing games, so it's a bit more feasible to complete content. For the rest of us? We're SOL.

I love video games. I love playing them. I love talking about them, and getting into scholastic debates about the topic. I enjoy going to gaming expos and meeting with other gamers to talk about our hobby of choice. But this hobby can be a time suck if there ever was one. 20 hours on a game is nothing to blink at. Not when there are only 168 hours in a week. Let's do some fun math and see just how much free time a person can have:

40 hours are given to your job (maybe upwards to 50 when you account for travelling and traffic). 56 hours to sleep, assuming you get a full 8 hours a night. We're down to 62 hours. So let's split that into household chores (dishes, laundry, cleaning), taking care of your family and/or pets (or in my case, my pets are my kids), and doing "adult" things. All-together, I'll round that to 30 hours a week. Now a social life! Your friends and family want to see you outside of work and gaming, so you may go out to dinner or to a bar 1-2 times a week, at roughly 5 hours a pop (I'm rounding up based on my own experiences. I seem to spend 5 hours a time with my friends). That's another 10 hours knocked out and now we're down to 22 hours left in a week. That's 22 hours to decompress after a work day, eat meals, clean yourself up, partake in other hobbies, check social media (which is now a life requirement these days): the works. If you are an MMO or MOBA fan, knock out at least 10 hours to working on your character. Don't lie. Everyone does it. Now we're down to 12 hours. 12 hours to do whatever you'd like, as long as it includes eating and keeping your body functioning.

Taking a year to complete a video game doesn't seem that far-fetched.

It's no wonder that it's taken me this long to finish everything in Dragon Age:Inquisition since it's release date (November 2014). I consider that an accomplishment since I usually don't have the time to get around to a new game until a year or two after release. And I just realized that I've spent nearly 130 hours in Inquisition. I have almost a week's worth of time played on that game. Woah.

So how do people do it? How can you finish 6, 50+ hour games in a year when you have a full-time life?

My guess is that games selected for play are chosen with a purpose. You're a fan of the franchise. You like the developer. You have read countless reviews, etc. The games you pick are the ones you stick with until the end because you invest so much time into them. That's why we're seeing lackluster response on Mad Max. Without solid names and investments behind them, people are less likely to shell out the time and money on these products.

And at some point you have to put down the controller and tell yourself to moderate your game time before it sucks up everything else. You have to come to the realization that it's okay to not play every game. That you can take as much or as little time as you want in playing a new title - if at all. If someone has a problem with that, ask them to share with you how they are able to have so much free time and what it would take to get their hours added onto your life schedule. I believe we would all like to know how that's possible.

There's also a false sense that if you buy a game boasting 100 hours of game play that you're getting a better product. Not true. Seeing the comments on the Kotaku article worried me a bit that gamers felt some sense of "getting your money's worth" for a longer game. A longer game doesn't make for a better product. Look at Life is Strange, The Walking Dead, and Heavy Rain. Games that have stories that can easily be completed in under 10 hours. And what amazing stories they are. Memorable, compassionate, sometimes terrifyingly good that we froth at the mouth for more.

I admit that I too have fallen to this lure. Back in 2010 I wrote a blog post about what you could spend $62.99 on versus buying a game at release date. I was disappointed at the lack of content with God of War III. It was a fun game, but the lack of replay value and finishing it in just over 8 hours made it only a "meh" title for me. And part of my disdain was the game not being a 50+ hour product. There is so much lore in GoW, that it felt like the audience was cheated out of it in order for Sony to make a buck off a franchise that guaranteed sales. Today, I don't think this as much. GoW 3 is still fun. Replay value is still low. But to finish a game in under 10 hours and enjoy the story is a win in my book.

But as gamers, we should know better then to fall into this pit. Having more content and taking 50+ hours to complete a game does not make it a better product. Look at how mixed the reviews were for Watch Dogs. The gamer reviews are polarizing. This isn't to say that all short games are great, and all long games are bad. But we know better. We know when we're given a crap product, and we need to stop glorifying developers that give us 100+ hours of content.

Stories matter. Characters matter. Design matters.

And so does my time.

How do you decide what to play and manage your hours?

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