Pun-free from here on out, I swear. Today we're participating in a collective commentary on game length and the value of media consumption. It's a topic that hasn't necessarily been at the forefront of debate, but still manages to creep into the most sane person's reasoning why a game "isn't worth [x] dollars".
For the majority of the game industry's short history, length has been touted as a measure of quality. Since every new game was the same sixty dollars, length, graphics and sound quality were decent, albeit overly-simplified selling points (Fig. A*). Fast forward twenty years into a whole new ball game.
So why do we still expect a certain duration of game play? Even from games that are free? It's hard to say and is certainly not limited to one culprit, but I suspect the rapidly diversifying market is a key issue. The iPhone, for better or worse, has opened a floodgate of development; flash portals like Kongregate and Newgrounds have made available free versions of nearly every game imaginable; and services like XBLA, WiiWare and PSN have embraced the small studio. The rise of the independent portal has paved the way for a whole spectrum of games ranging from $125.00 to FREE. Is it possible to line up every game based on length and draw any comparison in quality? Of course not (Fig. B*).
Our perception of what makes a game enjoyable is lagging behind, and when one fails to meet those expectations we retreat to those traditional measures. Consider a painting with too little paint or a canvas that's too small. Would you pass over a book because it didn't look as though it had enough pages? "It was too short," is likely pointing to a larger issue.
Make sure you check out these other perspectives on game length:
Ron Carmel of 2DBoy
Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Eye Games
Cliff Harris of Positech Games
Martin of Broken Rules
Jeffrey Rosen of Wolfire
*These charts are probably not scientifically accurate