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How do you quantify whether or not a game is worth playing? When developers boast that their new RPG has “Over 300 hours of gameplay” and “Over thirty possible endings”, their goal is to boost sales by promising a large amount of Fun-Per-Dollar. Role-Playing enthusiasts will be quick to point out that getting a hundred hours of entertainment from a sixty dollar game is a good deal. They’re correct on that, but my question is: Can we get the same amount of enjoyment, but concentrated in a much shorter experience? In short: What about the amount of fun players have per hour?
I’ve spent hundreds of hours of my precious life exploring Bioware’s Mass Effect, and Bethesda/Obsidian’s Fallout games. In general, I enjoy myself during that time, but my obsessive desire to explore every subplot often leads me into simple sidequests with little literary merit. I also find myself playing repetitive minigames which have me mining minerals for hours on end.
Understand this, I love Bioware, Bethesda and Obsidian, along with other big American RPG developers. These companies create vast and wonderful worlds for fans to explore. I deeply enjoy their amazing stories, and the experience they provide of being a hero whose life I control. However, I don’t play just to grind for more experience points.
Sure, the hundreds of sub-plots, are optional; I don’t have to play them, but I still can’t help but pursue them in the hope that every new NPC will be my favorite character, or that each new quest will be the best storyline in the game. If I were pickier about which subplots I follow, I might have missed Jack’s backstory in Mass Effect 2, or I might have never discovered the railroad spike gun in Fallout 3. Both of which brought me great joy as a player.
I can imagine a lead game designer at some RPG developer declaring that every quest MUST have an optional secondary objective, and that every location has to have a sidequest, and every single merchant in the game needs a sub-plot. Although these are all great guidelines, they don’t justify cramming in missions that aren’t on par with the rest of the game.
Developers might argue that players shouldn’t expect every single mission in a game to be a brilliant piece of story-telling, but I say that we have every right to expect developers to weed out the parts that aren’t great, even if it reduces total play time. There is enough content in most blockbuster RPG’s that they can stand some editing, and still be “Enough”. Even if this means that a game will “Only” be thirty hours long (On the first playthrough).
Players don’t need to spend fifty hours in a game to understand what the designer is trying to say. The story and core experience can be enjoyed without adding in dozens of hours in fetch-quest, sub-plots or minigames. Making things worse is the incentive for replay. Western-style RPG’s generally offer a significantly different experience if you replay with a different alignment, gender, race, and class. Players are less likely to explore these alternate choices if doing so requires another forty hours of our lives. It’s a pity that most gamers don’t have the time fully appreciate games because of the emphasis on Fun-Per-Dollar over Fun-Per-Minute.