I often give ‘reviews’ of games here. Sometimes official reviews (whatever that means), and sometimes just some random thoughts about a game I’m currently playing. I’ve now been playing games for multiple decades, and have likely written about hundreds here on this site. As time has gone on, I’m more and more convinced that a game should only be called great if it’s one you either finish, or spends a very considerable amount of time with.
For example, I really like Darkest Dungeon, even as someone who isn’t a huge rogue-like fan. It does a lot of things really well, and the time I have spent with it has certainly been enjoyable. But I can’t call DD great, because right now I’m struggling to finish it. Well, perhaps struggling isn’t the right word, but after running a dungeon or two, I often close the game, and my total playtime with it isn’t crazy high. That should, IMO, count against the game in terms of how highly I view it.
On the flip side, I’ve now clocked in over 600 hours with Mount and Blade: Warband, which puts it at the top of my Steam list, and if I had to pick a “Best in Years” game, it would be M&B. Perhaps M&B isn’t perfect (it is), but 600+ hours is hard to argue against. You don’t spend that much time with a game if it doesn’t do a LOT of things right.
I also think games that are inherently short should be weighted lower. Take for example This War of Mine. I liked that game a lot, but it can be finished in 10-15 hours. It’s a really good use of 10-15hr in terms of gaming, but keeping me entertained and happy for that amount of time with something is a lot easier than doing it for 600+ hours. It’s the W3 Bloody Baron thing basically; something might work and appear good for a short amount of time, but does it hold up long-term? Does it stay entertaining, or is the initial burst of entertainment heavily based on a ‘oh this is new’ feeling rather than core solid gameplay execution? If This War of Mine took 40+ hours to finish, I don’t think it would be nearly as good, because the basic formula for the game wouldn’t hold up.
To tie this into MMOs, the ones that keep us playing for hundreds of hours, or in the case of something like EVE, years and years, represents something pretty special. Sure, some of those hours are true grind time, where you might spend hours doing something you’d really rather not (or in the case of EVE, just waiting and doing nothing), but you do so because the payoff is worthwhile. Again, that’s impressive.
I also think newer MMOs are struggling, or are shorter-term for many, because both the overall newness of MMOs has worn off, and because they simply aren’t designed as well. For all the flaws of UO/EQ1/AC, at their core they did more than enough right to keep people playing for hundreds of hours, and that really is something noteworthy.
PS: I also have to mention League of Legends in this post, because over the last three years (more?) that has been the one game I’ve consistently played, likely resulting in hundreds if maybe a thousand+ hours of gameplay. Pretty insane really, and given the outrageous popularity of LoL overall, I’m certainly not alone.