Time as a measure of greatness

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.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in EVE Online, League of Legends, MMO design, Mount and Blade: Warband, Ultima Online. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Time as a measure of greatness

  1. Azuriel says:

    Not sure I entirely agree. Or, at least, you should not discount how long a game might have impacted your way of thinking, fond memories of it, etc. I played Journey once, completed it in less than three hours, but it generated a feeling that has not been replicated in any other game I have played before or since. ICO was released in 2001, and I haven’t seen anything else like that either.

    If you are solely in the market for game with mechanics that allow them to be enjoyed over the long haul, then sure, /played is important. But when I think of “great” games, I think about games that have affected me as a person, which doesn’t necessarily require X number of hours to accomplish.

    • SynCaine says:

      ICO is basically This War of Mine. It was memorable because it was very different, and what it did it did very well. Add 30hrs to ICO, and the review changes to “Great setting and style, repetitive and shallow gameplay” (which even for its length, some reviews already mentioned).

      Now, add 30hrs to FF7. Does the review change? Nope.

      ICO is good, and very memorable because of how different it was in the short burst that it took to experience it. FF7 is great for all 100+ hours, both because of what it did different, and because newness aside, it was also rock-solid in terms of gameplay and design.

  2. Ettesiun says:

    Here I strongly disagree.

    If we go out of games only, the time you pass doing an activity is not the best indication of the pleasure you have in it. A single square of chocolate could be far better and shorter than a big restaurant. A short movie could be better than a long series. An intense thing could be better than a long or repeated activity.

    I think it is the same for games. There is good game that you can enjoy during a long time, and there is game that are quite short but far more intense.

    I believe a better criteria would be : does this game has changed you ? Does it have a big impact on you ? If you can remember perfectly the game (or a moment of a game) 10 years after, for me that means that game was a very good one. This could be a very long game such as Eve or whatever, or a very short game like Starcraft PvE. I will not play Worms for thousand of hours, but fighting against my friends is a very great souvenir !

  3. I will buy that. I have written in the past about games I say I like at some intellectual or emotional level, but that I simply won’t log in and play. That for me is the real truth revealed. This is why you’ll never get me to budge on Civ II being the best in the franchise because I have played that many times more hours than all the rest of the series combined. (I wanted to play it last weekend, but I couldn’t find the damn CD.)

    How about the flip side? I saw a tweet from Smed the other day where he was angry about people with “2,000 hours” played on a game in Steam giving it a bad review. When you’ve put that much time into a game have you already made the declaration that you like the game, or are you now just fully qualified to say if it really sucks or not?

    • Amalec says:

      My confidence in a persons’ opinion when they say a game sucks typically peaks around 50 hours played and plummets sharply from there. If a person has logged 2,000 hours into a game and is trying to tell me it sucks, I’m going to assume they’re either a fundamentally broken individual or have no concept of objectivity.

      Interestingly, I have the same opinion of people who tell me how bad their prior romantic partners were.

  4. On the flip side Wilhelm, I value someones opinion of a game more so if they’ve spent 2000 hours in it then someone who has only spent 20 minutes in it. This is partially the problem with the game review industry and something that Syn picked up on in referencing the Bloody Baron quest in Witcher 3. The game got rave reviews, specifically because of the BB quest line. The BB Quest Line can be reached and completed in relative short order early on within your time spent in Witcher 3.

    Does that mean we should discount reviews of Witcher 3 simply because they stopped playing shortly after the first major quest line? Perhaps.

    I think the problem with using this formula in MMOs is that the games are constantly evolving. Not just adapting to bugs or issues in gameplay like you see in a single player game, but instead major fundamental new aspects of play being introduced. For example in EVE, some of the content areas in the game were really lacking (exploration for example) and it was enhanced considerably as time went on. Do you think a ton of reviewers went back and updated their reviews of EVE based on this introduction of a new mode of play? I haven’t seen any (but it surely would warrant review if EVE were released today).

    So I think you have categorize and silo out the single player games and the MMOs which are designed to evolve/grow over time. Comparing hours spent in World of Warcraft to EVE Online, you’d find the two fairly close in terms of time I’ve spent in them. I don’t consider either particularly good at this time though, despite several hundreds of hours spent in each.

    • That brings up the flip-flip-flip side of the MMO aspect of this, how does one distinguish between somebody who has accrued enough playtime on an MMO to review it in its fullness, and what we call the bitter vet in EVE Online, who thinks everything was better back in the day and the company has wrecked a good thing even when it is more likely that they have merely tired of the whole affair?

  5. tithian says:

    Hmm, not sure I agree entirely. You mention EVE, and that some times (well, most of the times) you are doing stuff you don’t really like for the big payoff of those singular experiences where the game ‘clicks’ (I know, been there done that, although not in EVE). However, if those experiences are simply (for example) 30 hours out of 500, what’s the difference of another 30 hour game that is simply intense from start to finish? If nothing else, the latter would be more satisfying as it would be a more coherent experience.

    You’re also ignoring the fact that people will also very often play virtual Skinner Boxes for thousands of hours (WoW being one, for many people) simply out of habit or chasing a virtual pointless reward. You may be obsessed by your set goal in a game, that may still be shitty. In the end you are enjoying yourself in spite of the ‘game’ due to the social environment of your own making (i.e. your clan).

    • SynCaine says:

      I think you oversimplify a game, even an MMO, keeping a player playing. While certainly factors like social structure or big payoffs matter, I find it hard to believe that anyone would play something they don’t like most of the time just to chat with a friend or because one hour out of every ten is good.
      I’m not saying every hour of that 500+ is amazing, but people wouldn’t play for so long if most of them weren’t at least good (not to mention said amazing moments). I don’t think any 30hr game is going to have that 500+ amazing moment, so while it may have a solid 30, and that’s good, its not 500+ great. (Otherwise you’d play it for 500+)

      • tithian says:

        True, I stretched the argument a little, but then again…

        ” I find it hard to believe that anyone would play something they don’t like most of the time just to chat with a friend or because one hour out of every ten is good.”

        That was me in WoW for the last 12-14 months before I quit. Tons of fun raiding with my guild and the social interaction and the overall guild atmosphere kept me going. My only regret about quiting the game was that I don’t get to hang out with them anymore. True, I had fun for those 6 hours/week but pretty much everything other than that frustrated me.

        It may sound really weird when you look at it from your point of view (it is), but I know a lot of people that are in the same grimey spot.

        • SynCaine says:

          I did the same with WoW and raiding, so I know exactly what you mean, but the amount of time I was doing anything BUT raiding towards the end was pretty minimal, so the ratio still holds up. It’s not like I was questing/crafting/whatever 40 hours a week, hating all of it, and then enjoying the 6-8hrs of raiding per week.

          Plus time spent in an MMO is a little different, because you didn’t start playing WoW hating your time with it, that only came after hundreds of hours with it. Getting to that hundreds of hours says something, not that you eventually stopped, because I think almost anyone who is deep into any MMO sticks around at the end longer than normal due to social ties or out of a feeling of “I should keep going”.

  6. Delpez says:

    Based on this Clash of Clans is the greatest game I’ve ever played! It has been my main game for over two years now, and when I’m pushing resources I play for many hours a day. However, time is just one measure of greatness. For games that try to keep you playing for as long as possible, it surely is important how long they actually managed to keep you hooked (MMO’s, CoC, LoL). On the other hand, some games aim for something different like telling a story or making you laugh/scared/whatever, and they should be judged on how well they achieve those goals (assuming the goals were worthwhile to begin with). For example, Day of the Tentacle was not a very long game, but till today I regard it as one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in gaming. That’s because it aimed to make me laugh while telling a crazy story with crazy puzzles, and from that point of view I would consider it great.

    • SynCaine says:

      CoC is great, yes. (Almost criminally underrated in just how great of a game its, and I don’t mean in terms of mobile, I mean among games, period)

      And I agree that other games can be memorable or have a great burst of entertainment. My point however is that the best of the best are games that do both. They entertain and have memorable moments, but also last longer than a short burst. That combination puts games in the elite level.

  7. Ranez says:

    So I picked up BDO and got the 48 hours head start, in 48 hours I’ve clocked 32 /played already. And I feel like I BARELY understand the game. I’ve a feeling this one might hit very high hours /played for me at least, it feels a bit like eve, but in a fantasy setting in terms of the learning curve and depth of the game systems. Obviously first impressions only, but Ive high hopes for this one.

    On a side note, Ive opted out of clan wars for the meantime… dragging myself away from the PC is proving difficult.

Comments are closed.