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How Long Should an Indie Game Be?


Over the past few weeks a number of developers have chimed in on the issue of game length and how it is perceived by themselves, as developers, and how it is perceived by gamers, as the customers. Now, with myself being a writer, I’ve often found myself in the middle of these two. I’m neither developing the game, nor am I paying for the game (on some occasions). I am merely judging the games based on a number of factors, of which time/money invested is surely a factor. So with that in mind, I’d like to offer my own opinions on the subject.

Before I begin, however, allow me to first establish just what the issue is. Apparently, after the release of Limbo, a number of reviewers went on to claim that the game was simply too short (our own Mike Rose touched on this subject in our review) based on how much the game cost. As if the entirety of the game’s cost is based solely on how long you’re playing it.

In this regard I’m pretty much in agreement with Ron Carmel’s — of 2D Boy — take on the matter. How in the world can you ever sum up a game and boldly claim it is “too short” when you’re not taking into consideration the experiences to be had while playing that game. In what capacity is the game “too short?” Is there simply not enough levels? Did you want to experience more of the game? Did you enjoy the game at all?

These are all questions that can help a person understand whether or not the length of the game is really an issue or not. When I play a game, for fun, I’m not sitting there worried that the game will end soon and I won’t have achieved a maximum amount of “fun” per dollar I’ve spent. I’m simply experiencing the game. At the end of that experience (whether I beat the game or not), it’s pretty safe to judge whether or not the game was worth the price I paid. But am I judging it on the time of game I played, or am I judging it on the type of experience I had?

This all boils down to the final question: are there games out there that are simply too short? Yes. Absolutely, 100% there are games that are too short. However, I’d like to emphasize that a game that is “too short” isn’t all that common. Limbo, for example, is not too short. The game provided me with a wonderful experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. As such, length was not an issue. However, there are games out there whose story is not fully fleshed out where the game will come to an abrupt end. In these cases, I’d say that were the game longer (which naturally assumes the story would be longer as well) then it would certainly be a better game because of it.

At the end of it all though, I try not to worry about game length at all. If there is a game out there that looks interesting to me, I’ll bite. It’s similar to how I don’t really care how long a movie is. A movie ticket costs me $11.75 either way, but I’m certainly not trying to maximize my dollar potential by only seeing 3+ hour movies. I see the movie I want to based on whether it seems interesting to me.

If you’re curious about this subject some more, here is a fine list of links to some of the best indie developers out there and their thoughts on the game length “problem.”

There’s a wealth of opinions here from some very knowledgeable people. If you’re looking for a specific answer, you’ll probably find one here.


  • Dave

    I think the question is more how much it should offer for the money but generally when the customer complains something is wrong. People were left unsatisfied and I wonder if they really consider the entire experience worth that much money. It’s certainly a high price to live up to with strong competition from 10€ or less games and maybe Limbo doesn’t stand all that high above the competition.

    Personally I decided that 1200 points for Limbo was too much compared to how much I could get out of XBLIG for that money, especially after the demo failed to grab me. I have played many atmospheric flash games so that may also impact my perception of Limbo’s value, it didn’t give me the impression that it was 1200 points worth more than those.

  • Chris Johnson (TechnologoDoom)

    While I do think Dave has a good point on the relative value of XBIG games over XBLA or Major Releases, certainly I think Geoff’s point about the relativity of it all is valid too. I’m glad he mentioned movies in relation to the discussion. $11 for a movie? I spent at least $15 for Avatar in 3D and Inception in IMAX: about the same cost as Owning Limbo. Considering it’s a great game, in my estimation, it was worth closer to $30, and I would’ve payed that much too. (PS, I’m not rich, I work for a non-profit). So while I like the XBIG channel for some steals, I still think of them AS steals. Many of them should command more money, but won’t succeed on XBIG charging more than $1, or at most $3. Limbo for $15? No brainer for me.