MGS 5: Ground Zeroes, Titanfall & Why Less Is More
There’s been a lot of fuss about the length of games and the prices being charged for them, particularly in regards to MGS 5: Ground Zeroes, though the likes of Gone Home, Titanfall and the not yet released Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey: New ‘n’ Tasty have all fallen foul of players expressing dismay at a perceived imbalance in the content for cash ratio.
It’s easy to understand why games are criticised when there is a perception that those games are not offering the value that they have in the past, when they provide the player with less while asking them to pay the same price.
However, there is actually a very good argument for games to give us less. In fact, we would argue that the imperative for games to give us more ‘content’, to be ‘bigger and better’, has actually been damaging.
Rather than asking games to give us more, we should be encouraging developers to trim the fat, to not be afraid of giving us less.
MGS 5: Ground Zeroes & Trimming The Fat
Let us start with MGS 5: Ground Zeroes. This game is something of a special case, being that it’s being sold as a prequel, and we’re not here to be snobby about those who feel that the game is little more than a paid demo.
What we would point out is that, aside from its length, MGS 5: Ground Zeroes displays a welcome tendency to cut out the unnecessary, to remove some of the excess from MGS 4: Guns of the Patriots, from the painfully long exposition, to the unnecessarily large array of weapons and customisation options that felt out of place in that game.
Putting aside issues with the game’s length, MGS 5: Ground Zeroes is a game that benefits from its focus, from stripping MGS back to the basics that make the game fun and allowing players to experiment with a relatively simple set of mechanics.
Take the Assassin’s Creed series in contrast.
Is not the primary problem with that series its proclivity to do the exact opposite? To stack mechanic, upon system, upon mechanic, upon system, creating an unwieldy tower of half-baked and poorly implemented ideas that threatens to collapse in on itself at every moment.
That this way of thinking is so prevalent in the videogames industry is immediately apparent if you pay attention as to how game sequels are often sold.
Why Bigger Isn’t Always Better
How often do you hear a sequel sold on the phrase, “we’re going open world!”, usually followed by, “the map will be X times bigger, there will be more missions, collectibles to find and lots of side content for players to investigate”.
The line of thinking is almost always the same – bigger is better.
In reality, though, there are far too many games that are unnecessarily bloated by this approach to game design.
The player might be provided with ‘more’, but more of what? Unfortunately, the answer is usually more filler and that’s not what we should be asking for.
Games like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and Gone Home prove that developers can make two to three hour games that not only work as well as longer titles, but that actually benefit from being shorter experiences.
We need not feel tied to the increasingly outdated idea that games must be a certain length. In contrast, we should be embracing those shorter games, praising those who place their attention on getting the core of a game right and making that game no longer and no shorter than it naturally needs to be.
Titanfall, Battlefield 4 & Cutting Single-Player
Praise in this area should also go to Titanfall. The game has had some criticism due to the fact that players are only getting a multiplayer mode for their money, not a single-player and co-op mode, as they would in other titles.
Listen to fans of Battlefield, though, and many will tell you the exact opposite. They will tell you that people buy Battlefield for the multiplayer and that they want DICE to focus on making that mode as good as it can be.
Indeed, while Battlefield 4 might provide players with a single player campaign, as well as multiplayer, the argument that DICE would have been better served focusing their attention on the core of what makes the Battlefield series so brilliant is hard to contest, given that the developer has had so much trouble getting Battlefield 4 to actually work.
Again, would Battlefield not have benefited from eschewing the expectations of what a first-person shooter should provide? Of being prepared to give the player less content, in exchange for a better multiplayer experience?
Less Is More
We don’t want a tacked on single or multi-player mode that’s there to tick boxes, collectibles that have been scattered around for the sake of it, half-implemented mini-games, or lazy side missions that are there to ensure that the game lasts a certain number of hours.
We want the core experience to be as good as possible and we want the game to be as long or as short as the mechanics that support that core experience mandates it should be.
Does that mean that we shouldn’t have any 15, 20 or 50 hour games? No, of course not.
But, it does mean that we should have more 2, 3 and 5 hours games that are far better than they would have been if they had endeavored to artificially bloat their size in order to meet arbitrary conditions defined by outdated ideas of what a videogame should be.
Getting The Price Right
Of course, that does mean that the price has to be right.
While we think that games can benefit from being leaner and that the focus should be on the quality of the game, not the quantity of content, that doesn’t mean that we think there should be no correlation between price and length.
We’d rather pay more for an exceptional short game than a bad long one, but that doesn’t change the fact that short games will leave players feeling cheated if the price just doesn’t feel right.
That’s something that will hopefully right itself over time as developers and publishers experiment with different pricing structures now that the traditional £40 retail model is breaking down.
We’re happy to put up with those growing pains for the time being, if it means that game developers stop adding ‘content’ purely because they feel it’s expected and we get games that are better, precisely because developers are prepared to give us less.