The dilemma of longevity in video games - editorial

The dilemma of longevity in video games - editorial

By now we have reached the ninth generation of video game consoles, the medium has reached its full maturity, and those who create these interactive works for a job have a fairly precise idea of ​​what works in the eyes of the public. We are talking about elements that go far beyond what may be the fashions of the moment, of characteristics that, for better or for worse, will always be passed under the microscope by an immense amount of enthusiasts.

Of course, numerous publishers get on the bandwagon of the most popular genre in a given period, be it the battle royale or the collectible card game, but in this case we are talking about developers, not producers. And a developer thinks about certain things: will the duration of the game be enough to keep the engagement rate high? Is there enough content after the main offer ends? What kind of impact will the proposal have, especially if it is far from the canon of the modern market?

Longevity, engagement, long-term content production, collateral offer: these are now essential elements of any production, a real hidden engine that has given birth to most of the contemporary business models. We are in the age of games as services, of luxury roguelikes, of battle passes, of titles that offer more content than the user can deal with, which are all children of the same mother, or the amount of free time they manage to steal from fans, which has now become the true measure of success.

Pokémon is one of the few titles that have changed the history of video games. One of the most fascinating concepts of game design theory, for example, is that of replayability. An absurd concept, if you think about it, because it is absolutely exclusive to the video game. We can think of very few examples in which critics or consumers would consider the replayability of a song, the repeatability of a film, the repeatability of a plate. Here, perhaps the discriminating factor lies in the price, because when you shell out 70 or even 80 euros for an interactive experience, it is more than legitimate to ask yourself how long your honeymoon will last with the product. But let's go back a moment to 1996.

Pokémon is the video game that more than any other has suffered the impact of the passage of time, seeing that incredible inspiration sink into oblivion that today, rightly, is criticized by aficionados of the latest works of Game Freak. And this happens because it is a franchise that was born and raised during the brow in a historical era that would forever change the rules of the game.

Pokémon was born in a world without the internet and not used to the import, a world where news and trends made their way very slowly, where virality was a consequence of word of mouth resulting from quality. This means that when Pokémon Red and Blue hit European store shelves, no one knew what was hiding beyond the GameBoy screen.

Resident Evil Village was accused of being too short by some users. What would that Pokémon evolve into? And when would it evolve? What were those birds that even deserved to appear on the game map, placed at the bottom of dangerous dungeons? The desire to untangle the mystery, to catch all the unknown creatures, to leave home and explore the whole world, have become the forgotten pillars of a unique universe of its kind.

The collectible nature of Pokémon, on the other hand, it ended up fueling the duration of the phenomenon beyond all expectations, prompting millions of boys and girls to spend hundreds of hours in the Kanto region. And this is how longevity reached the stars, that same longevity which, in the pages of trade magazines, was even used as an element of comparison for the purpose of expressing judgment on the works.

Today, however, something has changed. Something has changed because the public has become extremely heterogeneous, and in the orbit of triple A productions the new launches are branded not only as too short, but sometimes even as too long. And this happens because the spectrum of gamers has expanded enormously, and it is clear that the opinion of those who dedicate a few hours after dinner to this passion must collide with that of those who, on the other hand, can spend the afternoons or entire nights in front of the screen. .

Is there the right duration for a video game? And if it exists, how should it be prosecuted? Through the staging of a long and satisfying main component or through gimmicks and collateral mechanics designed to increase the size of the offer?

Assassin's Creed Odyssey, on the other hand, has been accused by many of being too long and heavy in content. One of the most recent cases is that generated by Resident Evil Village, a title that has been accused of being too short by a large group of fans, despite being paradoxically longer than many chapters of the same saga. This indicates that there has been a clear turnaround in the perception of longevity by the public, who have become accustomed to receiving off-scale adventures.

It is evident that assuming the latest releases in the Assassin's Creed series, offering hundreds and hundreds of hours of content, any offer is likely to be skimpy. The curious fact is that, precisely in the case of productions such as Odyssey and Valhalla, numerous voices have been raised to criticize the excessive amount of activity, sometimes not fully curated.

The vocal part of the audience would like to receive a lot of experiences long and characterized at the same time by a quality level that is not fluctuating, a definition that in the last period fits only on Rockstar Games' Red Dead Redemption 2; which is worrying, because few software houses have the means to make anything remotely like the studio's masterpiece.

As stated by former SIE boss Shawn Layden, the production of AAA video games is now an extremely demanding, expensive process for developers, and the creative formulas should be revised to match the needs of software houses. A title like RDR2 can in fact count on financing and production times that are alien to what is usually the norm.

The Witcher 3 is a huge title, but for most of the audience it was a balanced experience. The choice faced by the first-tier industry is very complex: net of enormous sacrifices, you have to decide whether to build extremely vast and long-lasting experiences by sacrificing the general quality of the activities and the overall finishing work, or to create lighter titles - just like Resident Evil Village - in order to deliver complete and well-filed works into the hands of users.

Sure, there are several excellent exceptions, such as CD Projekt RED's The Witcher 3, which he paired with a immense single-player component an equally substantial collateral offer taken care of to the point that Gwent, the collectible card game present in the work, has been transformed into a stand alone experience.

A similar argument applies to the Skyrim of Bethesda, which has found its fortune precisely in the vastness and complexity of its world, making the adventure a very long journey destined to imprint itself in the memory of the vide oplayers. The problem arises when one ends up tracing the success of these titles to empty size or simple longevity, failing to attribute the right weight to each element of the amalgam.

The length and breadth of a work in fact, they are not absolute qualities, because they must rest on extremely solid foundations to break through the hearts of enthusiasts. Recently, however, we have seen the trend of wanting to push the width of maps and the duration of adventures ever closer to the limit, according to a system that often proves inconclusive.

Then there are titles like Journey, which are nothing short of complete while lasting just over an hour. After all, if we take the cinematographic product as a term of comparison, the video game medium can count on immense advantages because the authors have full freedom in taking all the time necessary to achieve their creative goals, while a film must always and however, remain limited to the timing imposed by the big screen.

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A video game can afford to entertain the player for an hour as a hundred, because the important thing is that the final result is able to shape the goals of the developers. The problem arises when the production is embroidered around the goal of being only long and vast, effectively penalizing the experience as a whole.

There are no video games that are too long or too short; there are unnecessarily long video games compared to the mainstay of the offer and excessively short video games in the face of immense ambitions. Resident Evil Village sets itself specific technical and narrative goals and then reaches them in a reasonable time, which obviously also happens in juggernauts like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Skyrim, as well as in skimpy titles like Thatgamecompany's Journey.

Finally, reflecting on the non-importance of longevity understood in an absolute sense in the modern fabric of the video game represents a golden opportunity to think about what the real objective of critical analysis is. A goal that is not, as many think, to say whether a title is good or bad, to buy with your eyes closed or to be avoided, but to evaluate the proximity of the result to the ambitions of the developers. And in this sense, longevity represents only an element that must be placed at the service of the work without ever becoming its basis.

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