The title is a quote attributed to game designers in an intriguing article by John Davison of Game Pro. The article itself has some interesting points to make about the future of game design and is well worth a read but some of the things I took out of it are: The fact that game designers are now measuring players actions in game with embedded tools. The fact that the results of these measurements is that only a small minority of hard core players (less than 5% is suggested) play a game as intended through to completion. More than 90% of players just play for four or five hours and prefer to just "dick around" rather than follow the prescribed structure of the game.
The results of these studies are undoubtedly going to influence the design of future games. Indeed it can hardly be a co-incidence that the typical length of the single player game of a big budget shooter has fallen in recent years to exactly that magical 5 hour number.
I guess I qualify as a hardcore gamer by Davison's assessment because I play a lot of games doggedly through to the finish but even so I can see good as well as bad in this new trend. On the good side using real data to influence game design is a definite improvement over developers hunches. I also welcome the arrival of shorter more intense gaming experiences. I don't have the time to play a whole lot of 100 hour epic games.
On the bad side I have a major issue with price. As games are getting shorter the price of big budget new titles is getting higher. That really hurts. A five hour game will keep me entertained for one weekend at most and €60 is more that I am prepared to pay for that length of entertainment. The only saving grace is that a huge variety of older titles and indie games are now available at bargain prices but once in a while it would be nice to be able to afford to play the latest big budget game on release.
Another worry about game design by focus group and statistical analysis is that all creativity will be lost and games will become generically bland as they strive to implement the scientifically derived optimum number of exploding barrels per level. While I have no doubt that we are going to be treated to plenty bland sequels of big budget games (just as we always have been) I don't think creativity will really ever be lost. On the one hand I have faith in my fellow gamers. The statistics show that many players prefer to mess around in the game rather than follow the prescribed path. They don't want to follow a given formula they just want to explore new stuff and a game that has lots of creative new stuff will be a success. Also there is an explosion of talent and creativity in indie gaming at the moment and these guys don't have access to statistics and focus groups. They design from the gut and sometimes they come up with astounding moments of brilliant creativity. I even have faith that the big budget game developers will still produce moments of brilliance. Look at the movie industry. While it is true that many big budget films are crass and bland it is also true that the there are many astoundingly creative big budget films that could not have been produced by smaller independent studios. Mind you they don't try to charge you €60 to watch them.