Growing Game Lengths

We have been talking about the length our our games recently. The long and short is our games have been progressively been getting longer, and the “acceptable” length (for reviews) has gotten pushed up more and more over the years. While previously a game of about 150,000 was significantly on the longer side, it has now become “short” in reviews. We’re wondering what you all think of this.

  • I’d prefer one 300k word game.
  • I’d prefer two 150k word games.

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(There’s a poll, but I’d really be curious as to what people think of this in actual practice as both authors and readers.)

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Uh, how about three 800k word games. Is that an option? (Pulls at sweaty collar.)

More seriously, I’m thinking about the request for feedback “in actual practice as both authors and readers.”

As an author I want, ideally, two 150k games, because then I get two bites at the apple. But as a reader I want 300k because there is the (possibly illusory but unshakable) sense that length translates into better quality all things being equal. These two things are deeply in conflict.

The people who write the checks, of course, have their own perspective. I assume that up to a certain point they would prefer a single longer game. Obviously you get diminishing returns as a game gets past a certain word count, but I’m pretending to be ignorant of that.

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As an author, I try to aim for the 250k ish mark nowadays. It seems to be the sweet spot as far as length vs pricing and fan expectations go.

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sweat forms at eyebrows I’d like to know this as well… Haha.

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Honestly, while I voted 300k story in the poll, I would be okay with either story length depending on what kind of story it was. If the story purported to be an epic fantasy with many different endings (which is the kind of story I like), I would be a little more skeptical of a 150k length, because it is on the shorter side nowadays and I’m not sure how deep the story could be in that length of time. If it was a YA high school mystery that was 150k words, I would be less skeptical and more open to trying it–but that also isn’t the type of story I often seek out. I think there’s something to be said about which are the most popular genres and how those happen to pair with longer wordcounts/breadth of stories than just wordcounts alone? Or maybe that’s just me!

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This may sound cheesy, but:
A game should be as long as it needs to be:

I beta-ed a couple of games this year, and have found that some could have done with a rewrite in the sense of fleshing things out (some could have done with a general rewrite, but that’s on a different leaf). R-a-V, for example. It’s a good game, but it felt as if it could have don with more flesh on its bones. And seeing some reviews it would seem i’m not alone with that impression.

The downside would be that a game would need to get pushed back to give the author the time and space to rewrite and expand.

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Are we talking total words or the average playthrough length? I feel the latter is often a bigger selling point. I personally like to get invested in my choice games, so I like them longer. That said, as a couple of people have mentioned, there are definitely odd titles that would feel dragged out if they were to be longer. If it’s an epic, it should be epic, if it’s not, it’s not.

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I was under the impression that the former (total wordcount given in the description) was the main selling point, often leading the complains if the play-through is short due to shoddy coding/railroading etc.

Good point… Sorry, I should have clarified: I believe a longer average playthrough length is what most people want in a game. I don’t think half as many care about the total word count. People don’t want to do the maths themselves. A lot of people (myself included) will only play a game once or twice, and enjoy the fact that you get a ‘unique’ story out of it, rather than the fact that you could replay it a lot.

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It sounds like kind of a cop-out, but I honestly would have to play a demo (or at least read the elevator pitch) of a game/interactive novel/whatever before I could even consider word count. My Hosted Games submission is around 200k including code, and because I don’t know how to tell the length of an average play-through, I just subtracted ten percent or something from the final total. If I just saw that number, I might not be as interested. But then again, I know some people are all about the word count, so I can’t speak for everybody.

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Length can be a tad misleading as, code aside, we only ever see a portion of the full game in a single go.

I think that at the very least each title should have an estimate of how long a playthrough is rather than just hanging that shiny “big word count” as one of the selling points. If I only play once then the matter of the fact is I’m only ever going to see a portion of what the game has to offer. Not all games incentivize extra playthroughs, other times I just don’t feel like it.

Based on the few demos I tried, ~100k words (code included) usually means we only see 10-30k in a single pass. That’s alarmingly short. Longer games at least mitigate some of that feeling.

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The demo bits might be another stumbling stone:
Often games fall short in the latter third/quarter, so, yeah, playing a demo might give one an idea of ‘okay, there’s still a lot to go, probably’ or ‘okay, how the hell they gonna wrap this up in just this many words left (with code)’

The issue that comes mind: how much of the total count is a demo. I’m having a thing right now where the code is 35k, the playthrough is 2500… so… had it a total of 100k with code, it’d be dreadfully short.

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Personally, even if a gamebook loses me after the free demo cut-off point and I buy the rest of it and it just doesn’t appeal to me, I still very much respect the author for writing a convincing enough hook/pitch to get me interested, and I find myself unable to be unsatisfied.

I can get that, certainly. I think a good all-encompassing work-around would be to have the average play-through length be more or less the same throughout different branches of a story. So, like, the player has their replay-ness and the whole thing is still technically 200k or 300k or whatever.

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I would say that the matter of length can not be discussed without talking about efficient coding.

If a game with 150k+ words is coded in a way that, if coded efficiently would dwindle down to 100k and less, something is amiss.
Likewise a game that is coded efficiently and stands at 150k+ plus might appear small to the reader glancing at the number, while you’d get a story longer and with more replay value than from the former example.

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How do you mean by “efficiently coded”?

I am already on the record in the “longer games are bad for authors’ earnings” camp.

Prices (probably) can’t keep up proportionately with growing lengths, so $/word ratio for author payment keeps going down.

Longer works = more delay between stories, which is against the grain in our growing episodic/quick release culture. It’s hard to keep a following when you go 1-2 years between releases. I think it would be great if Hosted Games (and CoG, if they desired) would support shorter, supplemental stories to tide readers over between bigger installments.

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At the same time, I could imagine that consumers might eventually think they’re getting wise to some sort of scheme of an author’s to get more money for what is, in their minds, a shorter game, and stop purchasing the episodic games.

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It’s all about shaping consumer expectations. Yeah, when you release 500k+ word games, almost anything else is going to seem “small” in comparison. It’s like a Brandon Sanderson book versus a novella.

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I’d like to interject that this discussion would be more interesting to me without doing term-defining about what constitutes a longer game in terms of

  • coding efficiency
  • playthrough length

We can discuss this without talking about those things for Choice of Games releases, which is what I think we’re asking about. Choice of Games releases must have a randomtest ratio of at most 20%. So 150,000 words = 30,000 word playthrough. 300,000 words = 60,000 word playthrough.

Longer means what it mean: longer.

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Without using any concrete game as example, imagine you have a game where the code looks like this:

That must have been after you talked to
*if ((talkedmary) or (calledmary)
   Mary
*if (talkedruby)
   Ruby
*if ((chattedtony) or (called tony))
   Tony
*if ((summertalk = "lori") or (summertalk = "dean"))
   Lori and Dean
!

With this not just happening once, but various times for the same npcs. if all these variables are mutually exclusive you can go and do this:

*if ((talkedmary) or (calledmary)
   *set talked "mary"
*if (talkedruby)
   *set talked "ruby"
*if ((chattedtony) or (called tony))
   *set talked "tony"
*if ((summertalk = "lori") or (summertalk = "dean"))
   *set talked "lori and Dean"

and rendering the initial bit into

That must have been after you talked to $!{talked}!

as example.

A bigger example would be massive copy-pasting:
Sometimes code can look like this

*label a
200 words of code 'thing a' 150 words of code

*label b
200 words of code 'thing b' 150 words of code

when it could be

200 words of code
*if (thing_a)
   'thing a'
*if (thing_b)
   'thing b'
150 words of code

or

200 words of code @{thing thing a| thing b} 150 words of code

I hope this makes sense

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