(Part 1 in an infinitely–long series.)
Hot off the presses is the sadly unsurprising news that Mirror’s Edge, the daring (and dashing!) new first–person platformer from the developers Dice and the studio EA has yet to soar at store counters.
Ignore that the post is based off conjecture and some solid rumors from the back alleys and let’s assume the premise is true. Mirror’s Edge for a variety of reasons has failed to make an impact. So let’s go analyze this presumed failure (and remember, you can still change! I’m the Ghost of Christmas Shopping Future so go out and buy Mirror’s Edge on Black Friday).
Gamers constantly complain that the industry lacks new IPs, new characters, new brands, and new gameplay ideas. Mirror’s Edge delivers all these in spades so it certainly doesn’t fail on those demands. Again, the caveat here is that gamers like most customers at times hardly know what exactly they want themselves, but lets assume these demands are true and actually desired.
Where Mirror’s Edge supposedly fails is its length. Or rather, the length of the game as compared to the price of the game. Mirror’s Edge is a full–fledged release priced at 60 dollars like most major titles released for the HD consoles (the 360 and PS3). However, Mirror’s Edge rests on the short end of game length for most typical major releases. The first run of the single–player story in Mirror’s Edge will typically last around 5–6 hours which compared to what’s normal (a 10–12 hour single player campaign or so). What this translate to is that Mirror’s Edge is now considered a short game in the eyes of many players — there’s little bang for the buck.
Ignore that this characterization ignores concepts like replayability for the main story mode in multiple difficulties or the various speed run modes of each level or even the time trial sections that allow you to run through specially–designed race courses built from the game’s environments. Mirror’s Edge has been branded with the dreaded stigma of being a short title, a rental title, a non–buy. Gamers who seek to derive the most playtime from their dollar will move on to other titles.
And this is where the game industry sucks. Modern games and the industry in general has become less about enjoying games thoroughly and more about churning through content. Modern single–player games in particular are guilty of this crime as the devolve further and further into interactive rollercoaster rides. Gamers love the twists, the turns, the epic scripted action sequences and the narrative–driven events that push the player forward in the Gears of Wars and Halos and Metal Gear Solids of the world. Gamers are addicted to the adrenaline rush of the tightly–paced sequence. And once they’re done with that rush there’s no urge to replay it. You dump it, resell it to Gamestop, and move on. It’s a rush to complete at the moment of release so you can move on to the latest rollercoaster.
It’s a demand that has transformed games into gigantic content munchers. Heaps of content delicately modeled and scripted that can’t be reused, expensive to make and even more time–consuming to produce. As the fidelity required in games rises so does the effort in creating this churnable content and so does the price of the game itself. So developers and publishers find themselves having to trim games in every way they can, cut the excess, but pad it enough that gamers don’t create a backlash to cries of being shorted valuable hours. Shorter games should theoretically lead to less expensive games, but as long as gamers enforce some arbitrary requirement of time and demand the same amount of carefully crafted content, game prices will remain high if not higher.
In this industry, brevity is a sin. It’s a ridiculous standard, like declaring a movie better because it runs 20 minutes longer. Games like Portal should have been the start of the short revolution, games that don’t sacrifice playability for any arbitrary length of time. Games like Mirror’s Edge should be praised for not containing fat in its story, for avoiding useless filler to deliver a compact experience. Instead they are denigrated for being thrifty in its content despite that Mirror’s Edge would not have been a better game at eight hours instead of six.
So that’s where we are. Let’s step back from the ledge and start concentrating on delivering the right experience rather than the longest one. Otherwise the industry will just continue to suck.