« Simulacra or Simulation [What Games Are Not] | Main | The Sweet Spot Theory of Actions [Game Design] »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


I played more than 350 h of Sc2 0.o

Matt Rix

I feel like this a chicken+egg scenario. The only reason someone will play a game for 100 hours is *because* they're already a fan of it.

I've played only about 10 hours of Minecraft, and I love it. Same thing for Portal. I only played Braid for a few hours, enough to beat the game, but I'll be buying The Witness the moment it comes out.


I disagree pretty strongly with this. It really doesn't even remotely match up to experience either. Plenty of very short games with no replay value and rabid fanbases. Take Portal, which you can be done with in less than 5 hours, yet is practically a meme in and of itself, and certainly much beloved, with a sequel that people are extremely hyped about. There's also the *entire* adventure game genre, and many narratively driven FPS or FPS/hybrid games, like Deus Ex and BioShock. And there are plenty of long games that don't deliver the same level of value, but still compel you to finish them; I'd take 5 hours of Portal over the hundreds I've spent in WoW, but the pacing of rewards in WoW make it difficult to stop playing even when the game has become rather dull, and there are plenty of RPGs that are mostly filler which would be improved, not diminished, by halving their length. Time spent is a poor predictor of anything other than dedication on the part of the player, but it's not the *only* way to gauge dedication. Time spent making "the cake is a lie" jokes on an internet forum is just as valid a sign of dedication as grinding up to level 80.

So you can definitely acquire very strong fans without a large time investment or deep gameplay. It's not just about mechanics; content matters. The same rules that apply to every other form of media apply here as well, just with the added element of gameplay to worry about; atmosphere, character, presentation, emotional connection, and everything else that makes people love things are just as important and just as likely to create fans. It's not all one thing, but the overall package that matters. If you've nailed everything else, and your gameplay is shallow, people won't care as long as it's not broken. Similarly, deep gameplay can make up for a lack of other things that aren't as tight, as long as they're not so bad that they detract.

When it comes to developing fans, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that vision and polish are much more important than anything else; the game needs to have a "soul". And sure, defining the "soul" of a game is rather hard to do, but the games that are really successful, that form the basis of franchises, have one. They resonate with people in a very deep way, and that resonance is far more important than anything else.

Having deep gameplay that lets players play for hundreds of hours sounds more like a retention method than an acquisition method to me; it's a way to keep people interested in something they already like rather than moving on to something else. It can help with competition, but not with actually building a user base. You can only keep people you already had by giving them more things to do; the people you didn't have are already gone long before that would matter.


Thanks for the comment Eolirin. I think there's a couple of things to say on this.

The first is that I include in the 100 hours all sorts of things like retries. In Portal, for example, I had to play some of the levels repeatedly in order to get through to the end and died a bunch of times - so while the game is physically X geometry long, in actuality it's somewhat longer.

Secondly, I'm including things like special achievement hunting, bonus levels, all sorts. If there's any aspect of the game that you can go back to and play some more, that's a part of the 100 hours too. Think of Angry Birds and the hunt to get a perfect 3-stars across all of its levels for example.

Thirdly (this doesn't really apply to Portal) I'm including multi-player modes, mod maps, and so on.

I think if you really sit back and add all of that up for even an apparently short game like Portal, the results start to creep up toward 100. That doesn't mean that's what every player plays (very far from it in fact) but the potential to keep having fun with it is there.

By the way, I also thoroughly agree on your points about soul.


Well, for an adventure game, there's none of those extra things, and replay doesn't really exist, except in the sense that sometimes you'll want to take it back off the shelf and experience it again like you would with a book. Though, adventure games are very "weak" games, from a game mechanics standpoint. The core appeal for them, more so than pretty much every other genre of game is rather explicitly not in the mechanics. They do tend to have the strongest characterization and narratives of gaming though, and so they can get by on not providing those things. Characterization is an extremely powerful way to generate emotional resonance, and that's a really powerful way to create fans. So there's something more going on there; the intensity of the experience matters too. Playing through Dreamfall, there are a few moments that I can recall with a level of near perfect clarity, because they were so emotionally impacting that they've stuck with me for years. On the other hand, I can't remember anything quite so specific that I've done in WoW; a lot of it tends to blend together. I would argue that intensity is actually more important than engagement for forging a fan... keeping them on the other hand...

So you definitely do need engagement, because otherwise you have a really huge die off of your fan base. But I think it's a mistake to think that that engagement has to happen through the game itself; time spent thinking about the really interesting philosophical question the game raised, or talking about it on a forum or Facebook (or in person even) all count as active engagement. If you've got a way to interact (not just communicate) with your player base in an active way, that can certainly pick up the slack for shorter gameplay as well. Running marketing ARGs (like ilovebees) in between game releases, putting out small facebook games, asking for feedback about upcoming games via community forums, and plenty of other things that I'm not thinking of should all help maintain fan excitement too. You do need something solid to tie all this too though, so I think the general principle can be more completely stated as such:

People will generally make up their minds about your game pretty quickly. Anyone that doesn't like it will bounce and won't ever really turn into a fan. Anyone that doesn't bounce can either end up indifferent or in love with your product; this is very much a function of intensity. People that end up in love with your product will only stay that way as long as you keep them happy and prevent them from becoming bored - engagement matters a lot here, though the amount required is dependent on the intensity of the experience; you need less work to maintain strong resonance than weak resonance. And, of course, you need to not make design decisions that alienate your userbase.

This points to an inverse relationship between the level of passion that your fans have and the level of engagement you need to directly provide - they'll make up things to do when they run out (the exception being community engagement; this gets more powerful) - and their tolerance for design deviation - hell hath no fury like a fanboy scorned.


I found this site tonight and immediately plowed through at least a dozen of the articles. This is the first one that gave me pause and made me think, "Huh. That can't be right."

And it's not.

I played Portal through once. It took me less than three hours. I was immediately a fan, talked it up to all of my friends, and continue to rabidly recommend it years later. At PAX East last month, the very first place I went was to the Portal 2 booth. My Aperture Science t-shirt is one of my favorite pieces of gaming merchandise and I wear it as much as humanly possible.

Maybe that's an outlier story, but as I think back on the games that I've really loved, 100 hours is extremely steep. I'm maybe 15 hours into Mass Effect 2 on the PS3 and I already pre-ordered ME3. I was hooked on Angry Birds in the first 15 minutes. Canabalt took less than 60 seconds to suck me in, warranting an iOS purchase and the same rabid recommendations from me as much larger, longer games.

I just don't think it takes 100 hours to ensnare a player. Randy Pitchford sums it up the best in saying, in his interview with Irrational Interviews, "It's kind of like when you meet a girl-'Would I do her or not?' You make that kind of decision in five seconds and the customer's going to do the same thing."

Just some food for thought.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Follow What Games Are

What Games Are is about game design, game development, games as art, craft, culture and industry and how you can make better games, written by Tadhg Kelly.

You can follow Tadhg on Twitter here:

You can also subscribe via email:

Or RSS (Google Reader etc):


Search What Games Are

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...