Should Video Games Mirror Movies?

Jul 10, 2012

I’ve never been able to finish an Assassin’s Creed game. I like the concept, I appreciate the design, but the games are too big for my gaming habits and lifestyle. When news broke yesterday that Michael Fassbender is interested in starring and producing an Assassin’s Creed film, I immediately sent a txt to all of my buddies – I was pumped. Sure, most movie adaptations of games suck; Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Mario Brothers. Odds are the AC film will suck as well, but the idea of attaching one of Hollywood’s rising stars to one of gaming’s biggest franchises is excitable to many. It may help lend credibility to gaming in the eyes of those who still think of us overweight serial killers that live in our mother’s basements. As per usual, for those of you who know me, my mind is moving in several directions and I’ve fixated on another potential outcome: what if games adopted the 2 hour average length of film? Would that improve our image?

About 2 years ago, I wrote an article about gaming styles and motivations. I am an escapist who wants to put the stress of life away for a short period of time. What I’ve learned about myself is that I don’t like sprawling fantasy worlds like Skyrim or even Dead Souls. It’s not that I don’t have the time to play a long game, rather I don’t have the attention for it. Don’t get me wrong, if a game has an amazing narrative and great acting I can stay engaged for more than 10 hours (albeit inconsistently). Take the Uncharted series for example. I’ve played each game at least 3 times through. That’s at least 25 hours for each game. But strong narratives are rare, and I know I’m not alone. How many of you out there complete every game you put at least 2 hours into? Not many, and that is the opportunity for developers. Find the right mix of attractive game presentation with the a length that has players begging for more. My mind fills of thoughts of episodic gaming applied to storied franchises such as Uncharted, Halo, and even Zelda. Why not give them the TellTale treatment? There is a reason shows that aren’t built for syndication are extremely successful in DVD/Blu-Ray releases. These shows include 24, Spartacus, Mad Men, etc. Consumers like the idea of sitting down and watching the show for hours, but with clear transition points they can come back to. The traditional gaming answer is “levels” or chapters to a game that mark a change in scenery or perhaps story arch. Unfortunately, this is a clumsy legacy driven solution that is only a band-aid over the true issue: the market is flooded with games that demand too much from us. While that is wonderful for the low percentage of hardcore gamers out there, it isn’t enough to ever elevate gaming to a higher level. There have been breakouts: Heavy Rain, for example, and the upcoming title, The Last of Us. These games put their money on narrative. And that will keep non-hardcore gamers (the majority) coming back for more chapter after chapter. They also represent minor incremental moves closer to gaming becoming an acceptable form of entertainment by the masses in our society.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t care too much about what people think. I openly talk about my gaming habits as if it is completely normal. Because, well, it is. Yet, a part of me cares about the growth of the industry. I firmly believe that for most people, a 2 hour game is perfect. And if developers plan ahead (such as TellTale) they can deliver content regularly. As a kid I grew up watching fun movies such as Indiana Jones and Back to the Future. When Young Indiana Jones came out on TV, I was pumped. I couldn’t wait to watch each episode. I wanted as much content as was available. I even owned the crappy Atari game. What a great way to build a following and prolong the life of some of gaming’s greatest characters.

Shortened experiences coupled with episodic gaming is a logical next step as we edge closer to game streaming services becoming standard. It’ll help make gaming more accessible for those who feel the barrier of entry is too high. It’ll help established gamers move from game to game as they wait X days for the next episode and also reduce the cost to jump into a series before deciding to continue buying episodes. That will translate to reduced development costs as well. This topic will be discussed in Episode 41 of the Geeks With Wives podcast. We want your feedback so let us know what you think in the comments section or you can join an upcoming podcast episode!