Final Fantasy XIII boasts 40+ hours of game play. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim boasts 300+ hours of game play. World of Warcraft boasts thousands of hours of game play. With the price of video games constantly increasing, long game play is essential to making a video game buyer deem a game worth the cost. But, adding additional content to a game takes time and expense. Developers have found alternate ways to make a game seem longer without meaningfully increasing the length of the game. Presented are five ways developers make video games seem longer than they actually are.
Random Drops – Plenty of games require you to find a particular widget in order to further the plot. Often this means completing some long quest. But another way to distribute the widget is through random drops. Sometimes the game will tell you that the widget can be found by defeating enemies in a particular area of the game. Of course, the widget doesn’t drop from the first enemy defeated. Instead, it randomly drops. You might have to defeat dozens before the widget drops. Or you might need to collect 20 of the widget. This is a common way of extending the game in MMORPGs like World of Warcraft.
Side Quests – Remember those widgets? Well sometimes you don’t need them to further the plot of the game, sometimes you just need to collect them to make the grand poobah of ultimate weapons. Or maybe if you collect them, you will help a farmer’s daughter, and she will give you something that permanently boosts your health. These are called side quests. They aren’t critical to completing the game, but many a game is filled with them and often it is difficult to identify the main quest from the side quest. In games like Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, side quests could earn you approximately one third of the heart containers in the game, which meant that ignoring them made your character much more fragile. In other words, you could play the game without completing side quests, but it was much more difficult.
Difficulty – Speaking of which, a high level of difficulty is just about the most classic way of making a game feel longer. The original Mega Man could be completed in just about an hour on a perfect run, but don’t tell that to anyone who owned the game. They would tell you it was a 6-hour, 10-hour, or even 20-hour game. The difficulty on that game was set just south of impossible. And it wasn’t alone. Castlevania, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Ninja Gaiden for the NES all were rather short games that were so brutally hard you played for hours just to beat the first level. Modern games like Ninja Gaiden Black and Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne have continued the trend. Make a game hard enough and people will never realize that it actually only has a few hours of game play.
Alternate Characters – One of the more subtle tricks to making a game feel longer is having alternate playable characters. Sonic and Knuckles is one of the earliest examples of this. You could play as Sonic or as Knuckles. But, with just a few exceptions, you played through all the same levels in just about all the same ways regardless of which character you chose. Technically these characters have different abilities, but often the differences are so minor they are practically non-existent. Luigi may jump a little higher and skid a little more than Mario, but those differences only matter a handful of time while trying to collect the 120 stars necessary to get the perfect ending in Super Mario Galaxy.
Achievements – And that brings us to all of the entirely pointless actions we perform in order to collect achievements. With the sole exception of bragging rights, achievements have absolutely no value in a video game. You don’t need them to finish the game, collecting them doesn’t change the plot, and you don’t get a plaque or medal sent to you in the mail if you finish them all. Yet nearly every new video game has a list of 30-50 achievements you can collect in the game. The easiest require you to perform actions like start your first game, while the most ridiculous require you to defeat the game on impossible difficulty blindfolded while holding the controller with your feet. Okay, that last one isn’t real, but defeating a level on the hardest difficulty without taking damage is a common requirement. Many achievements tend to combine all the previous ways of extending a game. For example, you may have to find 50 of some rare drop that only appears on the boss monster of a side quest and you need to collect those items with both of the main playable characters. It is the ultimate way of extending the perceived length of a game without actually adding any content.