How much playtime makes a good game?

When designing a video game experience, an early and core feature is: how much playtime do you want players to experience?

On one hand, if you are doing just a story, and it is 2 hours of playtime, that would be equivalent to an average movie.  Can be enjoyable and memorable.  But for video games, that feels pretty short.

Bumping that up to 8 to 10 hours and it starts to feel more engaging.  This would sit into the space of a “mini-series” that people watch.  It provides much more in-depth character development and, in my opinion, usually vastly beats a movie experience.  So much so that many movies have pushed longer or are told over multiple movies.  So, this space starts to feel better.

Bumping up to 20 hours and I think you solidly land in “good game” territory.  This is enough time to reward the player’s “investment” in playing your game.  For Boneeaters, since it is a free experience, we can shoot lower than 20 for sure. 

Beyond 20 hours, as you move up to 40 or 60 hours, it becomes a vastly larger project that pushes the boundaries of what is possible for my project.  I’ll just call this unrealistic given this is a one-man, low budget operation.

However, if you consider that the Boneeaters story will have at least four vastly different endings, and if each story is 20 hours, that’s in the 40 to 60-hour range (assuming portions of the story exist in all paths).  So, I will have to consider reducing the objective.

Given the total length, I am also looking at each segment of play.  For segments, I think 5 to 15-minute range is a good target.  This way the story can be digested in pieces and allow for pauses, players to leave and return, etc.  We also need to allow for choices and flow, so that also fits well in this model.

Possible goal: 10 hours of content per path (with 5 hours common to all paths); 4 paths; 20 hours of total content

Unfortunately, I don’t think that hits the objective.  As you progress a path, choices and decisions will cause content to multiply.  And just having 4 different endings determined mainly by protagonist choice, yeah, that doesn’t meet the objectives at all. 

So, I end up in the space that I said above was unrealistic.  Of course I did!  Can be no other way.  I’m going to have to get very creative on content and how to do multiple paths with re-usable artwork.

Goal for Boneeasters

New goal: 6 hours of content per path (with 3 hours common to all paths; but 3 hours of alternative content, so that leaves it back to 6 hours); 4 paths; 24 hours of total content