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A few short years ago, we hadn’t even begun to fathom the idea of downloadable console games. We previewed our games by subscribing to official console-branded magazines that included demo discs, and we awaited new console releases with a measure of uncertainty, asking employees in stores like Babbage’s when their stock would come in.

Today, games exist that cannot be preordered, resold, or placed on our shelves. They’re becoming as much a part of our gaming lives as major disc releases, and their quality is often comparable. Yet a strange thing occurred to me recently: I don’t think the gaming world is ready to crown a downloadable game as the year’s very best game, even if it is in fact the best.

Well, why the hell not?

With the recent release of Limbo, I’ve noticed quite a few unsettling discussions crop up over and over again. One of the most common is in regards to the game’s length, which many have suggested spans anywhere between three and eight hours depending upon one’s personal pace and desire for completion. Nearly every reviewer mentioned length as a possible drawback of the game, even if that reviewer found it to be just the right length. Some outlets took points off for this, while others didn’t.

Because of this, I can imagine December rolling around and a lot of people saying “Yeah, Limbo was great, but it was far too short to be game of the year.” This could happen with any given downloadable game, as the vast majority of them (Puzzle Quest 2 excluded, which never freaking ends) have shorter running times than major disc releases.

The problem is that no one really seems to know how to discuss game length with any semblance of rationality, instead resorting to the “cost/length=value” argument that is a ridiculous oversimplification of a game’s true value. Length is always a valid point in the judgment of a game, but it goes deeper than the idea that “games should be long.” Hell, we’ve all played games that were way too long and adversely affected our enjoyment of them. The only time I’ve said “This game was too short” was when a game was so fantastic that I wanted more. This isn’t a bad thing, people.

Game length shouldn’t be a reason to disqualify a title from contention for game of the year. Not every game needs multiplayer to extend its life. Not every game needs hundreds of collectibles. Sometimes, a game begins and ends and that’s all there is to it, and it is still incredible.

Furthermore, we’ve all noticed this sort of stigma regarding downloadable games. We often treat them as if they’re somehow less important than major releases simply because they don’t come with a nice box and instruction manual. I’ve ever heard people say “If it were any good I’m sure it would have been a full $60 game.”

With the idea of downloadable-only games still in its infancy, these sorts of thoughts can be forgiven. Hell, to some extent, it’s true. A strikingly large number of games released for Wii-Ware, XBLA, and PSN range between the mediocre and the terrible. Many are remakes that don’t come up in game of the year discussions. Even the fact that there’s no physical product can affect our perception of a game’s quality and value. Come December, we may be scanning our shelves to remind us of those great games we played earlier in the year, and we’re not going to find our downloadable libraries there.

But while we can forgive a certain amount of stigma surrounding downloadable games, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive to break that stigma moving forward. After all, we’re moving toward a future where games are going to be distributed in brand new ways (OnLive, anyone?), and the lines between major release and “downloadable” or “indie” game are going to blur. Before long, press and marketing will be the largest thing separating major and minor releases, and we all know that the hype train often doesn’t work out in gamers’ favor.

So, come the end of 2010, I would love to be surprised by the gaming community. Am I saying I want Limbo to win game of the year? Not necessarily. It’s not my game of the year, and there are still a lot of months left for better games to take that title. But I think a lot of people may be hesitant to consider it for the title not based on its quality but based on its distribution model. And that just seems silly, doesn’t it?

  1. I think the idea of downloadable versus physical is becoming less of a dichotomy every year, which might make this question academic. Not every major release is only available via physical media. I can download most of my so-called “AAA titles” on Steam if I like. To a point, calling these full $60 games “major disc releases” is kind of a misnomer.

    I think what you’re really pointing out, the real differentiation between games that get respect (major releases) and games which don’t (downloadables) is their budgets. Gamers, taken as consumers, are no more sophisticated than consumers of movies or music. The bell curve of purchasing doesn’t speak to quality, but bells and whistles and noise and fanfare. If I read 100 advertisements that Modern Warfare X is going to be a great game, that means it MUST be a great game, right?

    I bet that if we dug into it, the only reason that downloadables ARE downloadables is because the developers don’t have deals with big publishing companies which, in turn, have the budgets for proper marketing. If the producer of Limbo could have sold his product in stories for $39.99 by supporting that price and release with an ad campaign, I imagine he would have.

  2. I was grinning ear to ear when I read the part about how gamers ridiculously equate long length to being a good game!

    In any case, I just don’t know if I’ve seen a game that I think is worthy of GOTY yet from 2010. The closest thing I’d venture is Rocket Knight (Or Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth, which was released on December frickin’ 28th in 2009), but I’m sure no one will agree. Personally, I don’t think Limbo or Deathspank, the two big-name DLC titles that just got launched, should be GOTY either. It’s been a long time since I could remember getting bored with any game so fast…and this was TWO games.

    I don’t think that being a Downloadable game should be excluded in any way, though. I just think 2010 has been kind of weaksauce in this department.

  3. Well personally I don’t see why one couldn’t be game of the year, however, I have yet to see one released that is worth considering for it. Also I think length should matter in a big budget game. If you are asking me to drop $60 on a game that I will beat in 8 hours I am not going to be very satisfied after that 8 hours is up even if they were fun as hell. That’s only 7.50 an hour, this isn’t an adult ppv people.

    The length is just as much reason for the games cost as anything else, because you can’t get away with charging full price for a game that is shorter than average and has no components designed to extend gameplay. Most gamers out there would simply not buy it. Time IS money and that saying exists for a reason.

    Look at it this way with regards to Limbo. Abe’s Odyssey was a great game, lots of puzzle solving, traps, etc, just like Limbo. But I recall needing much more time to beat it and it still didn’t win game of the year either.

    • I never understood this point of view from my fellow gamers. If you go to the movies, you’re paying a $7.50 ticket for a ninety minute movie. When you bring that up to eight hours of time, you’re barely paying less than you would be for an eight hour video game. Keep in mind that Video Games are interactive entertainment and almost every single one inherently has some replay value, no matter how short it is. Now, if you’re BUYING a movie, you can expect to pay $20 for a ninety minute movie…even more if you’re getting it on Blu-Ray.

      Even if we were to concede that time is money…damn. Compared to the prices we pay to enjoy films, we gamers look like a bunch of spoiled brats. For anyone who thinks that a ‘short’ game is eight hours, and that you’re getting ripped off for paying $60 for that, keep in mind that we used to buy games that took forty minutes to beat for $70. It could be a whole hell of a lot worse.

    • True but a movie and a game are two different types of entertainment all together and if you buy a movie hopefully it is one you plan to watch multiple times. At least it is for me.

      As for 40 minute games that cost $70? That is true they existed. But I never bought them just like I never bought Modern Warfare 2 because it didn’t expand in any way I cared for on the multiplayer and the single player wasn’t enough to sell it to me.

    • If you never bought a forty minute game that cost $70…you just weren’t playing games until the late 90′s. Either that or you only owned about five games until the Playstation came out.

      Also, what difference does it honestly make if games and films are two different types of entertainment? The end goal of both is fun; it’s not really right to discriminate against one or the other. If time = money, the bottom line is that you’re paying roughly the same price for the time invested in your fun.

  4. I think a lot of downloadable games go overlooked when it comes down to “GOTY” material. Games that were released in the first half of the year also get shafted. I was really surprised that virtually no-one mentioned Killzone 2 as a standout title for 2009 considering how well it did critically and financially.

    Personally, Bit.Trip Core was my GOTY for 2009. It’s 45 minutes long and only costs 6 dollars and is easily one of the most fun, replayable packages that I have played in years.

  5. Re: the length money argument. I have SO much to say, but I’m on my iTouch at the moment. The brunt of it is games like Limbo are ABSOLUTELY worth the $15 asking price for a few hours: it’s justified by providing a unique experience many games simply do not have.

    Now if you ask me to pay $15 for yet another money grabbing licensed game like Rocket Knight, you can keep your game. There are so many PT Winterbottoms, and more deserving games out there for $15: I can’t afford to drop that much cash on a remake/rehash every release.

    In regards to the topic; absolutely. Shadow Complex almost nabbed Gamer Limit’s GOTY award last year.

  6. avatar A.W.

    I think length is the sticking point for me. Back on the PS2 you could count on at least 15 hours playtime, typically more like 30+. These days you are LUCKY to get 15, with a few noted exceptions. Have the stories gotten so much awesomer since then? no, best guess is that it much harder to program that many polygons, etc. and they figure prettier is better.

    So when i plop down $60 and the game is over in 5 hours, I am pissed. i don’t care how good the story is, i am pissed.

    And the existence of massive exceptions, like Olivion and Fallout 3 just prove my point. Yeah, modern warfare is prettier than those two, but what good is that.

    The other thing is that throwback mechanics are stigmatized, too. if the game lacks spoken cutscenes, or are “just” in 2d, it gets taken down a notch.

  7. I measure a game by enjoyment not by a cost to longevity ratio. If I play a game for 5 hours and it’s incredible then I feel like I got my monies worth. If I play it for 20 hours and it’s boring or sub-standard then I don’t feel like saying “well at least I got my £35 out of that game”.

    Flower was a close call to my GOTY last year. It was certainly featured in my top 3. This year Limbo is making my decision for early GOTY front runner an impossible choice between itself and Heavy Rain (yeah save your hate for HR I loved it!).

    If they asked me to pay £35 for Limbo and £35 for Heavy Rain I would still have a difficult choice in deciding which game was better – but I would be able to answer which was better “value”.

    Remember value <> enjoyment and worth.

  8. avatar Jorja

    It’s a pleasure to find such rtaioanilty in an answer. Welcome to the debate.

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