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Adventures in Engineering
The wanderings of a modern ronin.

Ben Cantrick
  Date: 2008-12-30 09:53
  Subject:   Charlie Stross on why sci-fi/fantasy novels are bloated.
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  Tags:  reddit

Until the early 1990s, mass market SF/F paperbacks in the US were primarily sold via grocery store racks, supplied by local distributors (400+ of them). The standard wire rack held books face-out, either against a wall or on a rotating stand. And that's where the short form factor novel became established. Thinner books meant you could shove more of them into a rack that was, say, three inches deep. Go over half an inch thick, and you could no longer fit six paperbacks in a 3" rack. And there was only so much rack space to go around.

During the inflationary 1970s and early 1980s, prices of just about everything soared. The publishers needed to increase their cover prices to compensate. But the grocery wholesalers who sold the books insisted "the product's gotta weigh more if you want to charge more". They weren't in the book business, after all, so just as buffalo tomatoes got bigger, so did paperbacks. (Even though this meant there was less room to go round in the wire racks.) You can only get so much mileage by using thicker paper and a bigger typeface; so they began looking for longer novels.

In the 1960s, an SF novel was 60-80,000 words, with 80K being considered overblown and long. By 1990 they'd grown to 90-100,000 words.


http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2008/12/why_are_sf_and_fantasy_novels.html

The industry standard $60 price of a video game is causing a similar problem. Every game "has to be" 25+ hours long, to justify that kind of price. Which means lots of irrelevant filler gets throw into them, reducing overall quality and creativity. I'd rather have an absolutely great 5-10 hour game for $30 than a mediocre one for $60. Then I could have two great games for the same money. And neither one would wear out its welcome and get boring, or be full of useless filler.

But do you think game publishers are ever going wake up and start giving us more Portal and Bioshock and Metroid Prime 1, and less Madden 2083: The Same Damn Football Game Again and Call Of Duty 17: Two Kids Shooting Rubber Bands At Each Other In Homeroom? With the possible exception of Valve and the Half Life episodes, I can't see any publisher who I think would be willing to do it. Sequels and remakes and general lack of originality will be the way of the video world for a very long time to come, just as Shigeru Miyamoto predicted.
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Richard "Pocky" Kim
  User: pockyman
  Date: 2008-12-30 19:28 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
The question for me is will the average consumer pay $30 for a short (5-10 hour) game?

The answer is "maybe", but maybe isn't good enough for the companies who publish console games, usually. :/

The other question is, what do the players really want? It's possible that they do want those long, kind of repetitive games. And if they do, then the companies will do their best to fill those needs.

Personally, I like both short and long games, but I do wish there were more short ones. We have plenty of long ones.
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osmium_ocelot
  User: osmium_ocelot
  Date: 2008-12-30 20:04 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
I don't know about the average consumer, but my personal metric for "Is the game worth it?" goes something like this : I'm willing to pay $8 to see a good movie. Movies are anywhere from about 90 - 120 minutes long these days. So, based on those numbers, I feel comfortable shelling out about $5 per hour worth of good entertainment experience. So, if a game is short, but brand new and expensive, I'll wait for it to come down in price. If a game is long, and I'm fairly sure I'm going to enjoy it, I have no problem shelling out the money.
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Richard "Pocky" Kim
  User: pockyman
  Date: 2008-12-30 23:05 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
See, this makes sense.

Most of the game industry doesn't. -.-
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Ben Cantrick
  User: mackys
  Date: 2008-12-30 22:37 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
The question for me is will the average consumer pay $30 for a short (5-10 hour) game?

I would quite happily have paid $30 for Portal. So the answer is, "if the game is good, yes, people will buy it."

Which is really the big problem in general...
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Richard "Pocky" Kim
  User: pockyman
  Date: 2008-12-30 22:51 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
Yeah, that's the other thing.

Some companies may find it a cheaper investment to go with the 'sure thing'/long game, then trying out cheaper, but potentially not as well-selling games.

*sigh*
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Ben Cantrick
  User: mackys
  Date: 2008-12-30 23:44 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
I would hope that a smart company would do both.

If people really want to buy yet another Madden game, well why not let them? They obviously enjoy that, or they wouldn't be spending the money. The fact that I find it boring as hell doesn't really matter. It's fun for them.

So, a smart company would do both. They'd have their cash cow franchises, but they'd also let some other little stuff slip in. Creative stuff that might not make as much money, but would win them critical kudos, and appeal to the more... um... I don't want to say "experienced" or "intelligent"... maybe the word I'm looking for is "jaded"? Appeal to the more jaded with original games, which may be shorter and less polished but will still be more interesting.

The problem comes in when a company either turns conservative (only franchises) and burns out their programmers, artists etc. Or when they go crazy and forget to look after their bottom line. As with many things in life, the optimal path is somewhere inbetween the extremes.
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Richard "Pocky" Kim
  User: pockyman
  Date: 2008-12-31 00:07 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
One of the problems I've noticed is that the companies that have public stock tend to lean towards the conservative view, because "we have to keep the investors happy", which leads to burned out staff, which leads to less profit, etc. -.-

If I had the money, I would pretty much do what you're saying. Good games that have appeal based on previous sales, and newer, "different" games that might not do as well.

If I win the lottery, you want to work in my company? I could use intelligent folks. XD
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Ben Cantrick
  User: mackys
  Date: 2008-12-31 03:43 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
If I win the lottery, you want to work in my company? I could use intelligent folks.

It's a deal!
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Ohmi
  User: ohmisunao
  Date: 2008-12-31 09:29 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
Actually EA finally started doing that.. but those new IPs aren't selling like expected. Boom Blox tanked.. Dead Space and Mirror's Edge are only doing marginally well.. It's kind of a dark day when EA finally turns things around and gets pissed on. I hope they don't go back to just cranking shit out again..
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Ben Cantrick
  User: mackys
  Date: 2008-12-31 17:27 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
That sucks. I hope they don't go back to all-crap either. I thought Dead Space was a lot of fun. And the lousy controls aside, I think Mirror's Edge was at the very least a great idea. The fact that someone made DICE put in a ton of gunfights that didn't belong was stupid, but that bit aside...

Dead Space and Mirror's Edge are exactly the kind of small, creative, under the radar games that I think a big studio should be developing on the side between milkings of the cash cow.
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Ohmi
  User: ohmisunao
  Date: 2008-12-30 20:55 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
I no longer want to invest incredible hours into games... which is why the DS gained a lot of favor with me.. cheaper games and shorter play times.
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Ohmi
  User: ohmisunao
  Date: 2008-12-31 09:27 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
Also.. there once was a time when games' price was partially reflected by number of hours/quality... I remember Zelda II being around $70 where normal NES carts were usually less.. I forget exactly how much less though. FFVI was $85... Phantasy Star IV was a whopping $95 or something..
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