A script the size of War and Peace. An in-game world the size of real-life Brooklyn. A map that could accommodate the maps of GTA4, San Andreas, and Red Dead Redemption combined. Over 100 hours of gameplay spread across three storylines.
And you thought the hype was huge.
These are just a few of the Big Mac-sized offerings that Grand Theft Auto 5 will offer when it releases tomorrow. After more than four years of development and enough research to melt your mind out your ears (Rockstar hired researchers to investigate everything from L.A. alleyways to the daily lives of undercover cops), GTA5 will launch with an overwhelming amount of content and virtual culture. So much effort has gone into it that even I–a guy who dislikes GTA and even walked away from Red Dead Redemption after 10 hours–am considering a purchase. The one thing holding me back? The sheer scope of it all.
My weekdays are no different from those of most 23-year-olds. I wake up early, sell eight hours of my life to an office, exercise, eat dinner, and take advantage of what free time is left at the end of the day. If I’m lucky, I can sneak two hours of gaming in. With most games lasting somewhere between 20 to 40 hours, I usually finish a game or two per month, depending on how free my weekends are. I’ve always considered myself a gamer with well-rounded tastes, so it’s rare for me to bury myself in one particular game or genre for more than a month.
Now we turn to Grand Theft Auto 5. According to this interview with Rockstar’s co-founder and vice president of creativity Dan Houser, GTA5 will span 100 hours of gameplay. I’ll save you from getting your calculator out and tell you that’s four days of your earthly life. Now, $60 for 100 hours of fun sounds like a steal–and it is–but I find myself in a more pessimistic camp. I’m not here to bemoan the lack of free time in my life, but I will say the idea of spending countless hours in a game as massive as GTA5 is daunting.
Video games are distinct from other media in that they never have a set duration. You can flip a book open to see how many pages it is, and you can check the back of a Blu-Ray case for movie length, but video games are an entirely different beast due to sidequests, multiplayer, difficulty settings, and other options. One man may finish Zelda: Majora’s Mask in 15 hours, eschewing the numerous sidequests and just stopping the Skull Kid as soon as possible. Another may spend 50 hours doing all the detective work to collect every mask in the game. Neither guy is playing the game incorrectly, yet most of us would argue that the latter man is engaging in a fuller or better experience than the former.
So back to GTA5. Maybe I could rush through the story mode in 50 hours, see the credits roll, stash it in my library, and move on to Mass Effect 2. But wouldn’t I be ripping myself off? If there’s 100 hours’ worth of game time, shouldn’t I get my money’s worth?
My issue here has nothing to do with sidequests or optional missions. It has everything to do with how long a game should be. I would never be so ridiculous as to suggest a cutoff point, but with people’s lives being so busy and free time being so scarce, I can’t help but wonder if a game like GTA5 hurts the industry in a way. With one giant King Kong on the market this holiday season, will time-scrapped gamers even bother with the upcoming Diddy Kongs? If you spend 20 hours in GTA5 and you’re only 12% through it, are you really gonna pony up $60 for Batman: Arkham Origins in October? While GTA5 preventing people from buying more games this holiday season might not see like a big deal, consider the bigger picture: if AAA games continue to bulk up, they’ll prevent gamers from diversifying their tastes. And if gamers don’t have enough time to dabble in other genres, developers will take fewer chances and stick to making conservative AAA clones.
I’m not trying to nitpick GTA5. As a guy who’s in the midst of drafting a novel, I think what they’ve accomplished–corralling the XXL-sized script, city, and gameplay into one beastly package–is incredible. I wouldn’t dare insult the effort that the hundreds upon hundreds of Rockstar staff members put into the game. And considering that there are plenty of games out there that simply tack on multiplayer modes to increase playtime, Rockstar should be revered for incorporating such an extensive variety of content into their latest mammoth.
But it does raise the question: Can too much of a good game hurt the industry?