90 Seconds vs. 90 Minutes

March 12th, 2012 — 6:17pm

There’s an old saying I heard when I first started making games almost 20 years ago:  in the arcade, you want a 90 second experience to feel like 90 minutes;  on a pc, you want a 90 minute experience to feel like 90 seconds.

Game play lengths have changed a lot over the past two decades.  There may even be a case against thinking in discreet segments at all.  Nevertheless, it’s worth applying the general concept to the wide range of gaming platforms available in 2012 (inasmuch as individual platforms tend to set certain expectations).

Which of the following should feel like more time has passed than actually has, which ones less?

  • Arcade
  • Console – Retail
  • Console – Downloadable (e.g. Xbox Live)
  • Console – Handheld
  • PC – Retail
  • PC – Downloadable
  • PC – Web (e.g. flash games)
  • PC – Social
  • PC – MMO
  • Mobile

I’d say arcade, handheld, web, social and mobile games want you to feel like more time has passed.  The rest — retail and downloadable games, plus MMOs, want your play experience to feel shorter than it is.  That may not be how they should or could be designed, but the current expectations of the audience suggest that breakdown.

Agree or disagree?  The original phrase isn’t exactly symmetrical:  the economics of the arcade drove shorter play times, so they had to feel much longer to create the perception of value.  At home on the pc, with more time available, you wanted the player so immersed they didn’t notice the passage of time (which is less directly about value than maintaining engagement).

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