If you only played through the main story missions of Avalanche Studios’ open-world “amusement park of chaos” action-adventure Just Cause 2, then you should probably go back, pick it up again and play it properly. It will take about 20-30 hours of alternating side missions and stronghold sieges with general pointless-yet-happy destruction, but at least you won’t be alone.

Christofer Sundberg, CEO of Avalanche and creator of the Just Cause series, has said that the three year-old game still attracts hundreds of thousands of players every single day. Sundberg weighed in on the topical issue of used games and trade-ins in next-generation gaming, suggesting that a lack of replay value is what causes gamers to take their games back to retailers once they’re finished with them.

Speaking at E3 in an interview with Edge, Sunbderg stated:

“I’m sure it’s been an issue but that’s because games have been too short. I mean, when you can play a game through from 8 to 10 hours, I would return the game too, because there’s no reason for players to play it again.

“If you’re offering little variation, then there’s no motivation for the player to keep that game — unless they want to have a nice bookshelf. That’s why we answered that with Just Cause. I go into game stores each week and I always go to the used game boxes — I usually don’t find that many [copies of Just Cause].”

Over the years, the potential length of playing time for games has been extended in a number of different ways. Many early video games, such as Ninja Gaiden and Donkey Kong, seemed to achieve this by being so brutally difficult that you practically had to develop muscle memory of the required moves in order to beat them.

Tooth-grinding difficulty in 'The Adventures of Bayou Billy'

A long-standing and widespread technique related to this is to have games with tiered levels of difficult, with some levels only unlocked until the previous one has been beaten. Since many gamers love to challenge themselves to beat their previous effort, upping the difficulty cannot change the nature of the game enough to make replays feel fresh. In addition to higher difficulty levels, games can also have different game modes (like infinite enemies in tower defense-style strategy games) to create radically different gameplay experiences.

Another strategy that developers have used (or been pressured to use) in order to keep consumers playing the game is to tack a multiplayer mode onto a game with a primarily singleplayer focus, since multiplayer allows for virtually infinite hours of gameplay with the player-vs-player experience creating a different game each time, not to mention DLC and microtransactions (see: Mass Effect 3, Tomb Raider, The Last of Us, etc.).

While replay value and longer campaigns can be very enjoyable, there are a couple of downsides to what Sundberg is suggesting. It can often be very obvious in games when developers have deliberately attempted to artificially lengthen the gameplay with a pointless plot diversion or a dull and time-consuming mini-game. Quality does not necessarily equal quantity, and games with extra elements stuffed in to fill a time quota can often feel bloated, the weight of all the additions dragging down the overall enjoyability of the game as a whole.

'Portal 2' co-op campaign

Portal 2’s co-op campaign offered greater value and lots of extra fun

It’s a difficult balance to strike, since the average AAA price tag of $60 more or less demands that the developers provide at least 20-30 hours of gameplay in order to give consumers value for money. However, some of the best-loved and critically-acclaimed games (Portal, for example) have short singeplayer campaigns with very tightly written stories and simple but excellent gameplay.

Do you value games with plenty of replay value and lengthy campaigns, or do you prefer to play a game and then move on? What do you think is the best approach to increasing the amount of hours in a game without reducing the fun factor? Tell us your suggestions – and which games you think got it right – in the comments.

Just Cause 3 is rumored to be in development, but didn’t get a mention by Avalanche at E3. We’ll keep you updates on the franchise.

Source: Edge Online