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Content Tourism and the Value of Gaming

Is Need for Speed: The Run a two-hour game? Digital Foundry on why games are being defined by how long it takes to beat them

The headline is damning: "Need for Speed: The Run in Two Hour Completion Shocker". Could it be true? Could the game that EA/Blackbox spent two years developing actually be completed in just over 120 minutes? And in an age where a game is so much more than the sum of its single-player parts, was the fuss justified any way?

The notion of games being judged by how it takes to complete them is a phenomenon I like to call "content tourism" - a phrase I first encountered on the Battlefield: Bad Company 2 difficulty selection screen. Easy mode was for "content tourists" who presumably just wanted to sail through the game, see what it had to offer, extracting the easiest Trophies/Achievements and then either replay for more challenge, move onto the online mode or more likely just skip ahead to the next game. There's an implication that for some, games have become a "disposable" form of entertainment, judged not on the quality of the content but on the amount of time they keep the player occupied.

There's an implication that for some, games have become a "disposable" form of entertainment, judged not on the quality of the content but on the amount of time they keep the player occupied

The debate surrounding Need for Speed: The Run kicked off when Gametrailers mentioned that the basic single-player racing mode could be completed in just two hours, causing a wave of forum outrage and website headlines, when the reality is that players would need to be in full "speed run" mode, skipping all cinematics, on-foot quick-time events, and on top of that, handing in a completely flawless gaming performance.

In short, it's actually physically impossible to finish Need for Speed: The Run in just two hours - and even if you do count just the racing, the amount of time you'd need to invest to become good enough at the game to sail through it in two hours would be absolute immense - and voids the bad value argument by itself. Let's put it into context by comparing it with another game that hasn't been accused of short-changing its users. According to Naughty Dog, one of its staff completed Uncharted 3 in a near-flawless three hour speed-run - to the best of my knowledge, there weren't any headlines calling the PS3 title a three-hour game.

I decided to check out Need for Speed myself, firing up The Run for a mid-afternoon spin and fully expecting to have the single-player mode licked by tea-time. As you can see from the time-lapse video below, I was finally finished by bed-time, with a run-time of five hours, 35 minutes - this from a concerted effort to rush through as quickly as I could.

Is Need for Speed: The Run a two hour game? The loading screen timers suggest it is, but this time-lapse video of our actual playthrough demonstrates that it clearly isn't.

Blackbox had made a fundamental mistake here - and it wasn't down to the amount of content in the single-player mode, rather the clock at the top of the screen which tots up your time through the game without factoring in the amount of times players need to restart a checkpoint, or an entire level. In short, the loading screens were advertising a deficiency of the game that didn't actually exist, but was picked up by press and gamers regardless.

We've been here before of course. However, when Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 were labelled "six hour games" at least everyone knew there that these were titles primarily targeted at the multiplayer audience, and thus the true value lay elsewhere.

However, Platinum Games' brilliant single-player only shooter, Vanquish, was criticised by Game Informer for being able to be completed in under four hours, based mostly on the game's final stats screen (where the timer appears to be wrong) resulting in a wave of bad publicity for a game that was already a tough sell at retail. The reality of the situation is that the game took me well over eight hours to finish - and even if you cut out all the retries and cut-scenes, I found that the game still offered just over five hours of raw "content".

Richard Leadbetter avatar
Richard Leadbetter: Rich has been a games journalist since the days of 16-bit and specialises in technical analysis. He's commonly known around Eurogamer as the Blacksmith of the Future.