Game Length & Mafia III (Spoilers?)

A brief lament about game length and game pacing as I try to wrap up Mafia 3 for a video about it.

I’m hoping this won’t be too contentious; I’m fully willing to concede that estimating game lengths is kind of arbitrary and hard. What does it mean, *really*, to estimate the length of a Fallout game? Are we talking a completionist playthrough? The main story line alone? The “average” playthrough? What does it mean to estimate the length of a round of TF2? Should we measure by expected session length instead of time-to-win/loss? These are all super complicated questions, but my frustration isn’t that we don’t have answers but that we’re not even really asking them. I think How Long to Beat has a good rubric to start from, but even that’s got some built in assumptions – it doesn’t work as well for multiplayer games, for example. Maybe we can talk about what it means to measure the length of a game in the comments?

It should also be noted that the slump I’m experiencing in Mafia 3 is by no means unique to the game. Shadow of Mordor had it. Mad Max had it. Heck, for people that aren’t all that interested in emergent chaos FarCry 2 had it. Lots of open world games that ask you to repeat the same behaviors over and over again as you traverse the space kind of fall into this issue; it seems to be an open world design caveat in general. And like Mafia 3, FarCry 2, Mad Max, and Shadow of Mordor were all super fun! They just… kinda sagged in the middle. It’s a pacing issue, not one of quality. Ah well, open world design thoughts for another day. I’m actually trying to figure out why Burnout Paradise doesn’t suffer from this so much, and I think it’s because you can switch between play modes dynamically? “Eh, I’m done racing, let’s do some car combat. Eh, I’m done with car combat, let’s do some exploration. Eh, I’m done with exploration, let’s do some stunt runs.” Mafia 3 doesn’t have nearly this level of flexibility – I find myself jumping between “stealth/combat” and “exploration” and that’s about it.

Regardless, expect a more general, thematic look at Mafia 3 in the not too distant future. And then something else entirely!

This episode was made possible by generous support through Patreon!



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49 thoughts on “Game Length & Mafia III (Spoilers?)

  1. To be fair, a lot of the anger does come from, well, the fact that they lie about everything. I think, if they went the How Long to Beat route, it would work out well for them. Give several types of player lengths. Like this long for Speedruns(And maybe set that low, so there's a challenge there), this for average, this for completionists, etc.

    The other problem, of course, comes from cost. In your own example. If Titanfall 2 had been a 30 dollar game, but said hey, 5 hour campaign, and multiplayer, it probably would have done better. But it was a big triple A release, and that meant 60 dollars. I mean, would you be saying the same thing about 30 Flights of Loving if it was only a few minutes, but cost, say 50 dollars instead of 5?

  2. I love how this video foreshadowed players' anger at Bethesda over Fallout 76… ironically not for its length but for… everything else.

  3. And you sill liked the game? for me the pacing of the game killed it – Mafia 3 is average at best in my opinion.
    Story missions, important things are far appart. The same thing over and over again it is a busy work, a filler nothing else.
    And the problem is that mechanicly I liked Mad Max more even though it is was also do the same. But in Mad Max I liked it, in mafia it was just tiring.

  4. I feel like a lot of people jump to conclusions when it comes to some open World games some say it's a bad game because it's an open World but it's really the design behind the open world that holds the game back, the fact this game makes you do minor missions to progress through the story affects the pacing and makes the story feel disjointed same way with mafia 2 the problem isn't if it's an open World game or not but it's Design with the open world that they have that just felt weak for people

  5. my feelings exsactly, I feel inlove with mafia 2, and I thought its paceing was perect, and it only had 1 stealth mission if I remember? the missions where diverse, and the story was progressing with every mission, im tired of having to kill 2 -4 sub bosses befor killing the or making a boss work for me, im 7 hours in an don't think iv even scrathed the surface, I want to see lincolen get his revenge already . I want to pull the trigger on you know who and be done with the story and free to roam the open world, I never roam open world games untile I beat the story so this is kind of holding me back from really enjoying the game, its good and iv enjoyed the time iv spent, but im feeling burnt out

  6. Could it be that this dedication to the mundane, minute details of territory takeover somehow a deliberate creative choice? I do agree that the narrative pacing really suffers from this and I thought they could at least trimmed down the excessive focus on the organizational puncture Lincoln Clay is doing to Sal Marcano. But what if the developers really wanted you to feel the mundanity, the almost laboringly flow of what is supposed to be an exhilarating endeavor that kinda depicts Lincoln Clay – instead of exerting revenge – actually becomes the very man he was supposed to kill?

  7. It can also depend on player skill and how much the player takes their time through a game. For me, you could take any estimate off howlongtobeat, double it, and that would be how long, if not shorter than, the time I am likely to take to finish a game.

  8. Can't we have a Minnimun Time To Complete vs a Minnimun Time To Get 100% Completion system and call it a day?

  9. Well the game stores could just display the median time players have taken to complete the game, or just the spread of game completion times on a graph. Plenty of problems with both methods, but they would provide you with the "rough" idea you're going for.

  10. I can't believe how many people here are upset you said The Witcher 3 was 30 hours long. talk about missing the forest for the trees.

  11. I dont buy a lot of games because they are expensive and I want the games I bought to last.

    Critics buy a game, rate it, and quickly move on to the next one. But I cant afford that many games, Im stuck with my newest game for 50 hours or so. That "mindless filler" is content for me, stuff to do.

  12. Does it actually make any difference to the story if you give anyone any districts, except for the last meeting, that decides over the ending? I tried to even it out, so that noone rebels, but then again…does it even matter?

  13. I'd like to see an explanation for saying Titanfall's campaign being good but short. I saw it as a bog-standard modern FPS with some mediocre shooting, needless forced platforming and lack of any difficulty or mechanical progression.

  14. @8:05 "Ultimately, my problem isn't that Mafia II is long. It's an open world game, it's going to be long." I'm glad you said this. It seems like an unfortunate trend in open world game design that makes progressing the story either tedious, less interesting then the rest of the game, or unrelated to the plot.

  15. game time is always a (not very accurate) estimate. while running time for movies and number of books are objective. it is better to give someting like number of mission (ideally divided to main-plot, subplot, and bussywork) or areas. you still don't now how much time exactly is each of this, but you should have an idea.

  16. "whether the game uses the time it demands from you wisely" – one of the best quotes I've heard over a very long time. I really wish gamers thought about it.

  17. I think we should have a system that isn't one-dimensional. A puzzle game for example has a large difference between an experienced and new play-through. Compare that to a well bug fixed, linear action game. These differences of types of time spent (thinking and acting for example) should have an influence on the system we use.

  18. One solution may be to list two lengths. Session/mission length and Campaign length. It's useful for a consumer to know if the average mission in an MMO or a game like Mafia will take 15-20 minutes or 1 hour. Likewise, it's useful to know that the average Hearthstone or DOTA game will take X minutes. Advertise that along with an 8 hour or 30 hour campaign, and it's not as much a point for bad publicity.

  19. vndb is a Visual Novel database offering information on the various 'games,' one of the better features is that it does provide you with length information but it's often very open like '10-30 hours' etc. At least they give you that much though I suppose.

    I agree about wanting to know game length before starting a game. I'm a short burst gamer and I lose interest in epics so I've got a whole collection of long games that I've done 75-85% of the game completed but I can't be bothered finishing the remainder.

    I've found the games I remember the most fondly are ones I've been able to finish in 10 hours or under. Portal always comes to mind when discussing game length and I'm probably the only person in the world who thinks Portal was better than Portal 2, largely due to the length of the games.

    Games like Bastion, Need For Speed, Bioshock, Journey, C&C 3, MKX, Papers Please, Shovel Knight are some of my favourites all of which enjoy a short, or relatively short run time.

    I haven't played it yet but the overwhelming criticism of 'The Order; 1886' about it being too short appeals to me, I'm thoroughly looking forward to it. I also find that my predilection for shorter narratives and shorter explorations of gaming mechanics means I end up playing 'indie' games, as they tend to be short concept driven experiences which I can consume wholly and appreciate with far less investment than most AAA titles.

    I'm picky as hell basically.

  20. I tend to judge the worth of a game based on intensity of experience while still pushing the overall storyline. I am far more forgiving of well scripted tense single player FPS being short for the buy in cost than I am a cRPG, cRPG, RTS or open world game having length/depth limitations. I have likely thrown only £70 into Warfame to date and have currency to spare, the price to time value of 2 years of play is insane but I have had to farm and repeat less interesting tasks to keep my spending low and maintain a sense of achievement (in new acquisitions, new quests, new weapons and taking on additional content that the game has consistently provided the player base). By contrast over 2-3 years spent MMO raising I spent far more but the social experience and social complexity made the whole thing worthwhile to the point where the solo content in a new expansion became a chore to do in order to play again with a varied and interesting group of fellow players in a new environment against different challengers (in the end an eventual change to a solo-faction-grind to optimise the group play saw me leave that community).

  21. Yes but then again there are people who grind same monsters/dungeons for hours in an MMO for a promised "reward". And that's fine with them, that's what they want. It depends on what people want from a game.

    Arguably it's more cost-effective for a company to make psychologically addictive incentives around very repetitive play. And sometimes "story" is just that – a carrot-on-a-stick. We promise you some story, get you hooked, now grind this for 30 hours and you'll get another bit. And you won't notice because you're addicted. We're rats on treadmills and we like it.

  22. Would love a video on the Witcher 3. It is crazy long but you'll most likely enjoy, especially compared to Mafia 3.

  23. Okay, that makes sense. So the ESRB should add an average play time bracket to their suggested ratings. They could fit into one of a few categories based on average finishing time in playthroughs with some oversight to hopefully reduce the chance of false claims. Categories could be something like: Short & Sweet (0-30 min), Single Session (30 min-3 hr), Moderate (3-8 hr), Long (8-20 hr), Very Long (20+ hrs). It might also be useful to offer two time estimates: one for finishing and another for a full complete.

  24. I don't much like how you seem to disregard time/dollar as a valuable metric. If you don't have a lot of money to spend on games (if you're a student, for instance), paying $60 for a 5-hour game just isn't worth the money no matter how good the game is, how well-paced it is, or how thought-provoking it is. Entertainment by its very nature is a way of consuming your time. Obviously you want to fill that time with quality, but filling the time is the first priority. If you don't have a lot of money, time is king. I know I, for one, would rather get a long but average game for $60 than a short but excellent game for the same price.

    I think the core of the issue is pricing. Publishers seem to think that all AAA titles are worth $60, and as a consumer that simply isn't the case. There are very few AAA that I would say are worth $60, and yet nearly all of them are priced that way. Why the fuck are Call of Duty games and Witcher games priced the same way? Publishers need to start pricing their games properly and just stop assuming that all games are worth the same amount of money. They aren't.

  25. I feel like they had so much opportunity to vary play styles in different districts. It's not like your in some modern city. Your in an old city, with lots of history, and all the variance that brings! Make it so that a different ability is highlighted in every area(or group of areas).

  26. I think people do prize quality over quantity when it comes to game length. Spec Ops The Line was very well received by most and I blew through that in about 9 hours. I enjoyed it and I felt like it was worth it. More recently, the Battlefield 1 campaign was short but again I enjoyed it and felt it was worth what I paid. Fallout games are something you can put as many hours as you like into. You can play for well over 50 hours without finishing the campaign. Witcher 3 is in a class of it's own simply by virtue of the fact that it not only has considerable length (ooer), but every moment in the game is of the absolute highest quality. It's probably the best video game I've ever played.

    I think the issue you're having with Mafia 3 is that, while it's an open world game, the core gameplay loop is not particularly engaging or satisfying and becomes a chore very quickly. It would probably have been a much better game had they taken the same approach as Mafia and Mafia II and just focused on the story and skipped the repetitive side missions.

  27. Well, gaming basically IS the stuff that gets cut out in movies – driving, shooting, walking. Stuff that makes into movies is mostly non-interactive in games.

  28. This coming from a guy whose always singing the praises of indie vignette gaming. haha

    Here's a thought. Maybe mafia 3's gameplay is just mechanically designed lazily.

  29. You can't label how long it takes to beat a game; they're an interactive medium and for action games, that length will vary drastically depending on the player's skill. Some people like me can beat The Ultimate Doom in under 4 hours while it will take newer/less skilled players upwards of 12 or more.

    But speaking about people and their thoughts on game length; I think the idea that more is better is absolutely ridiculous. The demand for longer games simply isn't going to happen because publishers budget their developers accordingly and run them on very strict deadlines and the longer it takes to make a game, the more money its going to cost and publishers simply aren't willing to spend that time or money to make a longer game. I think there's a lot to be angry about there because with less time and money, it stifles developer creativity but yet the developers are the ones that get the blame for something they simply have no control over thanks to the constraints set by their publisher.

    Thanks to this malarkey, we live in a gaming world where big open world games are popular; empty, barren husks that need to be filled with copy pasted content to give players the illusion that there's a lot of game time when in reality there's very little game to play as its only padded out for aeons by making the player do the same thing over and over and over. Sure devs can be more creative with their mechanics and game design but in a world where sequels is almost all we get, they are seemingly unable to deviate from an established formula that the previous title(s) set. Because of all these different factors and perhaps more than I may have forgot to mention, I feel the developers want to make a huge, long lasting game but are simply unable to. And then we get shit like The Order 1886 which is full of unskippable cutscenes, trite overdone gameplay, unengaging story and characters, pointless hacking minigames and absolutely no long term appeal or any reason to replay it. It's a fucking blessing that game was so incredibly short because if that miserable thing went on for any longer than it did and I saw people praising it to high heaven just because it's long even though it's shit then I really will question people's standards in gaming.

    But personally, I don't want games that take forever to beat a single playthrough. I want shorter and incredibly well designed games that do exactly what they need to do with the length they have to work with. Thus I respect developers like Platinum a massive deal for sticking to making shorter titles but expanding the content and giving rewards to the player after beating the game with satisfying NG+ modes with unlockable difficulties as well as items, modes or new enemy types in a later run to change how the game plays. It's not how long it is that matters, it's what you do with that time that matters more than anything. It's very rare that there's a very long game that is genuinely amazing and yet incredibly replayable – the only titles that come to mind are the Souls games and its Souls-like inspirees. (Is that even a word? And yes even Lords of the Fallen was a bloody great game for those who dismissed it) People should always look at whether the game is good rather than how long it takes – because a game that's boring and dull will always have far less worth than a game that's short but incredibly sweet.

  30. Yeah, I'm in the "quality over quantity" camp, and I've been there for a bunch of years. The worse a game can do is feel like it's wasting my time with pointless padding and busywork. Some games evade this easily – I was very nervous about The Witcher 3 when I heard it's going to be open-world, but I loved it because even side quests and side activities were still interesting and sometimes tied to the main story in surprising ways. Others make stuff that you have to do – like travel, for example – boring and samey. On the other side of the spectrum, I've played many games which were short by modern standards, but mind-blowing (Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons comes to mind, as does the first Diablo or Max Payne), and whenever I play one that's "too short", that's usually a sign that it was interesting enough to make me feel like I'd like more – not that it didn't do what it was supposed to do in that time.

    So yeah, I totally agree that length is far from an objective thing – it should be tailored to what the game wants to achieve.

  31. I definitely agree with your point, but Mafia 3's play time would be more enjoyable if the game didnt feel as hollow.

  32. We get it. You don't have time to play an open world game. Clearly you never have. Why did you feel the need to complain about length of video games? It's your own stupidity and ignorance that made you think Mafia 3 was going to be short.

  33. Steam does show how long a person leaving a review has been playing for. Yes, data that also isn't available till after release (as long as you exclude those that the publisher has chosen to hand pre-release copies to) but it's probably more comprehensive than HLTB and I'd trust it more than what the publisher said anyway.

  34. Using boardgames as a comparison for play length is … not great. Some publishers drastically under-estimate for all games; depending on the rules and the players a first play can take 2x-3x the length of a second play; some games scale really badly with the number of players (e.g. if everyone can go at the same time vs everyone takes distinct turns with little ability to plan ahead).
    Then there's the concept of repeated play – Rogue Legacy (video) and Pandemic Legacy (board) both reshape the game as it is repeatedly played, so is it the length of a single game, or the length of the entire campaign that matters?

  35. Did you really have to make that dig at gamers who demand simple customer rights? I'm sorry fighting an industry that frequently abuses customers and doesn't give two shits about games as art is getting in the way of your intellectual criticism of game length in marketing… I could write an essay on all the ways the industry continually abuses gamers, exclusivity, always on connections, DRM, microtransactions, vague seasons passes…

    Other than that your video made fine points, but that dig was seriously uncalled for.

  36. I think that arguing against the people who care the amount of content in games, you arguing against a straw men argument. I mean, is there people who think that quantity>quality. If many people thought that, No Man's Sky would get stellar reviews from gamers. Obviously, there are people who are defending they game, but they are usually saying that "it's not a bad game," not "it's a bad game, but it has quintillion planets, so it's totally worth $60." And yes, it's not just a question of quality and quantity, but the value as well. People can appreciate short games like Portal and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. But such games do not usually cost $60. On the other hand, I'd like to play Titanfall 2 as people mostly praise its singleplayer campaign. But 5 hours seems a bit short for a $60 game. And yes, there is multiplayer, but I do not care about it that much.

  37. I like Mafia I. It has a story but also you were free to do some things in an semi open world.
    I found Mafia II interresting when it comes to the story but limiting in its open world. In short it didn't really have an open world.

    Mafia III, I like good stories but yeah really those sagging bits in the middle 🙁 No!

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