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Follow-up to a conversation about ‘filler’ that I totally meant to post earlier, only I ran off to Texas and forgot

Buttons:

First of all, I retract ‘dude’ and replace with Patricia, who does do a fine job and also isn’t the ‘random dudebro’ I thought the comment originally came from. Thanks for linking the article, I should have re-read it before attempting to address your topic. So the topic carries more weight than I originally attributed to it.

As you said originally, it would be hard (and probably unpleasant) to do 90 hours of non-filler. But having read the article again, I still kind of wonder what to consider filler. She mentions the conflict between mages and Templars reduced to a mission to kill x number of enemies. Is this filler, or is this bad mission design? The comments about collect 5 of this or kill 10 of that… is that filler or bad design? Is it maybe the same thing? Collect 5 of this can become a tool to teach a player about a crafting system near the beginning of a game; that’s good design. But if you’re doing it as a penultimate mission, then that’s bad design. Are both examples filler?

I don’t think anyone would argue that ‘collect the 100 full (not empty! I r corrected) bottles throughout the game could be classified as filler, but it’s been proven that some population of people enjoy doing that, it’s somewhat cheap to author, and if it’s contextually wrapped and the player is rewarded at the end (not only in achieveoos but potentially in-game as well) then what’s the harm with including that?
As she states, the back of the box may say over 100 hours of gameplay, but I think that anyone who thinks that that means that all 100 hours are complex narratively-driven super-fun gameplay hours that every person who buys the game will experience and want to play every single drama-dripping second of… well, I think customers understand their own play styles fairly well and know that even if a box says 100 hours, it’ll only be 100 hours for the intrepid completionists. And that not all the gameplay will be exactly the type they desire the most.

Going back to the food analogy, perhaps what we’re looking at (in addition to plate size) is also a combination of the food pyramid, and then mixed into a person’s individual palate.

Food Pyramid: Thoughtful, narratively dense, provoking gameplay is most likely to be the smallest amount of gameplay, but closest to what most players want out of DAI. Companion side-quests the next largest, but still small, portion. Not as satisfying, but still engaging. Then random side quests, then kill-a-population quests, then collection quests. Each has the potential to be larger in terms of number, but also increasing in shallowness. At what point does it become filler? I think that answer varies per person, although probably all agree about the largest/shallowest; no one would buy the game just to collect the bottles. One person’s palette may think the rifts are filler, another person may consider them integral to their experience. Are the rifts filler? Well, they skill-test the player (which is an important part of games), they provide experience and loot, and they can be fun. What if the basic definition of rifts comes down on the non-filler side, but the actual number the put into the game eventually moves it into the filler portion (ie… ugh, more rifts to close – I’m tired of them). Again, I think this is going to vary per person, but I also think one could ask is that bad design or filler or are they the same?

Regardless of what they’re called, I really do wonder where the median sits. Probably not where I do. I did, (opening Origin to check) 123 hours and I would say some of those certainly were filler (waiting for the war table so I completed some collection quests I wouldn’t ordinarily would have) so let’s chop it down to 90 or 100. Of those, I did the stuff Patricia did so I guess that means I played some filler as well? And the ‘mundane’ missions between the ‘heady’ missions; well, she implies that they simply ‘gave her something to do’ in between hard decisions (paraphrasing) and as she indicates, this is useful down time. Perhaps the issue is more in the quality of the down-time, rather that having down-time or not. What if the optional dungeon did shed light or perspective on some of the more heady events that just happened, or will happen. Would it then cease to be filler?

Bah; I’m meandering around the topic. So what is it we’re talking about? DAI has a filler problem. Does it? What would it be if we took out the stuff she called filler? Well, it would be shorter. Would it affect its quality? Maybe critics would have scored it higher for being more focused, but scored down for being an open world with nothing to do in it? What about sales? I can’t even begin to contemplate that. What if the ‘filler’ was more meaningful and better connected to the ‘heady’ stuff? That might help, but I’m sure some people would still consider it filler. So the answer seems to be ‘provide only the heady stuff, in an open world, for 100 hours’. That doesn’t seem like the best answer.

Did DAI have a filler problem for Patricia? Yes. Did it for me? No. Did it have filler (or bad design)? Yes. Did it have too much? For some the answer is yes, and others no. So… to help guide a developer, where’s the median? What would be the best line to draw creatively and commercially? And how long will that line be valid?

Butch:

I’m going to leave this particular bit be, as it’s really good (it’s like Buttons is a developer or something). I’ll add a couple of things here.

1) I think a lot of this comes from the “Skyrim effect,” that is, players want big. Remember older bioware games? Like Mass Effect? That people liked? 40 hours or so. The Witcher 2, which is getting a lot of fond rememberances these days? 40 hours or so. Then Skyrim, and now if it isn’t 100 hours something’s wrong with it, even though nothing at all was wrong with the tighter, not openworldy RPGs of yore. Skyrim. Bah. So stuff gets added. And added.

2) Buttons, you’re going to play Witcher 3, yes? I’m very curious to see how that game does it’s own reactions to Skyrim (both DAI and TW3 are the first big RPGs after Skyrim). They’ll be similar and different to DAI. I think we’re going to get far closer to that 100 hours of dense. Is heady stuff, open world, 100 hours the best answer? Well, we may see something closer to that on Tuesday. CDPR is known for (sometimes overly) dense plotting. Will we like it? Is it possible? We’ll see when the credits roll.

Feminina:

Speaking only for myself, it’s definitely true that when I read “100 hours of gameplay” I take it to mean “assuming you do absolutely everything, including stuff you will never actually get around to,” and mentally append the YMMV tag. I don’t think that really needs to be explicitly spelled out, although perhaps–thinking once more of the food analogy–we could imagine “nutrition information” statements for games indicating that they contain, say, 5 hours of main plot, 8 hours of companion/sideplot, 6 hours of fighting and 81 hours of bottle-hunting, or whatever. Then each person could know where their own line is for filler and get a sense for how much to expect. I could see that being interesting information to have, and potentially influencing buying decisions, but it is the kind of information you can generally get from reviews (although often with less precise numbers and more subjective “it had a lot of filler” notes, where what counts as “filler” can vary from person to person), so I’m not sure there’s really much need for it.

That feels like a project for a dedicated web site or something (basically How Long to Beat, but with more category breakdowns?), rather than something that would ever show up as a standard feature of game packaging. Assuming it isn’t required by law, like actual food nutrition labels, that is. And then it would only be focused on the “3 hours of blood-spilling, 10 minutes of nudity” stuff, you know, to protect the children, so it wouldn’t help us.

It’s also a good point that something may be initially fun and/or useful, but become filler just because there’s too much of it. I mean, heck, even a deep, thoughtful, plot-advancing conversation is filler if you have to keep going back and doing it over and over–not that I think this is the issue with DAI.

So yeah, that’s my input: a bright idea for package labeling that I don’t think is either necessary or likely. This is the kind of tip Big Business would LOVE to get. Unfortunately for them, they don’t read our blog.

Butch:

Well, that labeling would help me know exactly how much nudity to expect.

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