Short Kings

The Best Video Games of 2023 Prove One Exhausting Trend Might Finally Be Over

A much-needed change.

Like a Dragon Gaiden

Some of 2023’s biggest games are hundred-hour epics like Starfield and Baldur’s Gate 3, games that demand a lot from the player to truly experience everything. Amidst those gargantuan releases, however, an interesting trend has emerged this year, with more studios pushing out shorter, more focused experiences. This, of course, has always been true in the indie scene, but even big publishers like Sega and Ubisoft are starting to see value in these more condensed experiences. In the face of ballooning budgets for games, on top of a torrent of releases, it’s hopefully a trend that can continue on in the future.

What’s important to point out about a lot of 2023’s releases, is that these shorter experiences are coming from series that are traditionally known for being expansive. Ubisoft billed Assassin’s Creed Mirage as a “return” to the series roots, focusing more on stealth and telling a tighter story that serves as a prequel to Valhalla, a multi-hundred-hour epic. Sega released Like a Dragon Gaiden, a compact side story that fills in some of the gaps of the previous game. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 keeps its story and open world brief, opting for a diverse experience rather than a lengthy one. Even Final Fantasy XVI eschews a lot of the fluff and side content of the franchise, instead focusing on an action experience with a strong core story.

Ubisoft seems to have, importantly, realized that a yearly massive 100-hour Assassin’s Creed simply isn’t sustainable.


Established series are recognizing that not every single release needs to be this seminal work that boasts hundreds of hours of content. That’s an important distinction because it gives these games room to breathe amidst the overwhelming release schedule that consumers often face. A 15 to 20-hour game is drastically easier to finish than a 100-hour one, especially when you factor in consumers who have any kind of responsibilities like children, jobs, etc.

Not all games are long. Hi-Fi Rush is a fantastic action game that can be completed in roughly ten hours with snappy pacing that keeps the experience light-hearted and breezy. Alan Wake 2 weaves a compelling cerebral horror story without getting bogged down by a surplus of optional content, and the side stuff that is there all feeds into the main narrative. Games get even shorter with Tchia, Jusant, and Paranormasight, all of which use unique ideas or mechanics, and focus those into brief experiences that revolve around that core idea.

The industry desperately needs these kinds of experiences to balance things out. Earlier this year the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) released a report stating some publishers report that their AAA franchises can cost over a billion dollars to make.

In an article on the report, IGN states “AAA games that are greenlit now with potential releases in 2024 or 2025 typically receive development budgets of $200 million or higher. These costs demonstrate a significant increase from five years ago, when most AAA games had budgets between $50 and $150 million.” In other words, the cost of making games continues to rise.

Hi-Fi Rush is a fantastic example of a brand-new IP with a tight runtime, that ended up as a smash-hit.

Tango Gameworks

It almost goes without saying that these kinds of budgets are unsustainable, and developers now have more pressure than ever to make games a sales success. AAA games cost more and take longer than ever to develop, so more compact experiences could potentially serve as stop-gaps. Ubisoft has clearly taken this approach, using Mirage to fill a gap as teams take more time to develop the next mainline Assassin’s Creed. Call of Duty could clearly benefit from this, as reception to Modern Warfare 3 has been abysmal, with fans and critics alike recognizing the experience feels rushed.

Simply making short games obviously isn’t a solution to all the problems with increased development costs, but it could be a part of the solution. Shorter games with a variety of experiences, like Hi-Fi Rush and Spider-Man 2, have clearly been well-received by players. Having a short but dynamic experience can help games stand out among the pack. And anything to reduce the cost of development is a good idea. Moving forward, hopefully publishers and consumers alike can embrace the fact that shorter games, in general, are a good thing.

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