Do you check how long games take to finish before you play them?

A shouting robot with a clock in his chest
(Image credit: Spike Chunsoft)

HowLongToBeat.com (opens in new tab) will tell you how much time it'll take to finish any given game, though the number for "Main Story" seems to assume a cutscene-skipping speedrunner's pace. HowLongToBeat's figures are pulled into both Augmented Steam (opens in new tab) and the Xbox App on PC, but do you actually look at how long games are ahead of time, whether because you're trying to figure out if they're worth the cost, or to figure out if they're short enough that you'll have time to make it to the end?

Do you check how long games take to finish before you play them?

Here are our answers, plus some from our forum.

Tim Clark, Brand Director: Not usually, unless it's a huge RPG and I'm looking for a ballpark figure of the kind of commitment I'm taking on. It's also encouraging to read a review for a more snacky game, like Immortality, and learn that it's only going to run to about eight hours before you see the credits. Makes me more inclined to pick it up. At the other end of the spectrum, someone probably ought to have warned me that I'd sail past the [redacted, but several thousand] hours mark in Destiny 2 without 'completing' it.'  I believe it's called an intervention.

Rich Stanton, News Editor: I'm more likely to be attracted by a short runtime than put off by a longer one, if that makes sense. I don't have all the free time I once did to indulge my love of RPGs and enormous open world games, but when something takes my fancy I'll happily snack away at it over months, and I'm also pretty comfortable leaving games unfinished. So when someone says Starfield is gonna be four times the size of Skyrim and take hundreds of hours to explore fully or whatever it doesn't make any difference, because I know I can play Starfield for 20 hours and I'll have fun.

I do find the way players talk about runtimes more generally to be kinda nonsensical, especially when we're talking about unreleased games. Games aren't movies and the whole point is that if you love a particular world you can spend as much time in it as you like: Dark Souls probably takes 30-40 hours to complete, but I spent thousands in Lordran. What matters about Starfield isn't how long you can feasibly go from the start to the end, but whether you actually want to be in this place.

And much like Tim, I do have a sharper eye nowadays for stuff that I can be done with after an evening or two. We all love the epics, but these days a four-hour game is just as attractive to me.

standard cyberpunky city in starfield

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Robin Valentine, Print Editor: I definitely like to know how much of a commitment I'm in for before I start a new game. Partly that's just because I only have limited free time these days—if something's 100 hours long I've got to seriously consider if it's worth even starting, and if it's more like four then that's appealingly achievable. But I do also find that knowing how long a game is as I'm playing it can have a pretty big impact on my experience. 

I think we've all run into situations where you felt like a game was just getting started and then abruptly ended, or seemed like it was getting towards the end only to stretch out for another 20 hours. Having clearer expectations can help me take a game more on its own terms in those cases, and avoid disappointment. 

Phil Savage, Editor-in-Chief: I'm the opposite of Tim. If I'm settling in for a big RPG, I already know what to expect. I'm taking on a project that will likely take me many months. I have already done the necessary mental preparation to deal with that, and, if I enjoy a game enough that I want to keep going to the end, it doesn't really matter if that takes 50 or 200 hours. I'm more likely to look it up for more linear games—singleplayer shooters or third-person action affairs. The calculation here is more: is this doing enough to justify the time I'm spending with it? If I'm only mildly enjoying myself, it's good to know whether I'm fast approaching a conclusion or still have another 10+ hours to go. Because if it's the latter, I'm out.

(Image credit: CD Projekt)

Chris Livingston, Features Producer: I don't think I ever specifically check. I'll be honest, I don't really complete most big games anyway (I never did the final mission for Cyberpunk 2077, for example) so it doesn't particularly matter how long it is. I'll play until I feel like stopping. Sometimes it's useful to know before buying something like a puzzle game, and Steam reviewers often mention how long it took them to complete. But otherwise, I don't really remember needing to know how long or short a game it was before playing. As long as I enjoy the time I spend it doesn't matter if it's one hour or a hundred.

Lauren Morton: Like Chris, I'll check out timing on puzzle and adventure games. It's good to know that Tunic is about a 12-hour game and A Short Hike is about four. The trouble is that I spend most of my time with RPGs and, despite not being a completionist, I routinely blow through even the most forgiving time estimates.

HowLongToBeat estimates a completionist run of Yakuza: Like A Dragon takes 102 hours. I rolled credits at 120. A main story run of Divinity: Original Sin 2 allegedly takes 60 hours, but I played 150 without seeing the end. I spent 90 hours on my first Oblivion save file without ever touching the main story. Shockingly, my first Disco Elysium playthrough did clock in pretty average at about 23 hours. Estimates can't help me when I already know I'm slower than sin.

Movie clip from Immortality.

(Image credit: Half Mermaid)

Morgan Park, Staff Writer: I don't check how long games are, but I'm usually glad when I find out. Better to know a game I'm really digging is going to end a bit earlier than I'd prefer. Recently I've had the opposite problem. I'm on an incompletionist streak. Can't seem to finish anything! I boot up a game I haven't played in a while or install a new thing on Game Pass, mess around for a few hours, then completely fall off. How does Immortality end? I may never know.

Andy Chalk, NA News Lead: I don't bother. I usually have a general idea about a game's length before I get into it. Far: Changing Tides is short, Elden Ring is long, that sort of thing—and that's good enough for me. And like Lauren, length estimates are pretty much meaningless to me anyway. I can screw a ridiculous amount of time into a game if there's dicking around to be done.

A skinny city in Cities: Skylines

(Image credit: Colossal Order)

Katie Wickens, Hardware Writer: I've never checked, because inevitably I'll get distracted by side quests and never finish the game anyhow. And for someone whose main focus is sim games in which there's hardly ever a clear win state, there would be no point. How long does it take to beat Cities: Skylines, I wonder?

Jody Macgregor, Weekend/AU Editor: I usually check because I like to know how much story is left. When I'm reading a book and I feel the number of pages on my right thumb getting smaller, it's like a sense of acceleration. I get more immersed when I know the climax is coming. (I have an e-reader that shows your progress as a bar at the bottom of the screen, and it has the same effect.) Knowing I'm about seven hours away from wrapping up a visual novel is like realizing there's less than a quarter of a book left to go—we're on the home stretch, so best buckle in because this is when the wild shit usually goes down.

From our forum

WoodenSaucer: No, that's pretty low on the priority list for me. I care about a lot of other things before that. But I'm a slow gamer, so whenever I do check how long it takes, I usually double what they say. Haha.

Brian Boru: I will take note of comments in reviews about length. Too long doesn't bother me, as fully finishing a game is not a priority—but too short could make it not worth my while, especially if there's a learning curve. Poor RoI :)

SleepingDog: I don't check but note it if it is mentioned in reviews. Generally we get told if the game is short (<20 hours??) so I will take that in to account regarding what I am willing to pay, but since I wait at least 12 months or longer it generally isn't an issue.

(Image credit: SNEG)

Kaamos_Llama: I do out of curiosity, if it's a sort of actiony singleplayer non-fully open world game with a campaign I'll check sometimes to see roughly how far I have left to go. It never affects my decision to buy a game though, I don't believe in any kind of dollars-per-hour metric to justify a game purchase. I'd rather have a fantastic 10 hours than a humdrum 100 for the same price.

In 4x or party RPGs I don't usually check as its not really as relevant because there's more chance that it will be played more than once.

Zloth: Yeah, I'll check the time if I think it might be under 40 hours. If the game is going to cost more than $1/hr, it better be a really good!

Pifanjr: I don't check specific numbers of hours. The genre usually indicates the amount of time you can spend on a game pretty well and I do my research into the content of a game before buying/playing it, so I'll have a good idea of how many hours I'll be able to get out of it.

Doing the Spartan kick

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

McStabStab: Absolutely. My job and my kids usually occupy around 16 hours of my day. If I'm going to commit to a game purchase I gotta make sure I'm willing to commit to the time it takes to finish it as well. Often times I'll chip away at games like Assassins Creed: Odyssey over a long period of time. I purchased AC:O at the end of 2019 and didn't finish it until May of 2022. That's over TWO YEARS to complete the storyline of one game! Mind you I jump around to different tiles throughout, but if I'm going to commit to a lengthy title I want to know it first.

ZedClampet: As if I'm going to finish a game. The only time I check "how long to beat" is when I think, "Jebus, how much longer is this going to go on?" Most of the games I play don't have endings, anyway.

Colif: No. The games I play are understood to go a long time... but they aren't story-driven, they are character-driven... the game doesn't end just because the story does. You just play the story again with same character but evolved. I am more likely to be disappointed if it does just end.

Cyberpunk Gwent, one of the best Witcher 3 mods

(Image credit: PaulR0013)

mainer: As I mentioned in another post in the PCG Forum, I've always been more of a "slow-runner" than a "speed-runner". The types of games I play are mainly RPGs or RPGish in nature (like some immersive sims), and those games, overall, take a longer time to complete from start to finish.

However, I do appreciate, and make a mental note of, the time it took the author of a review article to finish the game. Such as, "it took me about 40 hours to complete the game and most of the side quests". I can take that number and double or triple it and know that it would take me at least 80-120 hours for a complete game.

But there are also many variables involved depending upon the game. Open world games, such as the Elder Scrolls or Fallout games from Bethesda, have so much to do, so many places to explore, so many quests & factions, that those games can literally be never ending. Throw in a detailed crafting system, an expansive home or settlement building system and my hours can run into the hundreds.

Other variables that can affect my hours played include detailed mini games (Caravan from FONV or Gwent from Witcher 3), complex character interactions & relationships (Mass Effects & Dragon Ages), or the flexibility to mod a given game. The reviewers time to complete a game, and I do appreciate that base number, rarely has any effect on my game purchases or playing time.

Foxhood: I do try to avoid very long games. Balance my time between games and working on my other hobbies. This had lead to some long games having ended up ditched and never completed sometimes. Unfortunate, but hey. I had my fill of fun and that is all that matters in the end.

That said. If I encounter one of those games that successfully bring out that little voice that goes "Just one more turn/run/day..". I and my other hobbies: be doomed...

(Image credit: Focus)

invader: Sometimes. Specially since GamePass, when there is a game that I wanted to play but its about to leave the service, to see if I can squish enough time until its removed to finish it (I did that with a Plague Tale recently... I had to take a sick day at job but worth it )

TheHuntingHorn: Yep, I like statistics and knowing how much time I'm likely to get out of a game, and also cataloguing how long it takes me to play games. I've been using HLTB for a year or so now for both purposes, also to gather my thoughts about finished games there in the form of reviews. Also good to be able to look up when I finished which game. Sort of the Goodreads of the gaming world.

If anyone's interested in starting to catalogue game times and completions for their own games, I can recommend Playnite on PC as a launcher that automatically tracks your time played across all sorts of launchers/storefronts, so you don't have to manually time playthroughs of games that don't have their own ingame counter.

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games (opens in new tab). He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun (opens in new tab), The Big Issue, GamesRadar (opens in new tab), Zam (opens in new tab), Glixel (opens in new tab), Five Out of Ten Magazine (opens in new tab), and Playboy.com (opens in new tab), whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.