News Article

Talking Point: Is Watch Dogs Proof That You Can Have Too Much of a Good Thing?

Posted by Sammy Barker

Greedy guts

There’s no shortage of gamer clichés capable of sending groans through the office each time that we encounter them, but this editor has a particularly vehement distaste to the vapid criticisms pertaining to game length. While we can appreciate that gaming is an undeniably expensive hobby, we find it frustrating that consumers are increasingly beginning to correlate content with worth. Big budget first-person shooters such as Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts now need to offer a trio of different game types in order to placate the insatiable appetites of fans, while formerly single player centric experiences like God of War are finding it difficult to adapt. After all, it’s no longer acceptable to sell a solitary six hour story for $60, so ill-advised multiplayer modes are being implemented in order to avoid the ire of keyboard critics around the world.

In isolation, these superfluous additions can be overlooked; the quality of Tomb Raider’s core campaign was not diminished by the inclusion of its unnecessary online suite. However, feature creep is still very much an issue that’s prevalent beyond these tacked on modes, and it’s a problem that’s unmistakably present in most Ubisoft games. Employing management magic tricks, the French firm has mastered the art of multi-team projects, meaning that thousands of employees contribute to each of its major projects around the globe. But while this workflow has the makings of a fascinating business studies course, we’re not convinced that it does the publisher’s products a service, as its output begins to hover around a single homogenised format that lacks the focus of a more tailored release.

Watch Dogs is a perfect example of this predicament. We’ll openly admit that we’ve barely scratched the surface of the sandbox yet, but part of the reason for that is because it consists of more components than an aircraft carrier. While most titles take a couple of hours at most to introduce the main mechanics, we’re still being bombarded with tutorial text several hours in. The sense of discovery is undoubtedly astounding, but we can’t help but ponder whether the scale is really necessary. For example, last night we happened upon a minigame where protagonist Aiden Pearce is encouraged to bounce on top of sunflowers in a three-dimensional Doodle Jump-esque jump-a-thon. The distraction – cheekily dubbed a Digital Trip – is accompanied by several other opium induced activities where you can commandeer a robotic spider or drive through the undead.

Despite not making one jot of contextual sense, all of these activities have multiple levels and even skill trees – and they’re merely represented by the odd icon on the game’s open world map. This atlas is littered with literally hundreds upon hundreds of points of interest, from buildings that you can peruse the background on to crime scenes that you need to investigate. Meanwhile, many people in the world can be hacked for new music tracks and various other gameplay MacGuffins, and that’s before you even consider the random online incidents that you’ll encounter when you’re able to actually access the publisher’s somewhat shaky Uplay servers. Tick these pastimes off your progress checklist and you’ll earn points to input into various different categories, while passing the criteria of various other challenges will further enhance your skills.

It’s an outstanding array of content, but it all gets a bit overbearing at points. The game’s core concept is strong enough to maintain some sense of consistency, but the lack of focus means that it can be difficult to decide what you actually want to do. And it’s not the only Ubisoft title that’s guilty of this offense: the likes of Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry have become so overwhelmingly dense that they’re almost impossible to play in short bursts. Merely reaching the next mission marker in any of the above games can take you on countless different diversions, but where the likes of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 3 introduce meaningful content as you explore, it all feels unnecessary and forced in these sandbox games. Do you really need to collect sea shanties and loot a load of animal corpses? Is there any value to the dozens of chests stashed around the world beyond a fistful of Reales and a piece of crafting kit?

The simple solution would be to ignore it all, but that resolution raises the riddle at the centre of this piece: why do such side-quests even exist in the first place? As consumers, we’ve convinced ourselves that more is better, but content has no value if it’s utterly meaningless at its core. Titles like Flower and Journey have proven that there’s more merit to an authored experience than one packed with thousands of trinkets to collect. And while we appear increasingly eager for the industry to sate our insatiable demands, our gluttonous whims are only going to drive the medium down a dark and untenable path. Fortunately, we won’t have time to observe the fallout – after all, we’ve still got 327 feathers to find.

Are you drawn to titles with lots of things to do, or do you wish that more releases would offer a more carefully constructed core? Do you ever even complete the collectathons that some developers create, or do you end up ignoring the majority of a game’s content once you’ve had your fill? Tick another activity off your checklist in the comments section below.

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User Comments (44)



Boerewors said:

Long time reader, first time commenter. This article really tells it all for me. I've felt like this for quite some time now and every time I asked out loud if games didn't go overboard at times, people actually got mad at me. MGS: GZ for example got a ****load of criticism, but was in essence a game that I feel is more suited to most gamer's needs than the full version will be. It offers you a couple of hours of great gameplay, gives everyone the chance to actually finish a game for once, and if you still want more out of it there are tons of side missions to complete or ways to fool around. Nintendo games usually have the same quality where there are 2 completely different ways of playing: the way I do because my time is valuable lately, or the way that I used to and made sure I 100 percented it. Both give me equally the same satisfaction, something I don't feel with a lot of games of late. A game like WD where I'm 10 hours in and completed 20% starts feeling like a choir, a burden even...but if they took out the really cool parts and sold it to me for £20, I would be extremely happy. They could easily sell me 3 of those a year, still netting their desired amount of money and leaving me a satisfied gamer/consumer. I'm not saying there is no place for big 100+ hours games, but they don't all need to be like that. WD feels forced and "soulless" because of it and putting 100 really tasty ingredients in a bowl and mixing it, doesn't necessarily make a delicious dish.



N711 said:

Another example of why I think review scores are useless. The reviewer may think too many side missions get in the way while others will enjoy it.



Bad-MuthaAdebisi said:

They've aimed to please gamers that demand replay value and those who'll invest 100+ hours into the game. I suppose they're providing value for money, as a huge company they can afford to do that. I guess you can choose a balanced game or something with tons of content or a nice pretty thing, I've picked it up to keep me busy over summer. I love the fact that there is lots of random pointless side stuff to do, collecting random toys and drinking cola in shenmue was always a joy and the mini games were a lot of fun too. I do agree with the multiplayer add one though, most games I don't even touch the multiplayer.



delukze said:

I dislike most of the side activities, only enjoy the gang hideouts & hacking cTOS centers.



Davros79 said:

I honestly cant believe some ppl, can moan about too much content!! FFS, ubisoft have provided a sandbox, thats worth every penny of what you payed for it! Which is more than can be said of most of games!

If you cant be arsed with side missions /distractions/mini games, Then DON'T DO THEM!!The game doesn't force you to partake, It merely gives you the option!

Too much is always better than too little. Unless of course You're a platinum trophy freak, which in that case, i suggest u get a life.



Splat said:

I haven't played Watch Dogs but I for one love side-quests and collectables in open world games. I did everything there was to do in Far Cry 3 and was sad when there was nothing left haha.

I don't think they should be forced on the player but having the option is great IMO.



ObviouslyAdachi said:

I say let the gamers be ourageously demanding and insatiable. Letting games that are "short" or "lacking" in content die out is part of a natural process called natural selection. The games that fail should die and will die, even if they are "good" games. Stop impeding the process. Let gamers groan. It will press developers to push limits and breed better games. So yeah, I wanna know how long or short a game is. It's my money and I have the right. If a company like Rockstar or Ubisoft or whoever, as great as they are, fails to deliver what gamers demand, they will fade away and rightfully so.



get2sammyb said:

@ObviouslyAdachi Right, but would you rather play a game that features eight perfectly crafted hours, or thirty hours of bloat that has two hours of good stuff hidden in it?

@Davros79 Well, that's the discussion, right? If all of that additional content can be ignored, then what purpose does it serve other than overwhelming the player?



Splat said:

"If all of that additional content can be ignored, then what purpose does it serve other than overwhelming the player?"

Because not everyone ignores it. Just because you don't like it doesn't mean everyone else won't either.



Mrskinner said:

I am a player who loves sandbox open world games. I feel in games like this the more the better. I enjoy walking around, being distracted and 5 hours later thinking "wasn't I heading off to a mission?!" Second son was a beautiful looking game with a great story, but did it fulfill my needs as someone who wants a full open world to explore? No, it left me feeling empty once I realised I had done everything in only a few hours gameplay. In my opinion it was empty and soulless. I absolutely enjoy the recipe Ubisoft has found for its open world games and I cannot wait to get far cry 4 and new assassins creed games. The reason this content is there? People like me want to play it I suppose



Ginkgo said:

I love open world games, and part of that enjoyment is with side quests. So I don't have an issue with it. Part of the point of side quests is to build up skill trees and be stronger when going into the big battles. If you didn't have them, then open world games would be empty (pretty but nothing to do), or you have a linear game. Nothing wrong with that (e.g. TLOU) but I like open world exploration too.

That being said, the side quests have to be meaningful, NOT repetitive and fit in with the context of the game. Skyrim is the perfect example of a game that did it really well. FarCry3 I think also did a reasonable job. Hunting in FC3 makes perfect sense. It fits in with the context and allows you to craft items etc. Some other games, have repetitive side quest. Towing in GTAV comes to mind.

I haven't spent enough time with WD yet, but would agree that its side quests are just weird. Many are like mini arcade games played through he city. No real connection with the rest of the story (other than hacking I guess) and little connection to reality. Other games have done it better.



Davros79 said:

@get2sammyb well stick to the story mode m8! U can JUST play that you know! If a person is "Overwhelmed" by a games content, Then dont buy a sandbox game!! It not like ppl bought Watch dogs blindly, FFS its its been getting previewed heavily for the last 3 years!!!

Everyone with a brain knew it was a sandbox 40hr plus game.

The "additional content" is there to be used by choice , u know?????. Have you played the story missions from start to finish already?

also whats the point of ubisoft taking 5years to make a sandbox open world game, Only to furnish it with few distractions?



ShogunRok said:

When a game becomes diluted because it tries to do too much, that's when I see a problem.

But generally, I like as much content as I can get in a game. If I don't like any bits of it, I'll just ignore it and tell myself it isn't worth my time. Also the main reason why my trophy count perhaps isn't as high as it should be.



eLarkos said:

"When a game becomes diluted because it tries to do too much, that's when I see a problem." This is how im feeling about a couple games lately.

"Well, that's the discussion, right? If all of that additional content can be ignored, then what purpose does it serve other than overwhelming the player?". I agree. Of course you can ignore it but I dont believe that's the point being made. My interpretation of this comment is that if the additional content of the game is so weak that its ignored then it would be better left out. The reason for this is that resources are limited and the resources used on this weak additional content could have been focused to create a stonger core game.
The discussion is whether you like all this (perhaps) "weak" content or if you would prefer just a stronger core game.

I personally love side quests that are well crafted, but to answer the question of whether I believe a game can have too much content - definitely.



Davros79 said:

@eLarkos If ppl havent finished the "core" story mode to see how strong it is or even "scratched the surface" then why are they flippin moaning. Its the best ps4 game yet for christ sake.

Jesus!! people stop whining, and play the game!!



CanisWolfred said:

I like both, but I tend to never finish games period, so shorter titles are quickly becoming the preferred choice. I can understand wanting your money's worth, but I still think that it'd be easier on companies if they made games shorter and better constructed, with higher replayability in the literal sense of the term.



JaxonH said:

It all depends on the game. But I do feel that a good chunk of the content in most AAA games is pretty lame stuff. I can dig the stuff that offers you some sort of REWARD for your efforts, and I enjoy tracking audio-tapes from time to time, but if there's no incentive to complete, I find it kind of pointless to be in the game.

I don't mind all the content in the world being in a game, PROVIDED that A) it's fun and B) there's reasonable reward in exchange for your efforts. Collecting just for the sake of collecting is straight garbage imo. Why am I collecting these trinkets if I get nothing for them? No lore or memo notes attached to deepen the plot, no currency, no benefit, no nothing... just a huge time-munching mega-quest. The only exception to that rule is when the collectible items are actually desirable to collect.

So yeah, I get a little ticked off when I spend 20 minutes searching for a side-quest item only to find that there is absolutely ZERO reward in it for me. Like, are you for real? I can't even sell it?



eLarkos said:

@Davros79 These Talking Point articles are designed to instigate discussion. Often the author writes not from his personal point of view but more of a devils advocate role in the wish to spark (hopefully) constructive debates. I think this article is great as I have thought about this issue in past.
You are correct in saying that its too early to concretely comment on WD but as the title alludes to its just being used as an example to get to the real issue at hand.



Davros79 said:

@eLarkos ok. I could point to a couple of glaring contradictions in the articles text. But i really cant be arsed " " We've barely scratched the surface". Follwed by "it all gets a bit overbearing at points"



Dannyboy1996 said:

Watch dogs has been giving me hours of fun! It has gotta be one of the best games I've played so far, the side missions and story are absolutely great fun and I think ubisoft deserve a pat on the back



charlesnarles said:

I own it and I'm surprised at how similar in feel it is to AC (in the bad way). Shouldn't have to sacrifice clipping interactivity with pedestrians, for example, in order to have quantitatively "more stuff to do." I do like the bigger pile-ups, but I do not like the "push single button once/tap to interact" mentality of the game design. There's no melee at all, instead there's essentially a 2-second cutscene making fights really uninteresting. Idk... I anxiously await some big patches after buying the season pass and collector guide (amazing book btw, better than the game so far at narrative heh..)



iSillyBoiJudas said:

I thought I was the only person feeling that half of the people I went by when going to the next campaign mission who I hacked was another side mission. It's fun doing them but I feel everything on the map is so congested with awesome things to do, meaning I won't be finish this game entirely until probably for a month. By finish I mean complete every side mission as well as get platinum.




Imo long games are better for value for money replay factor I'm never happy buying games now days and having them finished in 1 or 2 days with nothing more to do always feel ripped off I know lot ppl rush games like this to get finished and lose track the story..... Take your time and just enjoy get lost in the world of watchdogs.... I loved fancy put lots of time in to doing it all and was gutted at end that there was nothing to do would have loved to have seen bad guys spawn back in and take over the towers again but never happened that's why watchdogs is good has lots to do replay factor



ObviouslyAdachi said:

@get2sammyb That's the thing! I CAN choose NEITHER. I WOULD choose NEITHER. Both of those kinds of games will die out if they don't sell. If they sell, so be it. They must be what gamers want. If they don't, well maybe the devs will learn and try harder. It is very possible to make a 20 or 100+ hour game that's perfectly crafted all the way through. Natural selection, man. Let gamers discriminate. Let gamers shape gaming. WE are the consumers, WE decide what the standards are- not the developers.



Gamer83 said:

All I can really say is I've been thoroughly enjoying my time with Watch Dogs and a lot of it is because I enjoy the side missions. Its the same reason I've enjoyed GTA, Saints Row and other open world games. The side missions is part of the fun. Not all are great, but most provide plenty of fun side distractions and while there may be some I don't enjoy, I know there's probably tons of others who do and vice versa. I don't think there's anything wrong with a game being jam packed like Watch Dogs. To me it really comes down to what kind of experience the developer is going for. Naughty Dog is fantastic at delivering well-crafted linear stories and opening the game up to the level of something like GTA could take away from that. Open world games are more just about opening up a massive 'sandbox' for gamers to have fun in and the quality development teams will deliver plenty of great main missions and side activities to keep you busy. And if you get a well done story in addition, it's a nice bonus.



ZeD said:

@get2sammyb Great article. I really enjoyed reading this. An example to me of a game having to much extra stuff was AC Revelations. The story was very good but got lost behind the extra things. The same happened in AC3. I story was very weak but was well hidden behind the extra missions. In AC4 they got it perfect - the balance was very well done.
Back to Watch Dogs and i think it is the same balance. I spent my first session on it last night, completed only one mission and spent the rest exploring the city.
What has happened is that GTA has set the bar now on how to create a sandbox and every one else is following that.



PorkinsUK said:

I think the side mission debate is something that will always plague the community. For me, completion of them is attached heavily to atmosphere. For instance, I fell in love with Second Son - I 100%'d the game on Hero and I'm currently two thirds into an Infamous playthrough which again, I'll likely 100%. If I didn't love the look and feel of the city, the story of the DUP and the Conduits, I probably wouldn't be doing it. Plus, doing all the side quests carried some worth - particularly on Expert... those Shards are crucial!

On the flip side, I loved GTA V and whilst some of the side missions were incredible (Particularly the Church story) some of them were a bit much. Sure, collecting 100 hidden packages in GTA 3 was fine, but Nuclear Waste, the Murder trail AND UFO parts? Too much collecting for very little reward. Not for me particularly. I never made 100% out of sheer boredom.

Somewhere there's a good middle ground... But I'm yet to find it!



cornish1973 said:

To put it bluntly, you can please all the people some of the time, some of the people all the time but never all the people all the time.



MadchesterManc said:

Im not one for sandbox games myself. I find they lack focus and offer up too much padding to be of much enjoyment. Prefer to have a focused, linear, 10 hour campaign that immerses from start to finish. That gives more bang for buck to me than 40 hours of lackluster content. Not that sandbox games cant offer that similar immersion to a linear title, but their reliance on padded side missions & collectibles means you tend to get sidetracked and lose cohesion & focus with the games narrative.

Is it just me, or are most of Ubisoft's AAA games these days seeming to be built around the same template?



ToOGoodOfAPlaya said:

The side stuff is there for those that enjoy it, which I would guess is a good proportion of players, removing it would rob those of the option whereas keeping it in and making it non essential hits everyones notes.

I like the implementation of MP the way it has been done in Watchdogs as its all an optional experience.

A good example of what can go wrong would be Dark Souls, in which you cannot pause and are always open to PVP or you are forced to play offline. At least in games such as Watchdogs, you have all the freedom to play your way.



BrB said:

"Is Watch Dogs Proof That You Can Have Too Much of a Good Thing?"

NO, the more the better.



Demi_God said:

I haven't had any problems with this game, it's fun, it's a solid open city experience. To complain about to much stuff in a game like this or GTA is ridiculous. I like a lot of stuff in a game, the more the better. I have yet to see a game that has "to much stuff". I like a bunch of stuff in a game.



Davros79 said:

My one complaint is online hacking... I hacked someone before got to 97 percent and He dissconnected, so i lost a certain hack and he wasnt punished for cheating!!

Its happened 3 or 4 times now, anyone else had this happen?



ToOGoodOfAPlaya said:

@Davros79 I wouldn't say they cheated BUT it does go against the entire spirit and point of the game.
I havent tried any yet but I know its going to happen and I agree, its bloody annoying.



Davros79 said:

@ToOGoodOfAPlaya well m8 using underhand means in a bid to to avoid a certain hack, is cheating in my book! If he hadn't of unplugged i would have got the hack!! Simple as that!



ToOGoodOfAPlaya said:

@Davros79 I get what you're saying and at that point you may as well just let the person have the win.
But some people will lose connection to the servers, I had this during a race.

But if you are going to play the MP you should be prepared to get hacked!



Davros79 said:

@ToOGoodOfAPlaya lol in know m8, but dont u think its suspicious that these players all lose their connections to their servers, when they're 2 seconds away from being hacked? No coincidence THAT!!



ToOGoodOfAPlaya said:

@Davros79 I could believe it once , but 3 or 4? Unlikely!
These would be the same people who complain about "hardscoping" or using tanks in other games!



Davros79 said:

@ToOGoodOfAPlaya oh so now im a liar? Im only talking about WD m8, i wasnt bragging about the size of my "johnson"!!! lol. Its happened 3 times at least to me.

Considering you haven't even tried the mode yourself, It's a little bit cheeky to dismiss what i said as "Unlikely"



ToOGoodOfAPlaya said:

@Davros79 Not what I said at all.
Re read it.
I could believe that one person got dc'd accidentally, but not 3-4.
I was agreeing with you.
Hence the rest of what I put.

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