Last night The Boyfriend and I finished Katamari Damacy (as daffy a good time as there ever was. Pick it up or rent it if you haven't yet), the latest in a fairly short list of games we've seen through to the end. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Ico, LOTR: The Two Towers, and Half-Life 2 are some recent titles. Going back further: Grim Fandango, The Neverhood, the Myst games, Silent Hill.
What do the games we've finished have in common, apart from being, well, good? They're forgiving of gaps between play sessions, featuring quick cognitive reconnection (the "uh, what was I doing?" factor) and easily (re-) learnable UI. They take place in inventive worlds that invite revisiting, even if those worlds are creepy or dystopic. Some are story driven, but with the possible exception of Grim Fandango ("Turning the battleship! Don't pet the cat that way." Brilliance.) the narrative wasn't the engine behind completion.
Started KOTOR, didn't finish. Ditto Morrowind, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Planescape: Torment, Champions of Norrath.
It exhausts me to even contemplate starting some of these 40, 60, 100+ hour monsters. Maybe it's a product of being a busy adult in a busy age instead of a stay-up-'til-3am college student with more time than money and more money than sense, but I don't consider sheer quantity of gameplay a value proposition. I'd rather play four 10-hour games than one 40-hour one. Make those shorter games commensurately cheaper and I'm yours.
The rise of casual and mobile games points to changes in how people integrate games into their lives. The question remains whether the mainstream PC and console gaming industry, trapped in a vicious cycle of escalating production costs driven by technology advances, can or will take the risk to create games that leverage these changes.