The developer of short but unsettling indie Home Safety Hotline has reported that the game’s runtime warning label has helped fend off negative Steam reviews. Could this end up being adopted by more Steam-based indie developers? It’s a promising development, certainly.
Home Safety Hotline casts you as a call centre agent, tasked with identifying supernatural household hazards. The game is two to three hours long, but it’s “..an absolute treat for lovers of folklore or fans of the uncanny,” as we said in our review.
However, developer Night Signal Entertainment was concerned its runtime would lead to negative reviews from purchasers expecting a much lengthier experience. That’s why Night Signal co-founder and Home Safety Hotline programmer Nick Lives came up with the idea of a runtime warning label, which they’ve applied to all NSE games.
And, as tweeted by Nick Lives, it appears this tactic has paid off. The game, which is sitting at 91% positive on Steam, has next to no negative reviews complaining about its length. “I think this policy may have helped our 2-3 hour $15 game avoid the majority of Steam users’ usual playtime-focused wrath,” he explains. “It feels like most people knew going in that it was a shorter experience and thus don’t generally hold it against it.”
Nick Lives contrasts it with another of his games, Doodle Date, where many of the reviews criticized its shortness. The lack of ‘too short’ reviews isn’t concrete proof that labelling always works, as sample sizes go it’s pretty small. But adding a runtime warning label is a smart move that seems to have paid off for Home Safety Hotline.
We can see this working the other way, too. Not everyone is after a 10+ hour game and, especially where horror is concerned, bite-sized games can be right on the money. How Long To Beat for example, while not a complete catalogue, lets you ferret out games with lower playtimes. We’d love a similar ‘sort by runtime’ option for Steam, though that could be muddied by the platform’s low-effort ‘asset flip’ games.
NSE plans to apply this runtime warning label policy going forward, so hopefully it’ll pay further dividends in the future. And if you’ve not picked up Home Safety Hotline (read our review here), it’s out now on Steam.