Game Analysis

Create Replay Value by Inviting Curiosity

Most people don’t finish the games they start. In 2011, an Activision production contractor, Keith Fuller, said he expects about a 10% completion rate. Since 90% of players never see a game’s ending, its “replay value” matters to a small group. The games encouraging multiple playthroughs then appeals to an even smaller fraction of that group.

With few people finishing single player games, developers will waste planned content to increase replay value. Games needs to invite curiosity by offering different solutions to solve a problem. If the solutions offer subtle differences, then the curiosity can carry the second playthrough.

As long as you continue asking questions, the form of these subtle differences doesn’t matter. No single approach works best as it depends on the core design. The replay value in Borderlands differs from the replay value in Nier: Automata. Games invite curiosity in dozens of different ways, so I’ll pick a few to discuss.

 

Borderlands – Loot Treadmills

The loot treadmill game design – repeating content for new and better gear – works in many games. Players love grinding for items because it solves the problem of: “Can I find something better?” Borderlands, Destiny and Diablo built entire franchises on the idea of finding new and better gear. Randomized weapon drops and different character classes can encourage multiple playthroughs.

Overwatch’s Support Problem - Designing Support Roles in Games

Overwatch

We need a healer. I choose Zarya to help absorb damage and protect our weaker players with her barriers. As the only tank hero, I at least hope for some reliable healing. The last two players sit in the character selection screen with clear roles we need filled. Neither pick a healer. One picks Genji and the other pick Solider. I don’t blame them. Healing is boring.

Now the team starts pointing fingers, stating our need for healing before the round clock expires. No one wants to switch and so we lose. Without a balanced team, we stand no chance. The lack of support players continues into the next match because no one wants to fill the role. People play shooters to out-gun opponents, not to help someone else to out-gun the opponent.

These support roles or characters in games handicap players in one-sided fights. No player wants to die, let alone lose a fight favouring the stronger character. Character selection then becomes a game of chicken, where each player waits for someone else to switch. The switching player favours winning over fun, so they, out of necessity, sacrifice fun for the sake of the team. Games shouldn’t force players to play a certain way or sacrifice enjoyment – games don’t need healers.



Overwatch and Team Fortress 2 – The Chore of Dedicated Healers

Mercy in Overwatch and the Medic in Team Fortress 2 play significant, yet boring roles. Mercy’s poor damage output, low health and team reliance brands her as a clear target for the enemy. She depends on teammates for defence, yet her teammates depend on her to stay alive. In Team Fortress 2, the Medic faces a similar problem but to a larger degree.

Quest Design – Expanding on the Fetch Quest Structure

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

“All quests are fetch quests,” my friend said in response to my complaints about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Even within the context of a post-apocalyptic world, Zelda’s NPCs always want something. People need a monster killed or a specific item gathered in exchange for a mystery item. I never gathered bundles of wood or collected fireflies for fun, I helped for the reward. We endure a lot of these trivial activities to enhance our effectiveness for later events. Without the reward, fetch quests feel like chores.

Quest design differs when developers mask the “fetch” aspect of a request. If stripped down the structure, most quests use the ABA formula: start a point A, move to point B, then return to point A. But to label all quests as “fetch quests” misses the larger point, which is the commonality in quest structure. Quests use the same structure of a fetch quest, but smart design branches from the initial goal.

 

Some quests don’t try to hide their “fetch” design

Quests in Breath of the Wild avoid any structural deviation and stay on its initial objective. One side quest revolves around Hudson, a construction worker. He builds Tarrey Town from the ground up, asking you to collect bundles of wood and search for new tenants with names ending in -son. When Hudson needs a shopkeeper, you search for someone who wants to open a store. When you recruit a new Tarrey Town citizen, Hudson then asks for wood bundles. The process repeats until he finishes the town construction.

More Visual Detail Does Not Improve How We Play

In Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, I barrel down empty corridors, glancing at the ruins of ancient tombs and cities. These decorated hallways and detailed rooms disappear in a blink, but they connect me to the next section. Artists spent countless hours creating simple objects like doors, vases and carpets for these areas, yet it takes a second to run past.

To bring purpose to the connecting areas, developers try and slow players by littering collectibles throughout. The loot hunt might encourage exploration, but environment appearance still contributes little to the overall experience. While the patterns of carpets can match the embroidery of the curtains, these details change nothing about how Uncharted 4 plays or feels. As budgets increase alongside visual fidelity, prettier, empty connecting areas won’t stop players from pushing forward.

Applying Purpose and Improving Interaction in an Open World Game

When DICE revealed Mirror's Edge Catalyst, the shift from linear parkour to an open world didn't matter. I waited eight years to play another Mirror's Edge and nothing would stop me. As I slow my sprint through the City of Glass, I also stop to understand the purpose of an open world. While Catalyst recreates the awe of free-running parkour, I don't credit its huge city for discovering that feeling. The main character, Faith, still runs regardless of the world around her. Without tying her movement and mechanics to the landscape of rooftops, the space leaves a void between the focal points of a game.

Grand Theft Auto V (GTAV) haunts me with the dozens of lost hours spent driving. Whether you play a mission, go to a mission or explore away from a mission, you spend way too much time driving. With such a large open-world, cars speed up travel. Rockstar doesn't give you a better option for fast travel besides a paid taxi ride. And since many missions require some sort of vehicle to even trigger the event, why bother fast travelling with a taxi. Despite an elaborate heist story, GTAV's best use of city exploration and travel is to plop you in a car.

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