Wednesday, May 05, 2010

"Games are too hard, they're too long, and they provide way too much stuff."

The title is a quote attributed to game designers in an intriguing article by John Davison of Game Pro. The article itself has some interesting points to make about the future of game design and is well worth a read but some of the things I took out of it are: The fact that game designers are now measuring players actions in game with embedded tools. The fact that the results of these measurements is that only a small minority of hard core players (less than 5% is suggested) play a game as intended through to completion. More than 90% of players just play for four or five hours and prefer to just "dick around" rather than follow the prescribed structure of the game.



The results of these studies are undoubtedly going to influence the design of future games. Indeed it can hardly be a co-incidence that the typical length of the single player game of a big budget shooter has fallen in recent years to exactly that magical 5 hour number.

I guess I qualify as a hardcore gamer by Davison's assessment because I play a lot of games doggedly through to the finish but even so I can see good as well as bad in this new trend. On the good side using real data to influence game design is a definite improvement over developers hunches. I also welcome the arrival of shorter more intense gaming experiences. I don't have the time to play a whole lot of 100 hour epic games.

On the bad side I have a major issue with price. As games are getting shorter the price of big budget new titles is getting higher. That really hurts. A five hour game will keep me entertained for one weekend at most and €60 is more that I am prepared to pay for that length of entertainment. The only saving grace is that a huge variety of older titles and indie games are now available at bargain prices but once in a while it would be nice to be able to afford to play the latest big budget game on release.

Another worry about game design by focus group and statistical analysis is that all creativity will be lost and games will become generically bland as they strive to implement the scientifically derived optimum number of exploding barrels per level. While I have no doubt that we are going to be treated to plenty bland sequels of big budget games (just as we always have been) I don't think creativity will really ever be lost. On the one hand I have faith in my fellow gamers. The statistics show that many players prefer to mess around in the game rather than follow the prescribed path. They don't want to follow a given formula they just want to explore new stuff and a game that has lots of creative new stuff will be a success. Also there is an explosion of talent and creativity in indie gaming at the moment and these guys don't have access to statistics and focus groups. They design from the gut and sometimes they come up with astounding moments of brilliant creativity. I even have faith that the big budget game developers will still produce moments of brilliance. Look at the movie industry. While it is true that many big budget films are crass and bland it is also true that the there are many astoundingly creative  big budget films that could not have been produced by smaller independent studios. Mind you they don't try to charge you €60 to watch them.

4 comments:

Anton said...

Great post!

Cost has kept me playing Neverwinter Nights for the last year. Which is only a $20 purchase.

Personally, I think the magic number for a super-game experience is 20-30 hours. That's why I haven't enjoyed a lot of rpg's lately, they tend towards 50-70, and I don't have that much time.

But who has that much money anyways? As you said.

I recently have been splurging on some new games, though. I just got Monster Hunter 3 on Wii. I mainly intend to play it online regularly. It's a great game to play with friends. But I think with online games the hours get way higher real fast. I will guess when I'm done with Monster Hunter I will have put over 300 hours into it. In one week, I've put in 8 hours already, and I'm level 4 now.

The 5 hour number is an average for games, but the big outliers must be those games that we devote ourselves to. As any random game that pops up, 5 hours sounds great. But if I'm spending $45, I expect it to be something I'm going to play with near-exclusivity for awhile.

...Y'know, the more I talk, the more I realize I must be one of those 5%.

mbp said...

Hi Anton, thanks for your comment.

I think you can take it as a given than all of us who take the time to write a blog about gaming are in the elusive 5%. It doesn't mean that our time is not precious though. I did recently spend over 100 hours playing Dragon Age but that is a rare rare occurrence.

Tesh said...

"The statistics show that many players prefer to mess around in the game rather than follow the prescribed path."

To me, that's the essence of gaming. It might also hint at why games like Animal Crossing and A Kingdom for Keflings work and sell as well as they do.

I must be one of the "fivers" too, since I go out of my way to get games that offer a LOT of stuff and are pretty long. I get them at bargain prices, though. I like to stretch my gaming dollars.

I don't have the time that I once did to play the latest epic RPGs, but I'm still happy buying them, because I'll get to them someday... and even if I don't, I like to support that sort of design that gives me a LOT of content and fun for my money.

mbp said...

Lol Tesh I know that phrase: "I'll get to them someday".

If I am brutally honest there are probably enough games already on my "I'll get to it someday" shelf to keep me gaming for the rest of my natural life!