Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Why are games "too difficult to play?"

Been some talk recently that maybe games are "too difficult to learn to play" for newcomers. [EA execs talk...]

Too often we feel like the need to vomit "differentiation" (HEY CHECK OUT WHY WE'RE SO AWESOME AND TOTALLY DIFFERENT THAN THAT OTHER FRANCHISE) at the feet of the player, which results in crummy board, mission, and level design that is stilted by in your face prompts. None of this is good for "learning to play" and it's certainly not fun. 

Doesn't matter if you're developing a 10-100 hour console game or a social/mobile game designed to support 5 minute sessions, the best way to solve "too difficult to learn how to play" is by aspirational board/level design, intuitive game play controls and feedback, a simple way to convey "what should I do next" for the player who wants a hint/suggestion, and a game shell UX that educates the players about core systems. 

That said, I don't know a good solution for the ultra hard games that require serious reflexes and muscle memory. Was never able to progress through games like God of War because it felt like taking a day or two between 1-4 hour sessions meant I backtracked too far to keep up. Maybe more encouragement to re-grind the last content I mastered to warm up before starting a new session?

Having a progression system that allows (and encourages!) players to practice until they feel comfortable in a fun environment definitely helps. Think about random map games that allow players to set their own difficulty, competitive multiplayer games that offer co-op vs. AI, and providing additional rewards for completing previous content (extra practice at a challenge level that the player has succeeded at).

I also think it's worth studying games that turn player "failure" (e.g., "death") on its head and build frequent failure into the game design. Many of these games are super hard core and not directly applicable to broader appeal franchises. But it's worth considering ways to allow players to fail gracefully, figure out why they failed, have fun doing so, and not be too burdened by the experience. Or, have failure be delightful and use that delight to drive player desire to progress further.

Will be thinking about some examples to write about in the future.

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