Reviews found in the brightly-coloured gaming magazines of the late 90s often cited ‘replayability’ as one of the things they looked for in games. Now it seems that’s where those sorts of reviews will stay. The notion of replaying a game is one that’s seemingly lost to time. Through a variety of factors, games have changed into something completely different.
Replay value is the amount of enjoyment a player could glean from a game that he or she had already finished. For instance, Mario Kart has high replay value because the experience is always different.
Something like Portal might have low replayability because you can only solve the puzzles once.
Before the proliferation of reliable internet connections for gaming, games tended to be self-contained stories. You played them through from start to finish and, thus, the game was over.
Part of getting value for money was the ability to play through games more than once. This way you didn’t trade $70-90 for 15 hours of gameplay, you got much more out of the same content.
Nowadays, however, games are a bit more demanding. Games ask for a bit more of our time and, more importantly, almost constant engagement.
There are a few ways that developers keep us hooked. We’ll look at them below.
Alpha & Beta
Something we’ve been seeing a lot more of lately is game developers selling access to their alpha or beta builds. With promises of the game once it’s released fully, players can choose to engage with the in-development game as much as they would like.
In my corner of the gaming world, I’ve seen this quite a bit with games like The Forest, We Happy Few, and Hello Neighbour. It’s a nice idea and helps the firm raise funds to continue development.
This strategy kills replaying games because we spend so much time poking through each game to see the changes that come with each beta update. We spend so much time establishing this relationship with a developing game that we simply can’t pull ourselves away from because we’re drip fed new features.
I’m sure at one point or another we’ve found ourselves addicted to a multiplayer game. Some popular titles might sound like Super Smash Bros, Dota 2, and Counter Strike. These games are addictive because the experience is always changing. No two matches of Street Fighter are the same. We can always learn new characters, new combos, and more efficient movements.
Multiplayer titles appeal to our sense of mastery. Every time we play a game, we’re getting better. The booming eSports industry serves to dangle the carrot always just out of reach.
Online games are ideal for this because human opponents are always more challenging. Unlike with AI opponents, there’s a degree of psychology and evolving strategy. Even primarily offline games, however, are getting in on the action. Because they’re only as engaging as the most difficult opponent (once you can easily beat the hardest computer, you’ve reached the end of your journey), developers must find a creative way around this.
Nintendo used Amiibo to extend the playability of Super Smash Bros on the Wii U and 3DS. A character that learns from you and constantly evolves is as close to a human player as you’ll get.
Games whose experiences are always changing never truly end. We never play them again because each playthrough is, in theory, indefinite.
You’ll recognise these games as loot-grinds. The game only ends once you’ve hit the max level, but because the grind takes so long, even the most basic experiences last a long time. All developers need to do to prolong the lifespan of the game is raising the level cap.
Some of these titles will be familiar. World of Warcraft is, perhaps, the epitome of this style – the game has been running for ten years. Diablo III, with its seasonal events, keeps players invested by testing their skills against the clock. Destiny, through its expansions, has raised its level cap by 10 and its Light level to 400.
Once you hit the max level for one event, the developer raises the bar and the grind begins anew.
Like games being introduced in alpha or beta, the life cycle of any given game can be extended from the other side too.
DLC packs vary from game to game. For fighting games, we usually get new characters. Games like Far Cry, we get new missions and content to explore. For Skyrim, we got new quest lines, spells, and stories.
DLC’s effect is to prolong a user’s experience with a game. Extra content either extends the length of the game or, as was the case with Mortal Kombat X and Mario Kart 8, draws players back in to create peaks and troughs of engagement. By and large, though, DLC gives us another reason to re-engage with the game that isn’t simply playing it again.
Does it Matter?
Probably not. The last game I replayed, I think, was Goldeneye 64. This was a few years back and I don’t think I’m feeling the effects.
It represents a shift in the relationship between developers, their employees, and players. One game is now a more reliable, steady source of income. This stability can only help those who work in the industry so, for that, I’m happy.
This shift, however, feels more like the difference between movies and TV shows. We used to have one big project to sift through everyone 18 months or so. This meant that developers would see large outlays before a big pay day. Players would wait a long time between games.
Now, however, we’re seeing smaller episodes released more regularly. We get an episodic structure (see the new Hitman), and developers get a more regular income stream that they can use to fund their next major project at the time.
With more producers subscribing to a longer life cycle for their games, it’s interesting to see where the industry will go and how this can benefit eSports as a burgeoning arena.
What about you, readers? When did you last replay a game from start to finish?