Saturday, May 15, 2010

Replayability Factors

Following on from my last post on the replayability of games, I thought I'd raise two key factors I see as helping or hindering the chances of someone playing through a game again. As with my last post, these are simply my thoughts - so if you disagree (or agree!) then I'd love to hear your opinion.

For me choice, closely times in with consequence. If you make a choice, but there are no real consequences as a result of that choice, what was the point in making that choice? Now obviously there are certain things that have to be set in stone. Game engines can't dynamically create content to react to the player; there are going to be certain antagonists that we are going to have to fight, certain key plot points we have to experience. Yet the player will still be given choice in terms of their dialogue of how they wish their character to react to these events.

So we have the "roleplaying non-choices", the decisions in dialogue which ultimately have little effect on the overall game except for allowing the player to accurately represent the personality of their hero. These are still essential to a game, because they allow the player to empathise with their character, to really get into that "role" that they are playing. Admittedly some people just play (a hero version of) their own personality, but being able to dictate the character's tone when talking to people is a big part of making the overall roleplaying experience more believable and immersive.

But what about real choices? Deciding which faction to side with, whether to break the law to kill a villain or spare them, or choosing to save one friend instead of another. For me, these are the choices the have an effect on the game world that truly add depth to an RPG and make me want to replay it. The ability to change a world through my actions as a hero (or anti-hero/villain, should I so choose) adds a great deal of interest to me as a gamer. When these choices subsequently have an effect on the plot later on, that is even more potent.

I find that one counter to the replayability of a game is its length. Now, complaining about a game being too long is something that seems ridiculous, because gamers typically want "MOAR!" of everything. I confess I love a long game. I love being immersed in a vibrant game world for hours and hours on end as I explore everything and read every bit of information I can find.

So when as a player, I'm investing many dozens of hours in a single playthrough, it becomes harder and harder to replay each time. When there are long segments of the game that are always the same and there is very little choice about the order in which you can perform a task, or the events that occur within (e.g. The Fade in Dragon Age), then it is less enjoyable to replay. Length can diminish choice, which is ultimately a big part of what makes modern RPGs enjoyable for many people.

This isn't to say I'm advocating having shorter games. I love getting content. But say we had a professional game studio release an RPG with a game that took about 12 hours to play through. Then add in lots of choices and decisions within the game that could cause it to progress down an entirely different path. What if the plot could potentially change between playthroughs? What if, in your second playthrough, the villain was actually a complete different character because of a decision you made early in the game? Now that sounds like a replayable game.


  1. I think dialogue choices cover one more aspect - that of information and character exploration, not necessarily your own but your allies and acquaintances. Taking Dragon Age as an example, the implementation of this feature leaves much to be desired (I believe this was addressed in Awakening but haven't played it yet).

    This is a feature that can add so much depth to the interested player, even opening up entire quest lines. I think developers choose to play it safe here and make sure most side-quests are available irrespective of what you choose or do. This is one reason why replayability suffers since there is nothing new to discover on the second run-through.

    Length definitely affects replayability. Just thinking of investing another 50-60 hours into Dragon Age makes me think of all the modding work left to do :)
    ...and that's before even I think about the Fade and the Deep Roads. Sometimes, length is just bad...not from a replayability perspective but just plain bad!

  2. I'm always intrigued when the game "Way of the Samurai" is raised (a game I never had the chance to play), as it apparently is only an hour or two in length (depending on player choices) but has many, many choices within it so that the game can be played repeatedly with differing experiences and outcomes. I think I'd find this more compelling than 40 hours of game as I'm able to more easily complete a story, but also would be more interesting in replaying it. After all - think of how much guff could be trimmed from most Bioware games (the prototypical CRPGs at this point) and replaced by actually having meaningful outcomes from decisions which might make you want to replay.

  3. I've never heard of "Way of the Samurai" until now. That's intrigued me. When I initially heard about Heavy Rain, I was interested, because it sounded like it might offer something similar. But then I found out that the plot was filled with inconsistencies, the gameplay was only Quick-Time-Events and there wasn't too much difference in the outcome apart from whether certain characters ended up dead. What a waste.

  4. The option to give choices is a nice thing. But I'm not sure if it'is the right thing to do.

    First I divide choice in:
    Major choice -> that branches the story. (like deciding the faction to ally with)
    Minor choice -> with no long effect on the story. (like the dialogues)

    The minor are easy. But the major are complex.

    A designer need much time to design a storyline. And if he uses the time to get this storyline better and better the game experience will be stronger.

    If the designer divide the game in two storyline, the work is the double. Three, four... ten? The work becomes very much.

    Maybe it is better to concentrate and create one awesome storyline than two only "nice".
    And the more the lines, the more a game designer could make congruence errors in the story.

    One other kind of solution is The Witcher method. The game of the CDProjekt created some major choices (scoiatel, order or neutral), but giving only one storyline. So a designer could keep the lenght, giving also the choice.
    And, also, giving the consequence long after the choice is a nice thing. So the player could not try all the choices in one time.

    For now, it seems to me that's the best thing to do.

    Creating one very short game with many choices could be an experiment, but it will be difficult to make player feel tied to the characters in the story. If the characters (and factions) will not matter for him the choice can't give much result in game experience, I think.