On Replayability

by Darius Kazemi on June 20, 2006

in Uncategorized

Yesterday’s post, and Jeff’s response to it, have led me to do some more thinking about replayability in games.

Jeff says that to demand that all games be highly replayable is “ludicrous.” Specifically, he writes that

an interactive work should be able to be appreciated the first time, as if it is the only time it will be played. The fun should come from (either implied or actual) agency in the work, not from the exploration of multiple branches during multiple times through.

I think that there are some games out there that are meant to be addictive and played a million times. And there are some games out there meant to be consumed once, like a novel. I’m very tempted to draw this as a disctinction between ludic and narrative games (the novel metaphor is kind of asking for it), but I’m not 100% willing to jump to that conclusion just yet.

The entire casual games industry is built on the assumption that games should be replayable. Maybe this is because we perceive that casual games must be short in length, and if we give people a five minute game, we have to justify selling it for $10 by providing lots of replayability. But the MMO industry is also built on the assumption of replayability. Most MMO companies rely on revenue from subscriptions or from advertising in order to survive, so replayability translates into sustained attention to the game, which in turn translates directly into profit.

On the other hand, most traditional games are perceived as one-offs that need to sell well in the short term or be doomed to financial ruin. Well… mastery games are an exception. Street Fighter 2 and Soul Calibur are fighting games, but they’re mastery games at their core. Same with Amplitude (my favorite mastery game) and other rhythm games. These aren’t considered casual games, and they’re not usually online games, but they share the same replayability characteristics.

Which reminds me. I was just thinking about how most RPGs definitely fall into the one-off category. But not Chrono Trigger, which was meant to played down different paths, getting different endings. Now, it’s not like the gameplay changes every time. Sure, you can experiment with different characters, but it’s not like System Shock 2 where you’re practically playing a different game depending on which of the three classes you choose. Chrono Trigger is like a choose-your-own-adventure game in that respect. Except for one thing: New Game+ mode. For those of you poor souls who haven’t played Chrono Trigger (and I hate Japanese RPGs, so this is a huge endorsement from me), New Game+ was made available after you beat the game for the first time. You’re given the option of starting from the beginning, but with the stats at which you ended the last game!!

This does a few things. It completely changes the way the game feels and plays, for obvious reasons. It means that collecting that impossible rare item is actually possible now. It means that min/max players can conceivably tweak their characters to perfection. And it allows you to explore new narrative branches of the game without being overly burdened. In other words, it opens up the game for exploration, and transforms it from a game with little replay value to a game with tons of replay value.

This is something that I think traditional one-off games should do more often. When the player beats the game for the first time (or beats it on hard mode or whatever), let them mess around. Unlock a bunch of cheat codes. Transform the game from a linear narrative to a playground, even if it totally breaks your game. Who cares if it’s broken, if it’s the difference between the player enjoying your game more or putting it on the shelf forever?


Craig Perko June 20, 2006 at 3:58 pm

This whole debate is fascinating me, all the sudden. “What is replayability? How can it be worked into a game with minimal effort? When do we need it? When do we want to try something different?”

I’m definitely going to write something longer about this.

BTW, Darius, I find that requiring word verification is enough to stop spammers: you don’t need to lock your comments to just blogger users. I know you’re losing comments because of it.

That said, the word verify of the day is “yhjedtiu”. Yeesh.

Bradley Momberger June 20, 2006 at 5:24 pm

That said, the word verify of the day is “yhjedtiu”. Yeesh.

It sounds like the captcha is telling me “I hate you.”

And I want to point back to my response to your post yesterday, which went off onto the subject of replayability. Maybe at some point I’ll refine it into something that makes a coherent point.

I do want to point out that I’m an advocate of the ludic approach to game design, and my exploration into replayability will always reflect that.

SE June 22, 2006 at 6:31 am

hi, haven’t viewed your blog in a while. :)

I haven’t read your blog entry in it’s entirety, but this replayability concept, is interesting.

Is it about being able to view the game play again? So, being able to save replay files of a game you just played, so you can watch it again or is it about making the game fun enough to play over and over again after you’ve already finished playing the game already?

I suspect you mean the later, but anyway, this is just coincidental because i was doing a project based on analysing the replay files (the former defined above) of a game. The choice of the game also depended on being able to save replay files from the game.

SE June 22, 2006 at 6:34 am

oh, the later… ok.

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