Thursday, May 26, 2005

Take No Quarters!

Woo! I'm geekin' out today. Because the sun is shining, no doubt.

One thing that seems to be happening in games these days - and by "these days", I'm talking "the past couple of decades" - is that game designers "suddenly" started thinking "if players play longer, it's better".

Which is, of course, FLAT OUT WRONG.

It's a relic from the days of coin-operated games, but even then it wasn't correct. Sure, playing longer meant that they plunked in more quarters. But how often they had to plop in quarters was the critical multiplier. A game where you have to plunk another quarter in every minute will make considerably more money than one which only eats a quarter every five minutes. Where's the boundary? Can you make the game eat more money, or will people ditch it as too expensive? That depends on how much fun you can make the game, and whether you can get people addicted to that all-important high-scores list.

These days, every AAA game sports "40+ hours of gameplay!" and, worse, MMORPGs are "Play for 20 hours a week and PAY us REPEATEDLY for no purpose at all!"

What's with these guys? The 'mass market' will never get weaned onto games if they take 40+ hours of play, and I certainly don't have 40+ hours. Here's a hint: if your game sports more than, at absolute most, 20 hours of play... I won't be playing it. I'll be replaying FFIII or Valkyrie Profile. A short game, on the other hand, I'll play. Moreover, if it's good, I'll play your next one. And the one after that. And the one after that. Even if they look like they're going to be shitty. I'm talking about you, Team Ninja.

What makes this even worse are the MMORPGs, which I don't understand at ALL. What part of their brain were they using when the designers decided that the more their players cost the provider, the more powerful their characters should be? It's like ASKING to make LESS MONEY.

I think, in their minds, the designers are thinking, "the more people play, the more the game will lodge in their minds". Which is largely true. But FUN is more important than sheer volume of play. Which makes more of an impression on your memory: roller coaster rides or reading books? I wouldn't be surprised if you answered "mmm, about the same", but a roller coaster ride is less than a MINUTE LONG. It's more than a hundred times as intense as reading.

THAT is what we should be going for. Adding in crap to buffer your "hours of play" is only going to DECREASE the average 'fun' the user is having. Did I ever mention that I haven't liked a single Final Fantasy since IIIE, because they were filled with incredibly boring, uneventful events? Even when I HAD the time to play them, they were BORING.

Once you've made your good impression, GET OUT. End the game. You want your games to be a roller coaster. The player should be thinking, "oh shit, here it comes... aaaaaaaah! Wooooo! Whoa! Yaaaaaaaa! Pant... pant... pant... That was AWESOME." Right now, he's thinking, "hmmm.... la... la la... hmm, interesting... ... ... time to stop for the night. Maybe I'll play some more tomorrow, although I certainly won't still be entrained."

If your game is fast and sharp, they'll remember it when it comes time to buy your NEXT game which is ALSO fast and sharp (and, by sheer coincidence, cheap to develop).

Subscription games are a slightly different deal, but here's a hint: every moment your players are playing and not creating, they are EATING GAME and COSTING MONEY. The ideal subscription game would be one in which a player spent at least half their time creating content for you while NOT eating bandwidth.

These are my opinions, of course. But, being a man with a very large head, it would be wise of you to listen to me as if I were omnipresent.

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