Friday, July 11, 2008

Gaming Trends - Wasting Gamer's Time

Wasting Gamer's Time and Money

I've decided to take the opportunity, while I'm not writing reviews, to write overall game development commentaries in this blog. So, expect to see reviews combined with random thoughts and opinions about the state of gaming.

Checkpoint Saving

In the last decade or so, Game Developers have tried to hone in on a formula for creating a succesaful game. In that goal, developers try sticking to what they think are time tested 'winning' formulas. In fact, I believe that this thinking is, in fact, incorrect logic. Gamers do not want the same-old same-old. For example, it has become common place for developers to write games using checkpoints as the default save methodology. The question is, why has this happened? What has led developers to believe that the checkpoint save device is what gamers want? Why has this become a defacto standard over open saving everywhere?

Is there some logic somewhere that has led developers to believe that checkpoint saving is more challenging than other types of save methods? Personally, I don't know their reasonings. But, what I do know is this. Checkpoint save style is completely frustrating for two major reasons:

  1. There are never enough checkpoints
  2. The gamer wastes far too much time starting the game over from a checkpoint
I don't know about you, but my time is valuable. Far too valuable to be wasting on games that require 15-30 minutes of lost time by continually starting over at checkpoints. It's particularly wasteful when you can go nearly a whole level and have to replay that entire level because of some game quirk. For developers to callously waste mine (and every other gamer's) time forcing level restarts over and over again is just pointless and irresponsible. Worse, I believe game developers may actually think that checkpoint saves actually add to the gaming experience. I beg to differ. Gamers are forced into using checkpoints because that's what developers believe that gamers want and also that it makes the game more challenging. Frankly, neither is true. Checkpoints do not make the game more difficult, it just makes the game more frustrating. Note to game developers, frustration does not equal challenging!

If by some backwards logic that you, as a game developer, think that it makes a game challenging, you're utterly wrong. The only thing checkpoints serve to do is force gamers to start that checkpoint over and over again. Just save the game where we are and let us start exactly where we left off. There is no point to checkpoint restarts.

Repetitive + Sequence Based Gaming

While some of us may remember Dragon's Lair fondly and the hours we spent shoving quarters into that machine, this game had a style that worked only for that type of interactive arcade game. But, again, for some reason, developers have inexplicably latched onto this style of gaming thinking that it somehow makes the game fun to randomly throw in button sequences in the midst of another type of game play.

I should backup just a little, at this point, and explain sequence gaming. Button sequence game play consists of a level where, like Dragon's Lair, you are thrown up a series of button presses that you have a second or two to input. If you don't input that sequence of moves in a certain rapid succession in the right order, then you fail to do what the game expects. That could mean death to your game character, it could mean you fail a mission or it could mean game over. So, you may end up having to start over at a checkpoint.

If a game is designed to be sequence gaming completely, like much of the earlier Resident Evil series, then that's fine. This should also be clearly stated on the outside of the packaging. We'll get to packaging discussions a bit later, though.

However, I am not a fan of sequence gaming because the only thing it serves to do is, again, waste time and frustrate. You have to play and replay the sequence until you manage to get it right. Again, there's nothing at all challenging about this. It ends up being rote memorization + trial and error gaming. Few sequence games vary the sequence by much either. So, if you walk into an encounter that you've previously done, then you'll know the sequence already. Worse, some games store only a limited set of sequences, like Viking had about 4-5 total sequences, so once you've memorized the first button to press, you know the entire sequence. Again, not challenging.

Packaging Issues

Today's games give very little information as to what the game is. Cover art ranges from a screenshot to nothing at all. The back of the box might show you a few screenshots, but never enough to determine exactly what style of a game that it is. Basically, developers have fallen into a very predictable pattern for gaming styles. So, the most basic types of gaming styles today include the following:
  • Fighting
  • Racing / Flying / Simulation
  • First Person Shooter
  • Third Person Shooter
  • Sequence Gaming
  • Puzzle
  • Sports
  • RPG / Free Form
  • Movie Tie-Ins (although, these usually fall into one of the above)
  • Music/Dancing/Specialty Controller Interactive
These are the effective styles available today. There may be the occasional game that doesn't exactly fall into these categories, so a new genre might be required. But, by and large, nearly every game falls into one of the above.

Packaging, then, needs to describe the type of game style that the game falls into so there's no guesswork on the consumer's part. Right now, you pretty much have to visit the web, rent the game or buy a magazine to see a preview of the game. If you're at the store and wanting a game as an impulse, buying a game in hopes that it's a style that you like is a real gamble and wastes countless gamer dollars. Maybe this is a tactic that the game developers like. Maybe they think it makes them more money? In fact, it takes money out of the gamer's hands that they might have otherwise spent on a different game that they would play longer, rate higher and maybe even invest more money into expansion packs. You don't win customer loyalty by tricking people into buying crappy games.

Next Up...
  • How packaging can improve
  • How developers can produce better games
  • Gaming styles that aren't often made
  • More time wasting developer game tricks
  • Improving game loading times
  • Gaming styles described in detail

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