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Do Gamers Want Simpler Games? 462

A recent GamePro article sums up a lesson that developers and publishers have been slowly learning over the last few years: gamers don't want as much from games as they say they do. Quoting: "Conventional gaming wisdom thus far has been 'bigger, better, MORE!' It's something affirmed by the vocal minority on forums, and by the vast majority of critics that praise games for ambition and scale. The problem is, in reality its almost completely wrong. ... How do we know this? Because an increasing number of games incorporate telemetry systems that track our every action. They measure the time we play, they watch where we get stuck, and they broadcast our behavior back to the people that make the games so they can tune the experience accordingly. Every studio I've spoken to that does this, to a fault, says that many of the games they've released are far too big and far too hard for most players' behavior. As a general rule, less than five percent of a game's audience plays a title through to completion. I've had several studios tell me that their general observation is that 'more than 90 percent' of a game's audience will play it for 'just four or five hours.'"
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Do Gamers Want Simpler Games?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @03:25AM (#32095044)

    Maybe they should focus on replayability instead of throwing in lots and lots of mindless trash. You can have lots of stuff in your game and make it worth playing, or you can have lots of redundant shit that no one cares about.

  • I play many games, and I finish almost none of them. Most games I don't play more than 4-5 hours before I'm done with them for awhile, just like the summary says. But I usually come back to them later, and play about the same amount a few months down the road, and then again a few months down the road. I don't buy a game expecting to finish it, I buy the game to have fun. And I probably WOULDN'T buy the game if all the extra game play wasn't in it. I LIKE huge long complex games. I like difficulty (to a certain extent of course :) ). I don't want games to lose that... even though I might not play it all the way through. And for the games that I DO play all the way through, it makes the sense of accomplishment all that much better. Knowing that I've got a stack of 10 or 15 games lying around that I can go and play through for that rush when I'm bored some day with nothing else to do is great! I can't believe I'm the only one that feels like this too.
  • by Eraesr ( 1629799 ) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @03:30AM (#32095086) Homepage
    Agreed. I simply don't have the time to finish a 60 hour game anymore. I'd rather have a good and intense 5 hour game than a long, stretched out 60 hour game. However, I'd also like to see games get slightly cheaper. I think episodic gaming is one way of achieving this. I think I'd sooner buy a game in 4 parts that are 5 hours long each than one big game of 20 hours because I know I won't invest the time to finish it. By the time I'm halfway through a 20 hour game, there's two other games that caught my attention.
  • by cybereal ( 621599 ) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @03:42AM (#32095134) Homepage

    I have a lot of responsibilities as well as interests besides gaming. It has been over 10 years since I could, say, spend a whole weekend diving through a Final Fantasy title. I love the epic game style, 60 hour game? yes please. But please, let me play it in 120 30 minute increments and feel good about it. Even if you can only break it down to as small as 2 hours, that is a healthy compromise. I'm a big, big fan of the idea of serialized/episodic games, especially if I know it will eventually reach a conclusion. It's not about getting the game sooner or whatever, it's about having smaller less intimidating nuggets of joy that each have their own temporary conclusion between instances like a good multi-novel sci-fi series. On top of that, if after a few episodes I find it's awful? I am sick of it? I can save my cash not buying the rest.

    Unfortunately I have no idea how long I'll want to stick around for the story in a game these days. I am afraid to start into an arc that's going to strongly draw me in for more than an hour or so, and all too often I opt for a bite-size chunk of far less satisfying gaming because I'm sure I have the time. Even if, ironically, I end up doing that for over 2 hours.

    Even if a game is sold all at once, I'd really appreciate if a developer wrote the story in well defined chunks and actually told me the estimated time to completion of the upcoming chunk before I started it so I could plan my time. Just like I plan time to watch movies or tv shows, and I can always find out the times for those.

  • by ReneeJade ( 1649107 ) <> on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @03:47AM (#32095170)
    Um, can't we have both?
    Sometimes I enjoy the simplicity (flavored with a little subtle complexity) of Plants vs. Zombies. Sometimes I feel like an epic, convoluted, RTS campaign. Surely there is a market for more complex games and less complex ones. But a long and complex game calls for an investment of time; they have to make it worth it.
  • Re:Lovely. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MartinSchou ( 1360093 ) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @03:52AM (#32095190)

    Suppose the 40 hour games cost 40$ a piece and the 10 hour game costs 10$ a piece.

    Would you then be willing to buy the 10$ game?

  • Simple answer: No. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <deleted&slashdot,org> on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @03:54AM (#32095204)

    They want more efficient games. With “efficient” meaning: More fun for less time. Or: If they are shorter and don’t require as much getting into, they should just as much be more intense.

    Your question falls to the classical “KISS” fallacy. Simplicity is a oversimplification of the original goal (efficiency). And, being oversimplified, it’s worse, not better, than that goal.
    Did you ever use software that was “so easy”, that you weren’t able to use it anymore? (At least not without disabling most of your brain.) I get that a lot nowadays. :/

    So you also misunderstood what gamers actually want: To have a just as great experience without investing a lot of time in it. The “just as great” is the key here. Because 1 hour of some level of greatness is only a fraction of 40 hours of that same greatness. You know what I’m trying to say.

    Also, even a beginner game designer knows, that if there is no challenge, there is no fun, and there also is no game. So simple is by definition not an ideal in game design.
    But efficiency... or rather emergence is very much. :)

    Make the UI (or rather the whole game) emergent, and the experience great. That’s it. :)

  • by illaqueate ( 416118 ) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @04:03AM (#32095244)

    quite a few of the 40+ hours games are open world games that aren't organized linearly. the story missions are sometimes only one part of the game, the others being free form action, mini games, side missions, upgrading/customizing, etc. One could typically "finish" the game in a shorter span by following story missions only, however that's not what many find fun about that type of game.

  • by Schmorgluck ( 1293264 ) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @04:26AM (#32095352)
    Staple case: Deus Ex: Invisible Wars. Dumbed down to make it more fit to port to consoles: no more skills, unique ammo for all weapons, etc. Not a bad game, great storry and all, but compared to the first one its gameplay seems... bland.
  • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @04:28AM (#32095368) Journal

    If the overwhelming majority of gamers don't finish the game in the first place, how would replayability help? The problem is that people give up anyway, not that they don't start it once more.

    If anything, this seems to confirm what I've been saying all along: Forget about replayability, just make it worth playing once. To even think about playing it again, you have to find it worth playing the first time. If people get to the end scene with a sensation of "man, I wish it had at least 5 more hours", they'll tend to replay it anyway. If they gave up in boredom or frustration before even getting to the first contagonist, they won't.

    And it seems to me like ultimately too much focus on reserving stuff for the replay is self-defeating. You have the time and budget to put X quests / locations / dialogue lines / etc in the game. If you show the user only a quarter of those on the first run, because essentially for some he's not the right class, for some he took the wrong choice (e.g., in Fallout 3 it's possible to never even discover a quest hub by as little as skipping one side-quest and succeeding on a persuasion check on another), for some he didn't explore enough to find the secret quest giver locations, for some he explored too much (FO3 again, you could skip two thirds of the main quest by just going exploring and stumbling upon the "wrong" location), and some is bonus stuff to be unlocked, essentially what that user sees on the first run is a quarter of the fun. If that puts it below the fun threshold to play it the first time, there'll be no replay to find that extra stuff either.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @04:36AM (#32095410)

    Agreed. And besides, the "replay" value is greater then you haven't actually seen a game through to the end. And losing interest half way down a 60 hour game isn't necessarily criticism, I just don't have the attention span of a turtle.

    For instance, I loved Oblivion and played it through to the end quite quickly. Despite having lots of fond memories, and considering it the greatest gaming experience ever, I can't bring myself to spend that much time on it again though - mostly cause I feel I've seen it all and it doesn't make sense to go through it all again.

    On the other hand, I didn't make it through Fallout 3 yet. I've played the first half (or so, don't know really) several times, and then I just get distracted by other stuff and forget about it. It still has more appeal for a new installation though - I'm well able to enjoy the content I already know quite well, cause I know there's some new stuff lurking at the end.

  • Right (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @04:59AM (#32095536) Journal

    How is the weather on your planet?

    Because games have becoming shorter and shorter. Have they become cheaper?

  • by bluesatin ( 1350681 ) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @06:07AM (#32095806)

    I think what they're trying to get at is to remove all the rubbish that doesn't need to be in the game, and to a certain extent I agree.

    A lot of my favourite games have been made fairly recently and are short but sweet, the two that stick out in my head being Braid and Portal.

    Sure they're not 'simple' challenge wise, but they keep the aim of the game simple and to the point; not only that but they actually force you to change the way you think. I adore watching people play Braid and Portal just because you can see how they struggle until something finally clicks and they start thinking outside of the box.

  • Not I... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jaysyn ( 203771 ) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @06:21AM (#32095866) Homepage Journal

    I don't want simpler games. I want games as complex & rich as they were back in 1995, i.e. Master of Magic.

  • by mad_minstrel ( 943049 ) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @06:22AM (#32095874)
    It's true that absolute openness is, at least right now, impossible. But there have been many games that have given the players much more freedom, like the original Fallouts. Meanwhile Oblivion and Fallout 3 are open only in the sense that you can go where you like and complete quests in random order. Even if you do get a choice from time to time, it has no real consequences.
  • by DJRumpy ( 1345787 ) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @07:47AM (#32096268)

    I would suggest they stick more to the Blizzard style, like the methods used with Diablo, and Diablo 2. D1 was a relatively quick 16-20 hours if you trolled every square inch of the map to the end. D2 was much bigger than D1, but didn't suffer from the larger scope. There were almost no useless 'side quests' as everything was focused on the main story in some way. They did none of the 'go here and collect # of X and return to Y'. There have been very few games that I've finished over the last 10 years due to either a weak/no story line, or the game trying to be to open-ended, or simply because they sucked. They focus so much on creating huge environments, that it gets more than a little tedious to go through it all. By the time you've hit a quater of it, you pretty much have nothing left to discover except for some new scenery.

    That said, I've run across a few exceptions. Half Life 2 (great story line). I've played it a few times through. I also recently started playing Dragon Age (Bioware []). It's got a pretty hefty amount of those side quests, but they tend to resolve themselves without you doing much to work for them. I don't mind them accepting them and if they get solved great, and if not, no worries). The map layouts tend to allow you to resolve them just as part of your normal progression through the map and I've noticed that many tend to showcase certain uses for skills that you might not have considered (haven't cracked the manual). On the plus side, it allows a fairly free story line, with your choice of what order you want to solve the major plot points, and what side you want to be on, so they get points for that as well. They also ditched the huge world map environments that I was used to seeing in Sacred, and trips between them are without all the tedious 'hiking'. When you get to specific 'areas', the maps expand to a much larger sub-areas that are again broken down by more sub-areas that aren't shown unless you opt, or are forced to go there.

    That is another important part to my way of thinking. If they try too hard to be 'free and open' as far as story line, you end up lost as to what to do or where to go next because the game provides no direction other than 'talk to blahblah' and that typically prompts a "Who the hell is 'blahblah and why can't I find him/her?". Dragon Age fortunately has a strong enough story line that even paying a minimal amount of attention will get you there and they clearly mark the target of a particular question on the map, although they don't show you how to get there.

    Haven't finished this one yet, although it's been good enough for me to stop 3/4ths of the way through and create a new character out of curiosity and that's saying a lot. About my only major complaint is that it tries almost too hard for a story line, and ends up being a little heavy on dialogue. Fortunately you can just skip it with the escape key.

    I have to wonder if a lot of these studios every play the entire finished product from start to finish. I suspect if they had a little more perspective of the entire game, we wouldn't see such a high failure rate in regards to games not being finished. I suspect they play their little component areas or specific parts of the project and think it's great, but rolled into the rest of it, they dont' realize just how tedious, boring, repetitive, or how difficult the entire game can get.

  • Re:Completion .... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @09:37AM (#32097168)

    As an older gamer, I find I'm unwilling to invest the time to learn vastly-complicated amounts of keyboard commands, keep track of mountains of inventory, and go through all sorts of arcane an counter-intuitive actions to complete a goal.
    I recall looking at a copy of a contempory-warfare jet sim, and realizing there were something like 5 pages of keyboard commands.... Too much for my creaky old brain.

    That's why I've typically liked WWII sims, the weapons are straightforward and in online games it becomes a matter of tactics and individual skill.

    I'd love to see a really "open" RPG with a first-person POV and realistic combat. I thought Morrowind was great fun; it's primary failing being that once you started to obtain some serious skill levels and toys, you became almost godlike.

  • by socrplayr813 ( 1372733 ) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @12:29PM (#32100070)

    Mod parent up. It's not about complexity. It's about time and interest. You can make a ton of content, but if it doesn't suck you in (or it's too long), of course people won't finish it.

    I have a fair amount of free time (if I care to make the time) to play games and I found the same thing with Dragon Age and other games. I never did see the ending of that. As interesting as it was, I got bored with the rinse and repeat battles. Pretty much every aspect of the game was great. I loved the complexity, the story, everything, except some of the battles were poorly balanced and it just took too damn long. I even restarted several times to try out different character builds, classes, etc, but the game dragged so much in the middle/end that I eventually shelved it.

    Take the KOTOR games for example. Maybe those don't quite have the complexity of Dragon Age, but they do offer a ton of customization options for the characters and combat. I've replayed both of them several times because I can get into them and enjoy them, and be done with them in a reasonable amount of time.

    Now consider the Civilization series or similar... There's not even a story, but I've lost probably literally years of my life to those games. Games can potentially take ages to finish, depending on your settings, but everything builds from my decisions and goes at my pace. The decisions can be wonderfully complex, but are still accessible.

    Now that I think about it, it seems to boil down to how you're defining complexity. Character/civilization choices and progression, battles/puzzles/whatever that require thought and effort... these are 'good' complexity, things that make the game interesting and fun. Piles of [essentially meaningless] quests drag out the conclusion until I get bored and give up. Class-specific content and hidden content make me feel like I'm missing out on the game and make it feel like work, unlocking/finding everything. Yeah, I want to feel like I accomplished something by building my character, winning battles, etc. However, if I want to feel like I put in 40 hours to get a pat on the back at the end, I'll get another job.

    Make it fun, interesting, and complex, but let me finish in a reasonable amount of time. If you get slammed because you're not providing enough 'value' to the customers, drop the price. You didn't spend quite as much time and money adding 100 extra 'run here, kill 5 x' quests, so give me that money back. I'll love you for it. I can't be the only one.

    The inane ramblings above are my opinion. If you disagree, by all means reply. I don't need your mod points, but I'm very interested in what people have to say about this stuff.

  • by centuren ( 106470 ) on Wednesday May 05, 2010 @04:24PM (#32103888) Homepage Journal

    If I'm playing a game with a storyline and a quest, I want the gameplay to be tight, focused on the storyline, and with minimum to no distractions or side quests. I play those games for the story, I don't want to wander around lost or go off and do other things- I want the story, and I want a well written plotline engaging and long enough to be worth the game with nothing else tacked on.

    I won't disagree with your interest in well-written stories, but the thing about side quests and unmarked quests is that they are optional. I can understand your stance perfectly, but I like a game to have optional exploration -- a lot of it. You can play Fallout 3 from Vault 101 to Megaton to GNR to RC to the Jefferson Memorial to Vault 112 and keep going until the game is over, but you'll miss out on chatting with Harold, finding Rockopolis, rigging an election in a shack, and so much more.

    I look for storylines mainly in RPGs and for an RPG to work, I need to have some space with my character that isn't in the "tunnel of events" that so ofter describes how I feel about the main quest line. Video games tell stories in which you have limited control over your character, which presents a unique dilemma: you might pick a profession, allot personality traits, select gear, make limited decisions that reflect on your personality in largely insignificant ways, but, in the end, you're going to end up fighting the same final boss and saving the world. The more is taken up by the main quest, the more events for your character are scripted, and more and more of the decisions you have to make can only take you in the one direction.

    Side quests and exploration free you from that problem, even if just a little. You can succeed, or you can fail. You can be a hero, or a bastard. Since they don't affect the ability to complete the game, they create more room to play your character and interact with the in-game world. I don't consider such things distractions. In my mind, being able to wander into towns that have things going on that aren't tied to some destiny of mine makes the story all the better.

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