Video games have been around for decades, so why are there still so many duds?
Everybody loves a good game, especially Nokia Lumia lovers, so why is it, that after decades of gaming, there are still bad ones around? When I’ve taught game design, one of my approaches with students has been to force them to play bad games in order to learn what not to do with their own projects. Thanks to challenges like this we’ve unearthed seven sins pretty much guaranteed to make gamers rip their hair out in frustration.
1. Inaccessible controls
There is a thin line between the satisfaction a player gets from being able to manoeuvre a character, effortlessly around, and the frustration a player feels when the video game controller does not yield to his command.
Inaccessible controls remains a key reason why many people do not get into video games as a hobby. In a soccer game, a chipped shot might be explained as ‘L1 + B’, a form of gamerspeak that implies finger-twisting to the extreme. Enough said.
2. Lack of or bad tutorial
The first video game ever, Pong, managed to encapsulate it’s core idea into one lucid instruction: ‘avoid missing ball for high score”. Few games are as simple nowadays, which means that game developers cannot trust the player to immediately grasp the basics.
Enter the tutorial, a sequence where the game holds the player’s hand through the core gameplay concepts. Tutorial design demands the game developers to take a step back from what they eat for breakfast, and step into the shoes of a player who has not touched the game the developer has been working on for months or even years. Thus, a tutorial that fails to suck the player in, persists as a design challenge.
3. Too steep difficulty curve
A good game is supposed to evolve its challenges as the player becomes better at tackling them – this keeps the game interesting. However, it is easy for a game developer to lose sight of how an average player will cope with its challenges. This often leads to the difficulty of the game ramping up too fast. Subsequently, the game ends up frustrating or intimidating the player to the point of quitting. Sound familiar?
4. Lack of feedback to the player
The gist of interactivity is in the simple loop of input and output; one makes a move and sees what comes out of it. Therefore giving feedback to the player for his actions is of utmost importance to keep them engaged – if the game fails to do that, it’s probably not much fun.
Video games are – or at least should be – great at this, because they are essentially systems built to provide visceral, immediate feedback. That’s why they are called video games, something to engage our perception. Imagine a game of Bejeweled where matching diamonds into rows of three would not involve any kind of gratifying visuals to indicate your success. Lesser game, no?
5. Optimal strategy for winning
Part of the magic of Angry Birds is how it simulates physics: how the birds and the pigs and the building blocks behave together in predictable yet unpredictable manner. Let’s imagine for a while that the bird physics would work like this: Each time one maximises the slingshot power, the optimal result – level instantly cleared – would be reached. That would be called an optimal strategy, and it does not a fun game make.
6. Lack of meaningful choices
Famous game designer Sid Meier, of Civilization fame, once defined a game as ‘a series of interesting choices’. His games definitely reflect that.
Yet, if one finds a game where the choices presented to the player produce only superficially different outcomes, you are most probably looking at a bad game. Let’s imagine playing Tetris without being able to rotate the blocks – lesser choices to improve the outcome; lesser fun factor.
7. Unrewarding, unclear goals
When I focus fully on kicking my buddy’s ass, or completing a level in a video game, I engage in a fundamentally goal-driven activity. Part of its pleasure derives from struggling towards well-defined goals, such as ‘avoid missing ball for high score’ or ‘save the princess’.
Furthermore, good game goals are clearly isolated wholes that are pleasurable to strive for. This is not always the case with our everyday life: It’s hard to find romance in taking out the trash. When a game fails in setting it’s goals with clarity and imagination, they appear more like chores.
Each of these can be a real pain, but which gets you riled up the most? Let us know in the comments below.