About Challenge in Games…

I think I should start again with some kind of personal definition of what a game is.

In my personal view, a game is an activity during which the player is taught several concepts within a simulated environment. As the learning process goes on (which is by itself a challenge and quite rewarded by our brains), several challenges are presented to the player in order to test how well he masters what he was taught, and passing these challenges are often presented with rewards as an incentive for the player to go on with the process.

As you can see in my definition above, the word “challenge” is built right into the very definition of a game. Learning new things is challenging by itself, but then a game would also present us more “exams” to test our skills and mastering of what we have learned so far. As the player masters some concepts, he’s brain will no longer reward him for practicing those because it is no longer something challenging and so the player will crave for something brand new to learn.

This leads us to a problem that most modern games suffer of: lack of “originality”, here viewed as the inability of a brand new game, never seen before, to present any kind of challenge to a player because its underlying mechanics have been mastered by the player long ago, in other games of the same “genre”. Let us pick up “shooters” as an example. Usually players will remember very well the first shooter they played since it was a brand new experience for them, very exciting and very rewarding because they were learning something new. After that they tried maybe ten or more shooters and each time a new one was tried their satisfaction for playing the game was diminished, down to the refusal of their brain to play anything close to a shooter for more than 5 minutes or so because it’s boring.

However, we know some game genres usually eat up a lot of money in development, so the companies can’t risk to innovate too much on the previous concepts and they continue to address a certain fan base for non risky profits. Now I will try to switch the focus of this article to indie devs and low budget titles like casual games.

Most of the indie casual games that hit the stores, especially in the mobile market, are just clones of previously successful titles. Which is quite disturbing, because it is the same as the developer saying to his clients: “here is another game just like the one before that will bore you to death, but you should buy it anyway to support indie development, even if you only play it once”. The market is full of infinity runners, physics based shooters ala angry birds and physics based construction puzzles. To make things even worst, the games are built especially with little challenge in them, making them basically a rail coaster that can no longer be called a game, just an application used by players to kill spare time without any reward from it whatsoever.

The most worrying result is that casual players get used to what a game is by playing such no brainers, and then they expect “real games” to be as easy as what they previously experienced. I noticed this during the beta testing of Wisps: The Redeeming. The non-gamer testers would continuously complaining about the difficulty of the game and the fact that they are forced to learn and perform certain actions within the game. Accumulated, these actions ARE the game, if you take those out there is no game to be played at all. By complaining, they only prove why they aren’t gamers in the first place, because they have no satisfaction from playing games at all and every artificial challenge imposed by the game is immediately rejected.

Because of the competition in the gaming market, developers are forced to get as many people as they can to play their games, and need resulted in what they call “drawing more and more previously non-gaming people to play games” but what in fact is “making the games non-game so non-gaming people can buy and use them” (notice the replacement of “play” with “use” was intentional). Therefore I want to make a call to my fellow indie devs out there, please make your games challenging even if they are wearing the “casual” label and educate our players about what a game really is instead of reducing the challenge factor and transforming them into simple time-killer apps.

Thank you for reading, please let me know what your opinions are on the matter.

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  • Artwark

    I agree with you at some point. However there are many things you’re wrong about such as casual players playing no brainer games which is false as there are many games that are brainers but are casual. Example for this is the Professor Layton Series.

    Also it doesn’t really matter whether developers focus on casual or hardcore. It all depends on which console/handheld the games are released for. Braid was released on Xbox 360 and PC which is the reason why the game is known. Another game called Cave story was first released on PC for free. But as the game became popular, it was remade in DS, PSP, 3DS and many handhelds. It is considered one of the best indie games ever made. And it also matters on how well the game is made. 

    The truth is, its hard for indie people to get their game noticed because they don’t work on video game companies we know or that they don’t release it on the consoles/handhelds that we all use.

    • http://twitter.com/mcozma Mihai Cozma

      That is an interesting point of view, but, as you say, those platforms are pretty closed for most indies. 

      So setting that in stone (for ex: I personally cannot get a game on XBLA because I don’t have the workforce, money or time to do it), I think, as stated in the article, that  many developers make dumb games just to sell to a more casual audience to the extent of actually developing something that is on the same par with normal applications that have been “gamified”.

      • Artwark

        Yeah but they somehow make money right?

        Also are you more of indie developer? You seem to insult the way the indies make games. The one good thing about indie gaming is that you are free to do even the biggest mistake unlike in working in companies where it can be very risky. That is why I wouldn’t recommend anyone working under companies like EA because the only thing I’ve seen EA do so far is to acquire other companies and settle with it. Or that they follow the same formula of games they make like FIFA.