In my game and simulation design class, we were having a discussion on why players quit playing games early. We read this article on gamasutra, and then today this IGN article happened to get posted on slashdot.
I could go on at length on the topic and the issues it touches on, but in the interest of brevity I’ll just post the following quick points:
- This “quitting is bad” thing is something of a problem of perception. Until recently, game consoles weren’t online, and there was no feedback to tell game developers whether players were finishing games, or how many were quitting before they completed a game. It’s a big presumption to assume that quitting is a problem. How many “quit” playing before publishers had the intrusive capability to know?
- There’s quitting, and then there’s quitting. Videogames are, to most people, disposable distractions. For a few, like me, they may be an lifelong pursuit. But even so, specific titles rarely achieve the sort of status that games like Chess, Checkers, Go, Poker, Bridge, and so on have achieved. People may “quit” after they “beat” a videogame, but it’s still quitting. Chess is going on strong for milennia. Even so, there’s probably many more people who’ve played Chess and quit, than who never quit playing chess. What’s that got to do with whether chess is a successful game?
- Is this only a problem for games that have endings? Not all games have endings! There’s no end to Pac Man or Defender or Asteroids. Well, Pac Man has a killscreen, but it’s a bug not a designed feature, and it exists because no one ever thought a player would ever be good enough to reach it. Is everyone who never reached the 256th level of pac man a quitter? I hardly think so. But yet, games have their life in the market, and most of them have nowhere near the success of pac man. Whether they have an ending or not, people stop playing them, at least enough for them to no longer be worth the retail shelf space they take up, or the floor space in an arcade.
- On the other hand, this is what keeps game designers employed. People get tired of the old games and quit playing them, but they want new games to play, and they pay us to make them. If we created the ultimate game somehow, the only game anyone would ever need to play, we’d be done. So, quitting is in some sense essential. We just don’t want it to be too early, and we definitely don’t want to turn people off so that they won’t buy again. We want to make our money, and we want to create demand for more. And ideally that demand should be for something new, so we can keep working and make more money.
- Whether players quit and buy something new, or if they keep playing and spending their money on what is already out there, the industry doesn’t care, as long as they’re making money. The industry is interested in quitting only insofar as they want to analyze the phenomenon in order to maximize profit by having the optimal player-quit strategy. Depending on your revenue model, you may think of quitting very differently. Are you selling a game for a quarter a play? A CD-ROM for $60? A monthly subscription? It matters.
- Defining what constitutes “completion” is also a problem. I noted an extremely low level of completion for Guitar Hero III. What is completion? Is it playing every song? Beating the final boss? Beating the final boss on Expert difficulty? Unlocking all of the unlockable stuff? What about what the player wants? I’m never going to be good enough at Guitar Hero to play much past Hard. I’m satisfied with this. I am never going to play some song that I dislike, just because happens to be packaged with the game. I don’t really care about unlockable stuff — usually the rewards to unlockables isn’t worth the endless repetition and perfection required to gain the achievements. By that time the fun has long since worn off. I’m not obsessive-compulsive, and I have a life, so most likely I’m not going to “complete” everything. Maybe I am not interested in the single-player mode for an FPS, and only want to play deathmatch. Did I quit? Or did I get the game I wanted and played it the way I wanted? *I* decide when I’m finished with a game. The designer may hope that I’ll play every last thing that they put into the game, but it’s stupid to expect that I will, or that I would even want to.
- If I walk away and leave something “on the table”, it doesn’t mean that the game designers failed, it just means that there was something in the game that I didn’t care for — but perhaps many others who played the game did. I worry that industry analysts will stupidly look at completion statistics and say “Only 20% bothered to beat the game, so cut the final boss budget by 80%”. Or, “Players spend 90% of their time in FPS playing multiplayer, so let’s skip the single-player entirely. No more immersive stories.”
- If I quit because I was incapable of winning, to me that’s not a problem either. Having things in the game that few people accomplish is as much a mark of a game’s challenge as it is whether they designed a game that people want to play. I don’t believe that every person should be able to beat every game they play. I want a game to challenge me, and I want it occasionally to find my limits. If I can always beat everything, it just tells me that they’re not challenging me enough.
- There are games that I have beat that I still play. There are games that I didn’t beat, but played a ton. There are games that I still play to this day. Each of these categories includes great games. I’ve played Mega Man 2 and Metroid countless times, and I still enjoy it because of the great music and awesome gameplay. I played Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! and 1943 endlessly, trying to beat the final boss, and never managed to do it. They’re insanely hard, and I swore and cried at times. I loved every minute of it. There are games like Tetris, Ms. Pac Man, Asteroids, Robotron: 2084, and others, that I don’t think I’ll ever tire of playing. I may not play them frequently, but they’re perfectly-balanced, timeless classics that I don’t think will ever die.
- I’ve heard players complain about games not being worth $60 because they only get a few hours of enjoyment out of them — many of them first person shooters with short single-player mode stories. Here’s a game that people DID beat, and they’re complaining that it was too short. Completing the game, they still quit (didn’t re-play), feeling unsatisfied. That’s just as big a problem as the game that people didn’t complete.