Sunday, August 10, 2008

Depth of Interest

I know what it means to play a game for a long time. I currently have at least 634 hours of Wold o Warcraft. That's a lot of game time. On my character Akoris, my level 70 Paladin has about 20 Days of playing time. That is 480 hours of playing. It really says something about the game when it can hold interest for that long. But why do games strive to hold our interest for such a long time? For a game like WoW, there is a monetary incentive for it: the longer people play, the more subscription fees they collect. Yet that isn't the case with a game like Oblivion, which an entirely offline, single player game. There were times when Donkey Kong, a 2D platformer, was the pinnacle of gaming, being fun and easy to pick up.

Why do we strive for depth in our games? It isn't about just shooting people over and over and over. People enjoy novelty in games, which is why Geometry Wars can be fun. It is certainly different to fly around shooting shapes. Yet, that doesn't remain fun. The game eventually introduces different modes in the game, different guns and more shapes and more enemies. Yet that game looses it fun after a while because it is always the same. That is where WoW gets its fun. There is always more. More areas, more spells, more levels, more dungeons, more fights, more gear and more quests. Is this truly fun,. or is all this new stuff just renewed novelty? Is depth just renewed novelty? Just an effort to give us new stuff all the time? Maybe depth is just an excuse to not come up with something fun, just give us so much that we think what we do is fun. We are constantly impressed by all the new stuff that we are getting that we fail to realize that what we did wasn't fun. 

Depth might be good for players who really want to play and for people who are veterans to the game, but does it stop some players from playing? WoW is about to release the new expansion pack Wrath of the Lich King which raises the level cap to 80. 80! That is quite a milestone. For players at the current level cap of 70, that is only 10 more levels. But to a newbie, that is 80 levels. Blizzard did cut the experience required to get from 20-60, a process that seemed to have been largely ignored by the game's designers which is evident is the amount of ingenuity put in. But that is still a long ways to go and a lot of things to do. Is the amount of depth in a game like WoW a good thing or would it scare off new players? Team Fortress 2 is running into this problem. It gave players unlockables which rewarded players for laying well. But, all these new weapons and perks give them an unfair advantage over their lesser experienced counterparts. Could these barriers to entry be a reason that a game like Counterstrike:Source is so successful? It is still being played in record numbers today, with thousands of servers still up and tournaments being held around the globe. The money system in that game allows players to buy better guns, but that resets after every game. Pros and novices start out with the exact same amount of money in the beginning. Will Team Fortress 2 still be as popular 4 years from now? Or will these new unlockables keep piling up so much that new people will not want to start playing and experienced players will stop playing because things stop being new.


marchhare14 said...

I reckon that this particular problems stems somewhat from the whole idea of a commonly experienced RPG. I mean, think about it, RPG don't reward you for skill, they reward you for the time you put into it. Thus, even putting "soft" RPG elements into a shooter, such as TF2, eventually causes an uncomfortable experience for new gamers.

Games that have depth, however, are ideal for the one-player experience. If a game is good enough that I want to play it through once, that's a good start already. If I want to play through TWICE, or perhaps 42 times *cough*KOTOR/FABLE*cough*, then they must be really good games! Or I must have ADD. On the other hand, there are games like Portal and BioShock which pull you through the first time with such vigor you know that replaying them would almost ruin the magic of the initial experience.

Anonymous said...

I believe that the whole prospect of "depth" is more or less a matter of interpretation. Of course people have varying views on which games to like, their playability, etc. However, does such an interpretation actually alter the game itself, or merely an understanding of it? If one looks deeply enough, they may find that the same analog playing can be found in a game such as Madden '08 or Fable. Does that mean that a blending of styles then occurs? Do people blog about seeing Favre or Garcia running around with a sword hitting werewolves? Who knows, and realistically, who cares? Depth in video games goes only as deep as those willing to voice an opinion, or interpretation. Depth is truly just a description of one's ability to realize what the hell is going on with what their doing; this applies to life as well.

Anonymous said...

Heya Curtis,
Nice blog. In gaming, my opinion, for the most part is that depth = replay value. It's not necessarily indicative of how much fun we have the first time through so much as it is how much fun we'll have over the long haul.

For instance, alot of Wii games right now are alot of fun, but they are so shallow that you are pretty much done with them after you beat them. Or they may have some depth, but are ONLY fun when playing with friends.

If one is to spend 50-70 bucks on a game, it should be deep enough to at the least be worth playing again imo. The thing is, the idea of gaming depth seems to be undergoing a transformation. Whereas in the past, it was games like Chrono Trigger, or Super Mario 64 (long, single player games) that everyone valued most.

Take a game like Call of Duty 4 though. The single player game is short and some would argue that it's not even worth playing through the first time. But as we know, CoD 4 isn't about that, it's about the online multiplayer. A large portion of developers seem to be moving toward online multiplayer as the primary focus. If the game as played alone, by ones self is short and depthless, yet the online multiplayer makes for endless combinations of experience it is equally valuable as the 80 hour RPG, or 30 hour platformer.

However, a problem I see as we move in this direction is that it will be much easier for a developer to create a 10 hour single player game, set up a nice online experience and call it a day than to put years and money into classic RPG's, etc. In the short term, it may be nice for some, but it will make the market even more specialized/less flexible/likely to survive. Case in point? Sony through the PS3 has been for the most part ignoring classic RPG gamers so far. Yes, alot of people are waiting for Final Fantasy XIII, but by the time it comes out, they will have waited 3 years.

Meanwhile Microsoft through the Xbox 360 has been pumping out RPG's left and right. Both consoles have started rather slowly in Japan, but the PS3 was supposed to dominate there, and the 360 wasn't supposed to sell at all. Now all of a sudden, 360's are selling out in Japan due to Namco's Tales of Vesperia.

Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft all seem to be very in touch with certain respective elements of the market, and completely out of touch with others. It's worrisome for the future imo. Between this, and the way casual games are selling on Wii, many types of games that we enjoy may suffer.

cwew said...

who is this anonymous person!?!?!? I can't figure it out....