Finding of the week #241

Overall Gameplay Balance

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about the need for a good overall balance of a computer game to ensure that the targeted audience stays motivated for the entire playthrough.

Conditions for victory and defeat are depending on a game’s gameplay and overall challenge. While computer games that are designed to be unforgiving and challenging can have very strict victory conditions, other games that challenge players to take risks often need more relaxed rules or the possibility to make up for a bad performance.

The former kind of computer games often gives players plenty of time to analyze the current situation and think about their next steps to overcome a particular challenge. In such a case, constantly facing a potential defeat contributes to the game’s overall atmosphere and increases the importance of carefully planning each individual step. As a result, players feel very rewarded when they beat a challenge without experiencing strong penalties. For instance, XCOM 2 challenges players with difficult missions but avoids restricting them with time constraints thus allowing for an in-depth analysis of the current situation.

The latter kind of computer games normally creates a fast-paced gameplay that challenges the overall reaction time and game-specific sets of skills. While playing these games, players often have to decide whether they like to play it safe or give it everything thus accepting the risk to lose a game. However, playing at the own skill level only is a valid option when the game provides enough chances to make up for a potential bad performance. For example, a racing game normally implements championships that span over multiple races thus providing the chance to make up for a very bad race.

However, when the conditions for victory and defeat are not matching the gameplay, players can easily lose interest or motivation to play the game. The reason for this is that users are then either bored or frustrated as well-thought decisions are not needed or taking risks is too dangerous.

For instance, DiRT 4 challenges players with rally and circuit racing but rarely offers championships that have enough events to make it worth to take the risk and push as hard has possible. As a result, the game’s career mode fails to motivate players to be aggressive as they rarely can make up for a bad performance.

In sum, balancing also has to take into account how the overall gameplay is structured and what interests the targeted audience has.