Finding of the week #320

The Importance of a Good Mid-Game

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 importance of providing a good mid-game to keep players excited over the course of the entire game.

The gameplay of a computer game can be separated into three distinct phases: early-game, mid-game, and late-game. During the early stages of a computer game, a player mostly has to learn the different game mechanics as well as the game controls. Also, players only have access to a few game mechanics, resources as well as technologies or skills. In this way, the early phase of a computer game often is very challenging as players have to find a way to overcome challenges with limited resources only.

When transitioning to the mid-game, players have gained access to most resources and the majority of the available game mechanics as well as technologies or skills. In this phase, players are challenged to improve their effectiveness and efficiency in their gameplay. For instance, when playing Factorio, players are challenged to transition from their first preliminary base to a very efficient base that has a high output of materials needed for the late-game.

Finally, once reaching the late-game, players have access to all game mechanics and technologies or skills. In this stage, players benefit from the work they put into the first two stages of the gameplay as they now can rapidly produce needed elements or tackle the most difficult challenges. In case of Factorio, a player can set up new production lines with ease as they mostly have access to an ever increasing number of produced goods. Thus, the late-game is the phase in which anything is possible and the potentially most epic events will take place.

As a result, players are challenged to find their way into the game during the early-game and to overcome the most difficult challenges during the late-game. During these two phases, players experience the greatest fun when playing a game. However, the mid-game often is connected to less exciting moments as players do not need to carefully think about their next steps anymore but also cannot tackle the highest challenges of the game. Thus, it is critical to provide players with some fun moments or clear tasks during the mid-game to keep the gameplay exciting.

Recently, I experienced a very good mid-game as I played Astroneer. I already researched most of the available technologies and visited all celestial bodies at least once. At this point, I thought that I will have an easier time from now on. However, as I wanted to transition to end-game technologies, I realized that producing them requires a lot of different resources that only can be found on a few planets. Thus, setting up bases on the surface of different celestial bodies suddenly became important.

Astroneer turned the mid-game into a very exciting phase by challenging me with a completely different objective. Until this point, I merely was exploring the solar system and bringing needed resources back to my base on the homeplanet. With the sudden need to set up bases on other celestial bodies, the entire gameplay changed and resulted in a high excitement on my side.

By changing a player’s focus from one aspect of the gameplay to a completely different aspect when transitioning from the early-game to the mid-game, the gameplay can remain exciting despite having gained access to the majority of the game mechanics. This can be achieved by providing a different kind of gameplay for each of the three phases. While this might be a challenging game design task, it is very beneficial for the overall enjoyment of the computer game.

In conclusion, by providing different levels of gameplay for each of the three core phases of a computer game, each individual phase not only feels different, but also increases a player’s overall enjoyment.