Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 30, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 30, 2014
PR Newswire
View All
View All     Submit Event

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

Design Debate: Risky Rewards or Rewarding Risk?
by Josh Bycer on 04/10/13 02:05:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Today's post looks at difficulty and the subject of if games should reward people for continuing to play, or if the game itself should be its own reward.

Reprinted from my site: Game-Wisdom

It's been awhile since we've had a good old design debate. Game Difficulty is one of those terms that can spawn any number of topics. For today's talk on difficulty I want to focus on one area that has seen heated debates on both sides: Should difficulty reward players?

Path of Exile

Putting the Reward in "Risk vs. Reward":

One of the oldest expressions around would have to be: "With great risk comes great reward" and that has become a motto of some of the most interesting games in recent years.

The World Ends With You is one of my all time favorite games and it featured several ways for the player to affect the difficulty. The player can change the overall difficulty level of the game at anytime outside of combat, this in turn determines what kind of loot can be dropped.

The player can also control the drop rate by lowering their max health and finally they can further increase the bonuses by fighting more than one enemy group at a time.

By giving the player all these ways to fine tune the difficulty to their specifications it rewards players who take the big risks, while not hitting them over the head with intense difficulty out of the gate. More importantly is that it provides and in game benefit and reward for making the game harder, which can be a good motivator for players to learn the systems.

Games that continue to provide rewards for playing are some of the most replay-able games out there. Heck, the ARPG genre's playability is built on risk vs. rewards. With each new difficulty level, the enemies become stronger and more varied, while the loot gets better.

After all, there is a reason why people kept playing Diablo 2 or Path of Exile, Diablo 3... Not so much but that's a story for another post.

The other positive of giving the player control over difficulty is that it can help make a game more accessible. For many gamers, being hit over the head with difficulty while they're trying to learn it can be a huge turn off.

While motivating players can be a huge boon, if the designer is going for a specific design, some feel that the challenge should be all the motivation needed.

Mountain Climbing Game Design:

Giving the player reasons to play a game at a higher difficulty level may inspire those to learn it, but for gamers looking to be tested, they don't need any other reason.

A simple fact is that whenever designers have to implement multiple difficulty levels that requires more time spent fine tuning and play testing. This can lead to difficulty levels that are just imbalanced: either so easy that it renders the game boring, or so difficult that no one wants to play.

Path of Exile
Games like Path of Exile constantly push the player towards greater challenges with the promise of better loot.

In some cases, raising the difficulty can make the game less appealing due to limitations in the design.

In strategy games like Civilization, raising the difficulty will only make the AI's strategy better to a point. After which the game will become harder by giving the AI more advantages to use and not simply playing the game better.

For many gamers, it can be annoying to have to play a game at the easy level first before getting to the hard stuff, or when the phrase "the real game begins at X" is used. Many people complained about how easy Diablo 3's starting difficulty was and how the game didn't really hit its stride until the 2nd or third play-through.

While games that give the player reasons to play at a higher difficulty can be very replay-able, games balanced around one difficulty are some of the most unique, high quality games around.

Both Demon's Souls and Dark Souls are regarded as two of the best games this generation. Neither of which gave the player any way to alter the difficulty and the games are challenging from the start. In this regard, they are well balanced and tailored around the player learning and mastering the mechanics and not being tweaked to artificially raise or lower the difficulty curve.

For many hard core gamers, the thrill of being challenged and overcoming it can be all the motivation needed. On the Game-Wisdom Podcast, we sat down with Chris Park from Arcen Games to talk about A Valley Without Wind 2 and game design.

During the chat we got on the subject of difficulty and he talked about how with their audience they don't need to add additional rewards for higher difficulty. Since their fans are more on the hardcore side, they are already more inclined to raise the difficulty of the game just for the challenge and accomplishment, over any major in-game reward.

Path of Exile
But in a game like Dark Souls, the title pushes the player to improve with the real reward being more challenges to conquer.

That's why they like to set the default difficulty of their games more on the easy side, so that first time players aren't overwhelmed and they can be assured that their core fans would bump the difficulty up to be challenged.

Rogue-Likes are another good example, as many of them don't feature difficulty levels and are about challenge. The thrill of playing them is testing the player to see how far they can go in the game.

In this regard, motivating the player to test themselves with harder difficulties can provide a more meaningful reward, as it is intrinsic to the player. They're not looking for an achievement or better gear, but to prove to themselves that they can handle it.

For myself, I'm torn between the two as I'm a fan of games on both sides. I already talked about my love of The World Ends With You and Path of Exile. On the other side I loved Demon's Souls and Dark Souls and Ninja Gaiden Black is one of my favorite games.

Now, Ninja Gaiden Black is a weird choice as the developers did change the game with each difficulty level. But the game was primarily built around testing the player and seeing how far they could go.

And with that, we're now at the part of the debate where I turn the spotlight on you. Is it better to reward the player to keep playing the game, or should playing the game be all the motivation needed?

Related Jobs

DeNA Studios Canada
DeNA Studios Canada — Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Analytical Game Designer
Blizzard Entertainment
Blizzard Entertainment — Irvine, California, United States

Senior User Experience Designer, Irvine
Blizzard Entertainment
Blizzard Entertainment — Irvine, California, United States

Senior User Experience Designer, San Francisco
Avalanche Studios
Avalanche Studios — New York, New York, United States

UI Artist/Designer


Jason Cuffley
profile image
This is a tricky question and probably should be analyzed by physicist but I would say as a gamer. I enjoy being rewarded to keep playing.

Luis Guimaraes
profile image
Risky Rewards mechanics are the most pure form of meaningful choice in games. That's specifically because the risk is real (not a scripted "risk" scene where nothing can actually happen to the player), the rewards are intrinsic (if not, something is wrong), and the choice is implicit instead of hand-held (unless you screw it's magic with your tutorial).

Alfa Etizado
profile image
I think it'd be better if games didn't lock away content from the player. Design the game to be as enjoyable as possible for every player. You don't play in the highest difficulty, you miss out on some items that open up new gameplay possibilities, this isn't good.

But it is common to have secret characters, items, modes, etc locked away unless you do some hard thing in a game, not rarely these unlockables are some pretty fun stuff. Now why would you want to take something fun away from the player?

I understand the role of some locked items, like how little by little you get new items in a Zelda game, guiding the player and keeping the game fresh, but I don't see it as justifiable when it isn't something that's an essential part of the experience. I've seen people saying it's there so it keeps the player interested the game, but how many people even finish a game? You want the players to have a good time, not to force them to grind.

Frankly, I think every game should come with console commands, a flexible difficulty editor and a level select feature, even if the game isn't structured in levels. Don't stop the player from having fun with your game.

Alfa Etizado
profile image
Shouldn't playing the game itself be fun though? If a player needs an extra reward to keep playing, doesn't that mean the game experience is incomplete? Wouldn't it be better if from the start the player could enjoy all of the possible ways to experience the game? Let's leave it up to the player.

A player is entitled to all of the game's content because they bought the game. In my opinion easy mode is a larger compromise, it is deforming the ideal experience the designer came up with, but I'm okay with people messing with the game so it plays closer to what they want. Just remember that some PC games have modding and console commands which provide the player immense freedom. I can't say for most people but I know I'll play the game as it was designed before I start cheating, messing around with it.

Except New Vegas, which I modded extensively from the start based on my experiences with FO3, and I am 100% sure that made the game more enjoyable, not to mention that it allowed me to fix bugged quests.

There's nothing unreasonable in giving the player freedom to change the game. Many games have done that to impressive results, see the rise of the dota genre for that. If you trust your design, and if you trust you audience, you can trust that the player will follow the path you've created, the one that was your goal to create. But if the player doesn't, then who cares? Far as I know they'll be playing your game right.

What happens in games is like... a DVD that cannot be fastfowarded, that doesn't have scene selection. This actually diminishes replay value of the game. Still, if you really feel like people need something to do the harder stuff then hand them achievements.

Alfa Etizado
profile image
I just think that by assuming a reward is necessary, we accept that the experience is incomplete and needs an incentive to be played, an incentive that is more than the fun you get from playing the game. Playing the game is its own reward, so is getting good at it. We don't need to assume another reward is necessary, is what I want to show, because the experience is enough.

You buy a DVD you can watch whatever scene you want. Why you don't want the player to access what he wants? Would you call a book a toy because the reader can skip a chapter?

The point of asking the player to put some effort is so a challenge can exist. The challenge exists to be beaten, and that's all there is to it. BTW, I think that's a reductive way to look at games, since games aren't just about challenge.

But anyway, playing by the designer's rule is the point of the game, I agree with you. I even said that earlier, the developers craft a experience, something they want to show, people will want to see it the way devs meant it.

I just don't think it should be the only option, and I don't think there is a good reason to use game content as a reward for more content. As I said earlier, the content is its own reward.

See, there's no point in using unlockables. The truth is, it never comes into this reasoning:
The fact that it's a game carries with it the implication that you're gonna have to play by the designer's rules.
I don't think the developer should go out of their way to stop you, but I don't think they should go out of thier way to enable you, either.

If the unlockable is an extra mode, an extra character, is the unlockable really part of the main experience? Because by making it something that is locked away, it already isn't. It isn't because most players will not experience it, only a few that complete special tasks are going to see it.

The fact is, people create extra rewards to push players through the main experience. This comes back to my initial point about how we can assume this means the game is incomplete. Even worse is when devs create very annoying, irritating, pedantic tasks to act as keys for very enjoyable content in the game.

This unlockable/reward mentality is what creates terrible segments in otherwise fun games. Example, FFX has a monster arena with many unique and fun challenges. These challenges can't practically be tackled without complete certain ultimate weapons. To complete one of those, you need to dodge 100 lightning bolts in a row. Beating the challenge can be great for a few, but is the challenge itself something you'd consider good, as a game?

The only reason not to hand the player tons of freedom is so the developer doesn't have to bother creating the tools to allow it. However when it comes to taking content of the game and locking it away, there's no reason for it.

You can't play the hardest mode in Devil May Cry 3 unless you beat two other hard modes. I had to beat the game three times before I got to what I really wanted. Would it hurt to let me tackle it from day one? If I found it too frustrating I could play the other modes.

To get a special costume that makes you extremely powerful, and allow you to have fun in a different way, you need to beat the hardest mode. Wouldn't it have been nicer to let players have fun with that reward from the start? Way I see it, you're only giving the players more options to have fun. They'll beat the hardest mode because the hardest mode is a unique gameplay experience, this is enough.

BTW, DMC3 lets you do those two things from the start, playing the hardest mode and using the special costume. You just need to input a cheat code, something not every player will know of. How about this, "unlock all" in the option menu, it wouldn't hurt.

The choices of locking away a feature or make it available from the start take about as much effort. But many games work on an outdated mentality, designed on unquestioned convention.

Alfa Etizado
profile image
Each player has their way to go through a game. if I'm a DMC veteran, why do I have to put up with a mode that isn't engaging enough for me? In fact, I bought DMC3 and then DMC3 Ex Edition, IRC I couldn't use my DMC3 save, I was perfectly able to do the hardest difficult but couldn't.

If I could, I'd try out every God of War game on the toughest difficulty, but I need todo hard before I get that. God of War doesn't even let you use your upgrades when you start a new game.

Resident Evil 6 fortunately let me start it on Professional, I'm pretty sure it'd take me a good while before I had the patience for Professional if it had forced me to play on Hard first.

Enslaved is a game that only let me play on Hard before beating Normal. Normal was easy and boring, by the time it was over I was done with the game. Maybe if I had access to a harder difficulty from the start this wouldn't have happened and I would maybe had enjoyed it more.

Like I said, if the player doesn't feel up to the challenge, they'll change it. Oh and the harder modes in DMC3 are playable with zero upgrades.

Thing is, you know, the player has the option to bail out, how can you possibly justify restricting the player's option? Even if the mode is designed to be played with upgrades, how can you justify restricting it when you know it is the player's choice? Why would you want to restrict player choice in this situation?

Remember, the game itself is the reward. I don't think you can get that, so you insist that an extra reward is desirable. You ignore the result for most players, content going unused. Most people don't beat games. Check Steam for the % of players that don't even make it halfway through a game.

Now tell me this, why do people try to get higher scores in games like Tetris or Audiosurf? Why do players do speedruns? Why do players do self imposed challenges, like no sword on Legend of Zelda? Why do players try multiple builds, sometimes crappy builds, in a game like Diablo 2? Why do people play solitary or Minecraft? Why do people hunt achievements? Why do people replay RPGs that have no difficulty setting?

None of the things above give the player a tangible, in-game reward.

Players enjoy the challenge and knowing they've beaten it. People come up with their own challenges in games all the time, challenges that won't even net them any achievements. Even non-maniac players. Who hasn't ever restarted a segment a couple of times because they thought they could do better? People naturally try to improve and they naturally seek harder challenges, they just need to enjoy the game. Mastering, exploring a game is fun.

The idea that a reward is necessary is following the logic that people deserve something good for their effort, and that makes sense most of the times. Not in a game though. A game is not work, it is something people do for fun. Like I said many times, the game itself is the reward.

The special costume in DMC3 is a reward, but it didn't need to be one. It could've been an option to let the player experiment, have fun.

Locking away content is not beneficial, it just means something you've done will never be played by a majority of your players, something that could actually have made them play your game more. So what I say is that there's no good reason to lock away content, and give it to players who beat some other content. You are only restricting people.

And like I said earlier, the rationale that effort must be rewarded has lead many games towards creating unfun challenges. This has happened so many times, and it'll happen again for as long as people believe they need to prevent the player from using the coolest character unless they've proved they deserve it.

One of the things I dislike the most is when a game has story elements hidden behind a challenge. El Shaddai made me complete some boring mazes because I wanted to know more of the backstory.

If some little incentive is to be provided, be it in the shape of meaningless medals. I'll say that rewards have another use, which is to point players towards new ways of enjoying the game. Portal 2 does that wonderfully through achievements. It'd be better if everyone kept rewards at that, achievements.

So you know
The important point here is that there is no good reason not to reward players for completing tough challenges. Since there is no good reason not to, why not do it?

Do it, but don't use game content for that. Do it with achievements. Don't come up with an awesome as balls weapon and then force the player to beat your game three times before he has the cash to buy it (that's RE4).

Leave that awesome weapon out of the game, because it breaks the balance, but put a little option somewhere "activate awesome weapon. Disclaimer: this will disrupt the intended challenge". Done, everyone's happy. Stuff like that has been done many times anyway, through cheat codes. Everyone survived, no game was worse because of it, just like no game was worse because of modding or console commands. Every game was made better by those things.

Alfa Etizado
profile image
edit: feel free to ignore this lengthy reply and skip to the next one.

The DMC3 example doesn't really invalidate what happens in every other game. Also anybody can understand the concept of difficulty levels, people don't need something to be blocked in order to be guided. If the player can't understand it, a simple line describing each difficulty mode suffices. Much better than locking something away.

Plus, I think it is much more fun for a player to tackle a mode, be destroyed, get better on easier modes and then return to the harder mode. It really makes you feel you've improved, and that's a satisfying feeling. Playing Superhexagon I tried the Hardest* mode first, couldn't survive 5 seconds. Then I did the easier modes, got better, and returned to the hardest challenge to see I could survive 10 seconds now, that made it so clear how much I had improved.

When you prevent the player from knowing how hard things are, and how bad they (currently) are, you prevent them from getting this clear realization of how much they've improved. If someone goes from normal to hardest, they'll know they've improved of course, but they won't ever be able to compare.

*Superhexagon unfortunately locks away the real hardest modes, which served no purpose and wasted the opportunity of showing me how hard things can really get. At some point, it also restricted how much fun I could have with the game. At a certain point I had only 2 modes to beat, and I was getting fed up of them. When I first started the game I'd take a break from one mode with another I hadn't beaten yet, even if it was harder. After beating most modes I was bored of them, there were only two that kept me interested but even those were wearing me out. If it didn't lock things that wouldn't have happened.

I've already said that *sometimes* the experience of playing a game can be it's own reward.
In any other situation then, when playing the game isn't its own reward, you have a game, or part of a game, that the player isn't completely enjoying to begin with. Adding a tangible reward will either not help at all or motivate the player to have a bad time with your game, making them play through something they don't want in order to get something they want.

The point I want to make is that there's no need to turn actual game content tangible content as reward are flawed.

I know that people appreciate these sort of rewards, there are people, you included, who say they like when they get something for beating a harder mode. I used to think like this, as a matter of fact. I used to think it wasn't fair to a player who does the hard work to get the same as the player who beats the game on easy. But then I realized that in a game the concept of fair doesn't exist.

What I'm saying is that, everyone, even people who think effort needs a tangible reward in a game, would be better off if there weren't unlockables and players had everything open from the start. A simple "extras" options on the start menu.

Because at the end of the day there is no point in restricting the player. This can't be justified.

If the idea is to guide the player, then a simple line of text is enough, explaining that something's recommended after beating the game or something similar.

If it is to motivate players, then either the game is incomplete or the reward is pointless, because the game itself is and should always be enough. No extra incentives are needed to make things better, there's no need for a beneficial incentive.

You can say these incentives are nice, that they make players feel rewarded, and you are right, but you ignore that most people simply will not see this content. This far outweighs any extra incentive the content may provide.

You also forget that what should get someone through the game is the fun they're having. But for some people, not all of the game is fun and unlocking tangible rewards will be an unpleasant experience, this much is guaranteed.

Having to beat an easy game on normal, dodging 100 lightning bolts, grinding for cash, going through a bunch of levels to get to a part you like, making things unbalanced for newcomes on MP games, sending the player on uninspired egg hunting quests, forcing the player to restart a level because they've missed a missable, putting the player through repetitive missions, hiding away content from unskilled players or players that don't have time, stopping players from seeing the actual end to the story.

These are all actual examples that happen all too frequently because developers insist on hiding game content. Those examples are taken from games like Braid to GTA.

When you do that, you create something that for some people will be nice and for others won't. You are adding something to a game that you know will make a part of your player base unsatisfied.

But if you don't do that, I guarantee you people who might be bothered with no tangible rewards for their efforts will forget about that and enjoy the game, and they'll still do the hard challenges if they want to. If they really like your game, they'll come up with their own challenges.

The player must not be persuaded into playing the game, this is what tangible rewards do, they're persuading the player. That's not something to be done, ever.

I also guarantee you players will have more fun with the game, simply because they'll have more options. Another side effect of doing away with unlockables is that a developer is much more likely to not add terrible gameplay segments, because the developer won't have any incentive for that. Unlockables are a great incentive for awful filler content to artifically lengthen the game.

Alfa Etizado
profile image
Let me sum things up. These are all things I agree with and show my line of reasoning.

-It is expected players will think harder challenges deserve tangible rewards.

-Tangible rewards for harder challenges should be worthwhile content.

By tangible reward I mean everything that can be experienced, from big head mode to an extra difficulty level. These two points lead us into creating unlockables, however...

-A player first acquired the game for the gameplay itself, not for unlockables.

-Every single second of the game must be engaging and desirable on its own.

-Not every player will be dedicated enough to complete the game or its harder challenges.

From these three things we can agree that, when using tangible rewards:

-A share of the players will miss out on worthwhile content.

-A share of the players will do harder challenges for the tangible rewards, not entirely for the challenge.

-A share of the players will do harder challenges for the sake of these challenges, and they'll feel rewarded with tangible rewards.

The share that missed on content and the share that was persuaded into a challenge they didn't want to play had a bad time. The share that did the challenge to have fun, they got an extra treat.

Now here is when I come with my opinions:

-It is more important that nobody has a bad time.

-It is more fun for everyone if the game is flexible (it is not bad to "impose" choice).

-The player must never be persuaded into playing.

But tangible rewards are more than a treat, they have other uses. So we can agree that

-Tangible rewards help guiding the player

-Tangible rewards help showing new ways to play a game (such as non-lethal mode)

Thing is, those two uses can be replaced by simple lines of text or meaningless rewards, like achievements.

Based on all of that I say tangible rewards are more harm than good. We see plenty of proof for it. Here are some things I've observed:

-Tangible rewards inspire the creation of bad challenges.

-Flexibility inspires players to do more with your game.

-What players truly seek is acknowledgement for their effort, for that a simple medal will suffice.

This is why unlockable worthwhile rewards are bad.

Alfa Etizado
profile image
"An intrinsic part of games is restricting players. If a game doesn't have rules then it isn't a game. This is the main flaw in your premise."

I created the post above exactly to avoid this, splitting hairs, losing context, trying to pick on a specific part that sound wrong if seen from a different perspective.

We all know that a game is all about rules. The rules of the main campaign is not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the things that exist outside the main campaign, the things you get to know through a little notice after you've beaten the game, the things that are extra content.

I'm talking about restricting players from using things that are not an essential part of the main experience you've designed (an unlockable balance breaking weapon/character, an extra costume) or things that are an alternate way to experience the rules you've designed (difficulty modes, characters/weapons that don't break balance).

In fact, I'm even talking about stuff INSIDE the main campaign. Like that FFX example I gave. I hope you can get the idea.

What you said there never actually comes into my premise, unless you remove the context of our conversation (unlockables). The post above is meant to explain what I want to say as clear as I can.

Alfa Etizado
profile image
Well I say I've been persuaded into crappy content to get something else. I know I've collected every damn flower in Red Dead Redemption. You go to any message board and you'll find many people who hate certain challenges in a lot of games. The games were good, but they had some shitty segments. This is really common, unfortunately.

"I guarantee that if you have a hard mode with absolutely no special reward, someone will be pissed off. No matter what you do, some people will have a bad time with your game. Of course, you'd like to limit that, but games are different and there are no blanket rules that apply to every game, so you have to take each game on a case by case basis."

So what is more important to you:

A player that enjoyed the extra challenge but still found a reason to actually get pissed off because they only got a medal (remember this player can still enjoy whatever extras you added, in this situation we're talking about no unlockables)

A player that got pissed off because your game actually caused irritation (try dodging 100 lightning bolts in a row) + a player that would like to but could never experience some content because they didn't have time to sink into this harder challenge.

Because those're the options we're talking about here. Which is your choice?

The most you can do to TRY to please both players is by giving a tangible reward for beating a challenge AND adding the option to unlock this reward without beating the challenge. The player who did the challenge would get the feeling they deserve it. Some games do that.

Frankly, I think this is unnecessary, because only the most unusual of players would be able to actually get angry at the game after having fun with it.

Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. Making the game too flexible will in all likelihood result in some players having a lot less fun. For example: if you allow a player to enter cheats whenever they want, some players will give into this temptation. Some players will find that with cheats, they quickly clear the game and it becomes boring. Those same players may well have had much more fun trying to play the game the natural way.

This is something I don't believe is true and I think means you don't trust your audience.

Do you think people playing PC games put up with this? Do you think people playing on PC Potal, Left 4 Dead, Fallout, Dragon Age, Skyrim... do you think this is a problem for them?

Do you think people playing games with cheat codes, like tons of old school games, do you think that was a problem? Do you think, for an instance, the Konami code was a bad thing for games?

More important, do you think that composes a significant part of your audience and do you think the game is forever ruined to them?

See if you answer those questions. From personal experience I say it is no problem. It isn't a problem because it is a choice. Being a choice means two things:

1- The player can go back and play the game normally if desired
2- If the player got bored because they had too much fun (is this even a bad thing?), they'll know it was their choice. The player will not direct blame at you, unless we're talking about the most spoiled and unreasonable of players (similar to the person that got angry after having fun).

This is very important: Having a choice to alter the game, to cheat, does not erase the existence of the original design.

Also, realize that
"And the problem with your premises is that you've assumed too many things are always true, when that is clearly not the case. I hope this is clear to you now."

You are assuming a lot of things are true as well. You assume people will get angry after having fun, you assume people will ruin a game because of cheats, and you must assume that these two groups are significant enough to justify a bad time for a group we know is significant (the people who never beat a game, there are a lot of them). Anybody has to assume things are true when creating a game. There is nothing wrong with that.

We've seen the choices here, and we've explored their consequences:
-players will be displeased because they've missed out on cool things.
-players will be displeased because they had to play unpleasant extra challenges.
-players will be displeased because they didn't feel their reward was worthwhile (even though they can still access plenty of worthwhile content that was never locked away)
-players will be displeased because they cheated too hard and ruined their game.

I tried to show why it is better to appeal to a certain group of players that's like more significant and more reasonable (while also pleasing at least a part of another share) than it is to please players that sound too unreasonable. I also believe the crap one group has to take is much more significant.

Alfa Etizado
profile image
Oh and you're right about how every game is different and I can't assume something is true for all of them. There can be a game out there where it actually gives an interesting purpose to boring grinding or to missing out things in the game.

I'll say this isn't a majority of games. What I'm saying here applies to a ton of games that used tangible rewards as unlockables. I could make a long list of games that do that and a list almost as long of games that did it to bad results.

Alfa Etizado
profile image
"That's your own fault. If you don't want to do it, don't do it. If you blame a game for "making" you do something unfun, you won't get any sympathy from me."

Isn't the idea that the reward is there to motivate the player to do something? It motivated me, I wanted a costume that gave me some special perks, I had to do a bunch of crap for it. Keep your focus on what we're talking about here. You definitely don't want to treat the players like this "Oh, you didn't like it? Then beat it". This doesn't mean pleasing everyone, it just means not treating the player like shit. They are your costumers after all.

Also, if a special item is unlocked for beating the game, and this item makes makes the player too powerful, it would be crazy to make this available from the start. That would basically ruin the challenge of the game.

It is a matter of taking this thing and putting on an extras menu. Like "Unlock badass weapon on/off" then if you turn it on it says "The game was not intended to have this weapon, it was added to let players have fun after completing the game. Are you sure you want to unlock yes/no".

It is similar to cheat codes. You could unlock the badass stuff from the start in a ton of games, but it wasn't normally unlocked. A disclaimer will still convey the message that it isn't meant to be used normally, it does the same but in a more direct way. Remember that cheat codes were hidden because they were meant for developers, they left it in the game but they never had an incentive to create an option in the menu for it, not originally to guide people.

No harm will come from that. People are capable of understanding what it means to abuse a game and what it means to play it as it was meant to be played. So...

"It's not an issue of trust, it's an issue of providing guidance towards a certain kind of experience that you want to provide. It's your *responsibility* as a game designer to guide the player towards certain types of experiences that you think will be fun for them."

It is an issue of trust because giving the option of cheating does not erase the option of following the intended design. The only thing necessary to guide the player is a simple disclaimer. Removing the option entirely is overkill, it is assuming the disclaimer won't be enough, it is a big lack of trust. A disclaimer is merely informative.

Just an option in the menu, at the start screen, and a disclaimer saying whatever's done there isn't how the game is meant to be played. This sort of solution is employed frequently when players select a difficulty mode. You get a description when selecting modes, like "Not intended for newcomers". Another example is when a game asks you to adjust brightness, telling you the experience is better at a certain brightness level. In some games, setting the brightness too high is almost cheating, but they let you.

"Just because you bought the game doesn't mean you aren't entitled to it"

This is something I can't agree with no matter what. And I say this as someone who thinks on disc DLC isn't that bad. It is theirs, let them enjoy the content they've paid for. You wouldn't ever think of a DVD that didn't let you select scenes before you watched the whole thing.

Alfa Etizado
profile image
Well, yeah, I am kinda extreme when it comes to this. Ideally, like I said in my first post, every game should come with something like console commands or maybe something a little less flexible but more user friendly. On a console, console commands wouldn't really fly. Similarly, modding should be supported a lot more in games (once again, on consoles it wouldn't work that well)

Console commands are great because they allow the player to fix certain bugs (like getting stuck between two rocks, fixing event flags) and they also let the player mess around. Through console commands I could play Left 4 Dead with Romero zombies, they had so much health only headshots would kill them, they were a lot slower and deadlier too.

Modding is even more fantastic and has given us some fantastic games like Stanley's Parable or Team Fortress.

But I understand this isn't fitting for every game, because of different input methods, and I understand that creating a comprehensive cheat menu within the game is too much to ask. I also know modding is extra effort for devs, and only really works for PCs, so it can't be everywhere (though it should be more common).

So what I propose is, if the developer wants to add tangible rewards, hey go ahead and add them. But somewhere, in a menu, let the player activate these things, or even through a cheat code.

Like in Age of Empires 2, there was this unit that was a race car with cannons on top, you could spawn it with a cheat code, it was pretty fun. This is just one example though, this same idea can be applied to different things in a game. Examples:
If it is a fighting game, unlock every character from the start, and unlock every costume too. Or, at the very least, have an option in the menu "unlock everything". Even cheat codes will do, it is just that games nowadays rarely have those.
If your game has cutscenes, create a little cutscene viewer, this isn't too much effort. If the player enters the cutscene viewer, a message like "WARNING: STORY SPOILERS AHEAD" pops up.
If the game has levels, somewhere create a level select menu. (Red Dead Redemption actually has this even though it is an open world game, but missions are only selectable after beating them). Similar disclaimer as the one for cutscenes would be useful.
As of now, the way I get around not having a cutscene viewer or level select is by keeping saves at specific parts in a game. In the PS1 days and before this wasn't as viable because of save storage issues.
If it isn't too much to ask (though it is), create a cheap cheat menu the player can use to spawn items, change health values, teleport to different screens. This would be fitting for a game like Legend of Zelda or FF. Players could break the game using this, but calling it "cheat menu" and throwing a warning message at the player should be enough to make things clear that using it is not how the game is meant to be played. Turn off auto save the moment the player uses the cheat menu.

Nintendo sort of did this with that super easy mode that pretty much plays the game for you. I think stuff like that's great.

Basically, I think it is desirable to hand the player more control over the game. I know the player will play the game as intended and I know the player will later have a lot of stuff to let them have fun with the game.

There are many games that I only ever replay because, in some way or the other, I have those options I described.
Just Cause 2 I modded it so I could fly play multiplayer, those two things are what keeps it installed.
Many games with the source engine have a level select, that's what makes me go back to Portal games or Zeno Clash.
I have a save right before two key moments in FFVII, sometimes I play them.
FF Dissidia, it was extremely grindy and I gave up on unlocking every skill for everyone, I'd probably have abandoned the game if I hadn't gotten a save file with everything unlocked (300 hours of gameplay), now I sometimes play it using a feature that lets me select the enemy, stage, enemy power, enemy AI, etc.

Things like this they just add to the longevity of the game, they prevent certain players from abandoning the game (think how many people would never beat Contra without the Konami Code), they give players new ways to have fun with the game, they let players fix the game (console commands were essential in New Vegas, I had a lot of bad luck with quest bugs).

Mike Griffin
profile image
Sometimes the AI will perform new or more interesting actions when played on a higher difficulty, and I often look forward to experiencing that in a second play-through after completing a game on 'normal/veteran' difficulty. It's sort of like "OK, so this is what the designer had in mind for behavior and challenge."

But I've always loved a steep challenge in games. Partially due to a history reviewing games for press, I imagine, but also the tradition of extra gameplay or hidden rewards to earn within tough modes.

Anecdotally, I used to have an Editor-in-Chief long ago that would exclusively play his games on their easiest setting. The other staffers and I didn't really agree with this method, especially for final reviews.

Arguably, Easy mode didn't provide him with the full scope (or even mid-scope) of intended challenge, to inform the reader. Maybe he got through his games faster than we did, and had more fun? It just didn't seem completely honest; to the game, the developer or the reader.

Today I still begin traditional campaigns on their second-highest 'Hard' difficulty out of the box. I might as well take advantage of great reflexes and a mostly-functional brain while my mid-30s body allows it! Before I know it, my killer instinct will lose its pinpoint motor skills and sharp cognition, and I'll be playing cow clicking apps.

Josh Bycer
profile image
"Arguably, Easy mode didn't provide him with the full scope (or even mid-scope) of intended challenge, to inform the reader. Maybe he got through his games faster than we did, and had more fun? It just didn't seem completely honest; to the game, the developer or the reader."

This is another long debated topic on difficulty that could be its own post. Some times playing on the higher difficulty is "the intended way" of playing the game because as you say, this is where the challenge of the game comes in. But then there are games where the higher difficulty is just stat tweaking and the game is made harder for the sake of being hard.

I was talking with my friends about Bioshock Infinite (no spoilers here) and how much the difficulty of the game varies based on the difficulty. You could be a walking tank on easy and incredibly fragile on hard. And from there, your tactics and viable options change, but the question is: what difficulty level is the right one to experience the game? As I've heard some people say that they only played it on easy to see the story, while others wanted the challenge and played it on hard.

Jacob Alvarez
profile image
I increase the difficulty for both the better rewards and the added challenge. Games that are too easy are more like toys rather than actual games. This is why I can't play Minecraft 360 on 'creative mode'. I need the challenge.

Wylie Garvin
profile image
I like games such as Halo, which throw in small differences (e.g. in the Sargeant's pep-talk cutscene at the beginning of the game) or add an additional cutscene at the end if you beat the game on the highest difficulty. Its not a huge amount of work to add that, and I think its a nice tip-of-the-hat to gamers who overcome the challenge of finishing the game on the hardest difficulty.

I also like games such as Borderlands, that have a pre-set difficulty but explicitly support a 2nd playthrough (where you keep your equipment and all of the enemies are higher level, faster, more difficult). If I like a game enough to play all the way through it, its a nice treat to discover that "added challenge" mode.

..I also like games like Dead Space, that have cheat codes for minor things (refill your statis/air meter) and no penalty for using them. Even players who like challenge, might occasionally be stranded in a difficult part of the game and that cheat code can come in mighty handy.

...I especially like games like Dark Souls, that don't coddle you in any way and force you to learn the mechanics well if you want to stay alive. After about 2 hours of Dark Souls I started to really "get it", and I felt like my actual skill level steadily improved over the next 20 hours or so. Areas that I would be stuck in for hours, dying over and over, I can now breeze through in just a few minutes. Developing player skill in that game is almost its own reward, and like Borderlands its designed to be played through again on New Game+ (with greater difficulty each time, until you've beaten it 7 times!)