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October 21, 2021
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Why is Intentional Replayability Important?

by Gregory Campbell on 10/12/21 11:06:00 am

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.

 

Intro

Understanding Replayability

People replay games for a variety of reasons, and game replayability is normally considered a good thing due to the perceived value it adds to the game.  Intentionally adding replayability may also foster trust between the game makers and those who play their games.
    The essence of game replayability is simple:  For X money, being able to play the “same game” in new ways and enjoy it for longer is simply logical.  Whether in the short-term or long-term it is worthwhile for someone to replay a game or put that time, money, and energy toward something else is subjective and outside the scope of this article.
    Replayability for a game section or the entire game can take many forms, many of which are explained below.  This is intended as an exhaustive or a nearly-exhaustive list.

These are only supercategories of replayability, intentional and unintentional, and the intentionality here is determined by the game’s authors.  Some factors leading to unintentional replayability are within the dev team’s control.

 

Unintentional Replayability

 

 

 

Image Credit: EdTech

https://edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2018/12/3-ways-configure-windows-10-distraction-free-experience

 

  • Personal Distractions.  Barking dogs, crying kids, family matters, and anything that interrupts your progress while prompting you to replay a game or certain parts of it is outside the scope of intended replayability.  The required length of a play session and how easily and frequently users can save (or autosave) their progress definitely influences the ability to play undistracted.

 

 

 

Image Credit: Youmatter

https://youmatter.world/en/revolution-bugs-insects-market-growth/

 

  • Bugs.  Coding errors commonly known as bugs come in many forms, but the ones referred to in this section are progress-blocking.  These tend to be crashes, soft locks, and data erasers, each of which causes users to lose progress and replay something to regain this progress.  Regardless of whose fault these bugs are, losing progress because the game did an “Oopsie!” is bad and not fun!

 

 

 

Image Credit: LexTube

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWv3NczxoBw&ab_channel=Lextube

 

  • Emergent Gameplay.  The most positive entry on this list emerged from my mind soon before sitting down to write this article.
        Emergent gameplay is something that, in short, is considered unintended by a game’s authors but interesting enough to watch or/and play to be considered a notable game feature or/and a separate game mode.  Emergent gameplay may use bugs.  Game mods, if unintended by the devs, also are also in this category.  Even dev-provided mod tools, if used in unintentional ways, are in this category.
        For example, I assume Undertale was not originally intended to be modded, but many people have done so anyway.  Minecraft was intended to be modded, but probably not into a playable Lemmings minigame.  I worked for years to use the available tools to co-author the multiplayer turn-based RPG Fate and Destiny in StarCraft’s real time strategy game engine.  Furthermore, I was sad when Diablo III was patched to no longer give EXP for breaking pots, which would have enabled a pacifist or semi-pacifist run.
        For a more generic example, pacifist runs of games are generally in this category.  (Undertale was specifically built to accommodate pacifist runs, meaning it doesn’t count.)

 

 

 

Intentional Replayability

 

 

 

 

Image Credit: GamesRadar

https://www.gamesradar.com/best-baldurs-gate-3-class/

 

  • Game Mechanics.  RPGs are famous for this and certain other examples of intentional replayability on this list, and for good reason:  RPGs tend to emphasize personalized experiences via character and party customization with play styles suited to each player.  Some games have branching mission paths or multiple approaches to complete objectives within missions with mutually exclusive content.
        For example, in Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, you make your main character who can be one of many classes and races.  Each class can further specialize into subclass called kits, such as a Wizard who specializes in a school of magic, a Sorcerer who becomes a Dragon Disciple, or a Bounty Hunter Thief who focuses on laying traps to damage and hamper foes.  Normally, you can’t change your class nor race mid-game, meaning your initial selection is vitally important and it determines your playstyle - that is, your character’s weaknesses, strengths, and commonly used abilities and tactics.  You can field a party of 6 characters at maximum, plus summons, meaning other characters can mitigate your main character’s weaknesses, and your party can synergize into greater effectiveness.  The game is soloable with the right character build and proper foreknowledge and preparation.
        For another example, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem has an in-game invincibility mode (Eternal Mode) available after you beat the game 3 times, once for each ending.  For yet another example, Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64 has many game modes that unlock based on your progress in the main campaign.

 

 

 

Image Credit: Instant-Gaming

https://s2.gaming-cdn.com/images/products/8512/271x377/life-is-strange-true-colors-pc-game-steam-cover.jpg

 

  • Story.  You played one scenario or saw one ending, but you only got part of a greater whole.  By playing another scenario or/and seeing another ending, you have a better understanding of what the game’s story was.  This applies to the main story as well as side stories (like with optional characters or with a different set of party members), side quests, and so on.
        Note that replayability for game mechanics and story are separate but often overlap.  Maybe you play the game initially as the Good Guy™ Wizard the first time, but are an Evil Priest the second time.  Maybe you play an adventure game where the story changes based on your actions and the mechanics don’t notably change.
        For example, Chrono Trigger was intentionally built to have a variety of endings, but the ending you saw depended upon when in the story you beat the final boss.  For another example, Telltale’s The Walking Dead had many story elements with slightly different outcomes depending on what you chose in that episode or a previous episode.

 

 

 

Image Credit: The Verge

https://www.theverge.com/2019/10/30/20939147/deepmind-google-alphastar-starcraft-2-research-grandmaster-level

 

  • Mastery.  You played the game on one difficulty.  Now, play it on a different, higher difficulty!  Maybe this means going from Easy to Medium, or from single player to multiplayer, or from casual multiplayer to serious multiplayer.  Regardless, you’re replaying a game to better understand how it works and to more reliably win more efficiently.
        Sports like basketball and traditional board games like chess have been common places for people to show off their game mastery, but eSports like StarCraft II shown above are often more entertaining ways for viewers to enjoy watching someone’s game mastery.

 

 

 

Image Credit: The Completionist Jirard Khalil

https://twitter.com/completionist

 

  • Achievements & Recognition.  While this point fundamentally overlaps with replaying a game for its game mechanics, and sometimes also for mastery, I put this in a separate category because some people just want to get developer-included achievements in games and be recognized for them.  Maybe this recognition comes from friends or strangers online.  Maybe these achievements have some sort of associated formal contest with prizes.

 

 

 

Image Credit: Bodomy on YouTube

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKNG4w06ySQ&ab_channel=Bodomi

 

  • Community.  A game’s community contributing to its intended replayability is prominent in multiplayer games, especially MMOs.  In other words, the other players and people in the community inspire you to want to continue to return to a game.
        Maybe you’ve beaten a game or a section, but you’re willing to go through it again with the right friends so they experience it too!  Sometimes game content simply requires a strong enough community to get enough players to access certain content, like raids in MMORPGs or PvP content in general.  Sometimes, the out-of-game community (like with fan art, fan music, and mods) is enough to inspire you to return to a familiar game.
        More on mods in a separate section below.

 

 

 

Image Credit: Instant Gaming

https://www.instant-gaming.com/en/3790-buy-game-steam-baldurs-gate-enhanced-edition/

 

  • Nostalgia.  You like something, you miss it, and want to return to it.  Nostalgia implies but does not require something from your childhood or early adulthood that you held dear and have been away from for a long time.
        The essence of many game remakes, remasters, and rereleases intentionally capitalizes on nostalgia.  Maybe this updated version has new story sections, or it has new mechanical content like new classes and areas.  Maybe it’s strictly a graphical update with bug and compatibility fixes.  Regardless, it’s familiar enough to you that it makes you long for the “good old days” when you enjoyed this game.
        For example, maybe you very much liked Baldur’s Gate and got Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition (BGEE) when it was released because you simply wanted to play it again on a modern device, or you wanted to play the original campaign with the new content.  Maybe you liked Final Fantasy VII and felt inspired to get Final Fantasy VII remake, even though it has some notable differences from the original.

 

 

 

Image Credit: MarthMarthMarth on Reddit

https://www.reddit.com/r/slaythespire/comments/8xms9h/09072018_patch_notes_beta/

 

  • Updates.  Beyond the remasters/rereleases/remakes mentioned above, there are also game patches, DLC, and formal expansion packs released for games which allow or encourage more ways to play and new things to do.  The game may have new systems, but the
        For example, World of Warcraft has released many, many content-adding patches over its ~17 year lifespan as of this writing, as well as many formal expansions.  These are intended to inspire players to keep playing so they can experience these new features, areas, classes, and so on that weren’t there when they started playing.

 

 

 

Image Credit: Kitfox Games on YouTube

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqH1ZgZHpRs&ab_channel=KitfoxGames

 

  • Randomization.  Part of being engaged in a game is a certain level of unpredictability.  Roguelikes, such as the above pictured Dwarf Fortress, embrace randomness to inspire players to learn the game’s mechanics (and sometimes get permanent upgrades between runs) to be ready for the next game when things will be notably different.
        Other genres also rely on randomization for engagement, such as any game with cards or dice as a core mechanical feature.
        As the channel Extra Credits put it, “Will it beat the appeal of randomizer?”  In this case, “randomizer” meant third party software which randomized something notable about a game - its levels, its starting resources (characters, classes, items, etc.), its shop inventories, and so on to provide a different route through the game.  Check out The BIG List of Video Game Randomizers for more details!

 

 

 

Image Credit: Plarium

https://plarium.com/en/blog/grinding-games/

 

  • Grinding.  You want something but you can’t get it… yet.  By doing some repetitive task or set of tasks can you get it.  What separates grinding from normal gameplay is that it’s repetitious and normally boring.  Sometimes grinding is necessary or simply wise because of the end prize, like higher character levels, better items, access to secrets, access to more story sections, more cosmetics, or being ready just in case.
        RPGs and MMOs and MMORPGs have been the most obvious places where grinding has occurred.  Dungeons & Dragons Online and World of Warcraft each inspired me to permanently quit after hundreds of hours on each simply due to an overreliance on grinding for stuff I wanted.  Grinding to have my Final Fantasy party members (all 12ish of them) learn all spells I wanted them to learn was one of the worst experiences in one of my otherwise favorite games!
        Before people were mad about microtransactions in games blocking them from content they wanted, they were mad about having to be bored in games that should have been entertaining had they likely been better designed.

 

 

 

Image Credit: My Singing Monsters Wiki

https://mysingingmonsters.fandom.com/wiki/Daily_Login_Bonus

 

  • Habit.  Some games - especially social games and MMOs - are purpose-built to be habit-forming over long periods.  Maybe there’s some fear of missing out on login bonuses or some opportunity to do something you want on a specific day.  Maybe you played World of Warcraft when you could only attempt raids once per week.  Regardless, these games encourage or expect your reliable attendance like you work there, and often pay a subscription fee or for a bunch of microtransactions for the privilege.

 

 

 

Image Credit: qubodupDev on YouTube

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6duUNA4NYxM&ab_channel=qubodupDev

 

  • Mods.  Some games officially allow or encourage modding.  Mods mean new features, new modes, new levels, new graphics, or whatever someone - possibly you - got working in the engine.
        Minecraft has been famous as a mod platform.  Notch, the game’s primary author, added mod support at an early stage of development (what people would normally now call early access) because he didn’t think Minecraft would succeed that much.  Mods were a tremendous reason that Minecraft became the #1 selling game ever!  Yes, even more than Mario and Tetris!
        During high school, the ability to make and edit custom maps for StarCraft kept me engaged with my one copy of the game for years, which also helped me get employed at Blizzard working on StarCraft II over a decade later!  Alleluia!

 

 

 

Image Credit: Bloody Disgusting

https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3531447/eternal-darkness-last-great-exclusive-nintendo-horror-title/

 

  • Quality & Uniqueness.  This final category exists for games that are made so well or/and are so unique that there’s no easy way to generate similar feelings to playing that game.
        For example, Undertale, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, and Blast Corps are pretty unique games, unlike many games that are in crowded genres (JRPG, sports game, turn-based strategy game, etc.)  A game may also be of such a quality to you that it’s irreplaceable, like Final Fantasy VI was for me.

 


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