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[Veteran designer Pascal Luban (Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory) continues his series on the "megatrends" of the gaming industry, taking on accessibility and games as a teaching tool in this installment. The previous article in the series can be read here.]
In this second chapter of my series on the megatrends of game design I shall address two new trends: the search for accessibility, and the use of gaming as an educational tool. Enjoy.
Games are increasingly easy to grasp. This is one of the trends which has most affected game design in recent years... and it's not stopping. Remember those games without tutorials and with documentation as thick as a phonebook, or those first levels where you could barely understand what you had to do, let alone how to do it?
The progress made in this area in recent years is impressive: The progressive introduction of features, the simplification of interfaces, and the inclusion of levels created for the discovery of the game itself are the most obvious examples.
Even so, this exemplary effort probably won't stop here, as new needs for immediate accessibility are emerging.
1. Market growth and the increasing numbers of casual players. Video gaming has long lost its status as a hobby for a small number of addicts and is gradually joining the other mainstream media. The loss of influence of the core PC market is a good illustration of this trend.
This arrival of gaming into the mainstream should be seen as a good thing. Small, niche markets cannot attract massive financing. However, it also means that traditional gamers no longer constitute the majority of games users.
We must therefore simplify the accessibility of a game for users, if we want to support the current growth of the number of games players.
2. The development of multiplayer modes. Multiplayer gaming generates particular accessibility problems. In a single player game, the player learns to face challenges progressively.
With difficulties introduced one at a time, giving time for the player to master them at his own pace. In a multiplayer game, however, the player is directly confronted with the most formidable of all challenges: other players.
Even if the player has had the opportunity to master the single-player game through the single player levels, he will inevitably run into those players who have dozens of hours of practice and who possess much more cunning than mere bots.
Thus we have a rude awakening for the player, who will have to accept the humiliation of accumulating multiple defeats in order to learn effective strategies for this game mode.
The problem of accessibility is thus no longer merely an issue of mastering the controls or knowing the game, but understanding all the aspects of the game at once.
The development of multiplayer gaming will create new accessibility challenges, as we will have to accommodate for a growing number of novice players.
3. New habits of gaming. In parallel to the growing number of casual gamers, there is an increase in those "traditional gamers" that now find themselves with a family or a full time job and therefore have to cut back on the gaming.
This category of player with less leisure time will demand games offering immediate playability and that are playable in smaller gaming sessions.
This need to develop games that are accessible, yet not lacking in depth, largely explains the near-disappearance of flight simulators -- despite the doubtlessly large number of fans that they have accumulated.