[Steps up to the podium]
Hey, guess what? We don’t have all the time in the world to play your game. We have other important things to do, so your game better progress quickly or we’ll throw your sorry excuse of a game out the window. We feel the need to be productive all the time so you better design your game to throw new mechanics and content at us as frequently as possible.
Are you with me?
[Pumps fist in the air]
Oh, you are? … this is awkward… because that’s not how I think at all. Sure, there may be some truth to those statements, but I think “moderation” is the key word in describing anything, be it game mechanics or cooking recipes. You can’t design your games to throw new things at the player every minute. That approach is just as invalid as repeating the same levels and fights over and over again to pad things out. (Although, if I had to choose, I’d go with the former every single time)
But enough about that, let’s talk about respecting the player’s time, after all, that’s the title of this post.
As I continue to play older games and newer games, there’s a general trend I continue to observe almost every single time: The games of yesterday were more directly designed for kids, whereas the games of today have a more general audience. Now, I could focus on how this might be dangerous in the sense that you can’t please everybody and if you try, you might end up pleasing nobody, but as you can imagine, that’s not the direction I’m going for here.
No, what I’m trying to say is that the game designers of yesterday couldn’t care less for the player’s time. Their audience were mostly kids, and as a scientific fact that everybody knows*, kids don’t want to do anything else but play. They have all the time in the world. Plus, chances are they’re not going to get another game for a couple of days or even weeks, so we, the designers, are free to mess with him/her as much as we please. In fact, if we make the game harder it will last longer, so then our players won’t be able to finish it in just two days, which means they’ll have to rent it more than once to finish it, which means they might as well buy it, instead of renting it, the next time they are at the videogame store.
So, yesterday, we had some very huge incentives to make our games last as long as we could, even if it meant disrespecting our audience’s time constantly. But now that the medium has grown, as well as the little kids, we find our audience demanding shorter games with less padding and better “pacing”.
I’m sure more than one of you dear readers has heard that word before in the context of our medium. Be it inside an article, a review or what have you. But what does it mean? Personally, I found that word to be extremely devoid of meaning, almost as much as the words “atmospheric” and “immersive”.
But as I continued to play more and more games, I began to understand the term and it’s complexity. I mean, it’s not something profound or anything, it wasn’t certainly a revelation, but at last I could now read a review and say “Oh, he’s talking about this and that”.
It’s not something esoteric or even academic, it’s just a simple way of condensing the concept of “the speed in which the player will progress will be uniform in most cases”, which in turn means “the game takes you to new places and introduces new elements and challenges frequently enough” which also means that “there aren’t too many difficulty spikes to hamper the player’s progress”.
So, saying this game has good pacing basically says that this game respects the player’s time.
Alright, respecting the player’s time is throwing new things at her at a steady pace. That’s all well and good, but what exactly means to disrespect the player’s time then? Ooooh, that’s a good question! Here, have a cookie, you deserve it, you interior voice of mine that I’m not sure where it comes from.
To disrespect the player’s time would be to force her to repeat the same tasks over and over with minimum variation throughout an extended period of time. In this category, grinding is the perfect example.
Another great category is the one I’ve already talked at length in a previous post: to require from the player a string of not very challenging tasks before she can advance. One thing I didn’t mention though, is that the GTA series suffers from this in their mission structures. You died or got caught by the police? Do it again stoopid!
Fortunately, these two categories are not exactly commonplace nowadays. However, there’s a third category that I’m sad to say is more than prevalent, especially in the eastern side of the world: Require from the player mundane tasks like walking to your home, talking to the king or even finding a missing item, just to break up the clut of cutscenes that form the first hour of the game.
Every single major pokemon game has been guilty of this. Every. Single. One.
I don’t know about you people, but for me, the first 3 hours of any pokemon game are the most boring hours I ever spend with each game. And I think the same goes for every other jRPG made in the last few … 30 years.
Except Chrono Trigger. That one was fun from beginning to end.
* It’s a fact that what I said right there wasn’t, in fact, a fact. It’s just intuition on my part, if must know. And that is a fact.