Designing and playing games that don’t end
There are a lot of reasons why we play video games. And for a good amount of us, and I can definitely say for myself, we play for the story.
So what about those people still playing after the story?
The design of games that don’t end have been there since the very beginning. It’s certainly not as common anymore, but remember high scores? Arcade games carry this in nearly all genres. If we look back with the games we have now, they don’t even seem necessary. We see this in top down shooters like Space Invaders, platformers like Donkey Kong, and even fighting games like Street Fighter. As I have said, these are all arcade games, which means playing them for longer periods of time means more coins out of your pocket. So of course they want you to be ambitious. However, this kind of thing continued on even when arcade cabinets were no longer your main source of gaming.
Super Mario Bros., a game that was beloved by many people in their homes, still has a high score counter. In fact, people use the high score things for other meta-competitions as well. We have people winning the game with the fastest speed, but lowest score possible. You can actually watch some of those speedruns online. They are fantastic and awe-inspiring. But, Super Mario Bros. hair-thin story does end. The challenges eventually do cease. And these kinds of things are normal for all these story games. And yet, people keep playing.
Around the time when less arcade-y games removed their scores, ew kinds of designs started popping up where there was no end. These can go from optional multiplayer games like Diablo and Genshin Impact, or we can go with MMOs like Lineage, Maplestory, Guild Wars, all those other MMOs we see online. Then there’s also games made for multiplayer like Battlefield and new genres like battle royales and MOBAs like PUBG and DoTA 2 respectively.
What is driving these games to exist forever? And…why do we keep playing them?
Where is the fun?
Never ending games exist solely because of where the fun comes from. If a game’s fun is the story, it ends where the story ends. We already talked about arcade games and them siphoning money out of you, so let’s start with games like Super Mario Bros. where the ending is meant to be exactly that, the ending.
People create their own games with the games. I’m talking about the speedrunners and the meta-competition. I remember playing Super Mario Bros. where the main goal was to not kill any enemies, making some platforming elements rather difficult.
I think a great example of this is GiantGrantGames on Youtube where he played Starcraft II and he had to play through the story without losing a single unit. I’ve had times playing critically failed games and we set our own rules to laugh and joke throughout the whole thing, even if the controls were terrible. Ultimately for these situations, we are the ones creating the game and we are the ones creating the fun. That was where the reward, the fun, was.
Some games keep us having fun by having solid gameplay. I replay Mario games because the platforming is so solid. I keep playing Genshin Impact because the fighting gameplay is very enjoyable, even if I’m just fighting a similar group of Hilichurls for my dailies. A lot of people play battle royale games or shooter games like Battlefield over and over again because each bit of adrenaline rush is what they’re chasing. It’s all about that energy and (hopefully) fun.
Many MMO games like The Division series or the Destiny series have reward-based fun. The gameplay can be great, but the goal that is frankly placed by the developers is that you need item X. You need that next thing. You need that next skin/cosmetic. While this is okay, it walks dangerously close to negative game design. If we’re only playing for the final reward, it is easy for the game to feel like a chore.
These kinds of items are usually dropped from events or other time-limited situations. It’s about chasing that next thing, but if the gameplay or the story within is not enough the game can end up being unfun. And who wants to play something unfun?
I think it’s a mistake to believe that the endgame is the only thing that matters with games like these. Both the main game and the endgame have their strengths to keep them entertaining, but it’s all about how they are implemented. Genshin Impact’s events usually have great rewards, but there is usually some overarching story as well, so it’s not just mindlessly killing mobs. While I am not a professional game designer by any means, I believe there to be a solution to making things like the endgame more fun.
Not surprisingly, most of it can be solved by having the gameplay itself be fun, so when there are new things to be done, new goals to be reached, it is still fun to play.
There are, even still, outliers that continually bring people back to certain games: the prestige of holding your rank, or if you’re like me, forgetting some of the story and you simply want to enjoy it again. There are also things that can be predatory things like daily quests that make you feel like you missed out if you’re not coming back. Ironically, I could point that finger back at Genshin Impact again even though I previously praised that. But that’s just the thing, isn’t it? For me, it is not a problem, but for others, that is definitely a negative.
So after all this, the meta-games, the competition, the stories, the gameplay, the reward-based goals, the ranks. After all these things, which of them brings the fun for you? That’s what matters. I’m not trying to play the “everyone’s a winner” kind of play here, but I’m asking the question of how can we enter, or even create, an environment that helps us have fun? I think some developers do this in earnest and truly try to create good, infinitely fun environments, while others are there just for your money (or that could be a corporate thing, it depends).
I know I’m always doing this kind of thing where I put the responsibility on our, the gamers, shoulders. But…where is the fun for you? Find that out, and then use that time to enjoy it. Don’t feel guilty about it. Don’t go back to the game that isn’t fun for you. Don’t let that sunk-cost fallacy catch you.
Let your voice be heard by having fun, because remember, we’re committing to never having an end.