Shacknews Spotlight: Video Games and the Art of Replayability

Ozzie, Daniel, Josh, Steven, and Andrew sit down to hash out what makes a game replayable and just how important that aspect is to gamers.

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Josh Hawkins: In our last Spotlight we talked about ‘the grind’ and when it becomes too much. It only seems fitting that this week we move onto one of the next important aspects of a game, replayability.

This basic term factors into a lot of things for people. It not only determines how long the game lasts for consumers, but also how willing some people are to pay the now standard TRIPLE A game price of $60. It’s a very important part of many gamer’s decision to pick up a game, but just how important is it really?

I think it’s very important. Replayability means that after the already figured 10-15 hours I’ll put into a game I can almost guarantee myself I’ll put in more. For me it’s just an added bonus when I can pick up a game, play through it, and come back and pick it up again another day. This single factor has helped make games like Rogue Legacy, Darkest Dungeon, Binding of Isaac, and even Spelunky massive games in the community. The ability to always face a different dungeon/room, and the removal of being forced to run down the same hallways again and again is a welcome sight to many who have grown tired of the stale boring way things used to be. That isn’t to say that games with little replayability have no place in gaming, because I highly feel they do. It just means they’ve got to do a heck of a better job convincing me they are worth my time and money than many roguelike games do.

Ozzie Mejia: Replayability for me goes a long way in helping determine a game's value, especially now that I'm growing older. When I was a kid, I never had a problem playing through Super Mario RPG a couple of dozen times, even though there doesn't seem to be any replayability on the surface. I just loved the story. And story will still attract me to certain games. One of my favorite games of the last couple of years was Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. But that isn't what you'd call necessarily "replayable" and I probably won't go back and play it a second time. But I definitely don't regret playing it and I don't feel like I was ripped off.

Right about now, I'm aching for a good story experience that's worth the money I'm asked for, especially from the $60 sector. The Order: 1886 feels like it's got the right idea, because it values good narrative and solid mechanics over anything. It's really just too bad that it's so short. Wanting more of a good story isn't necessarily a bad thing. I feel like short, solid story-based games for $60 might have flown in a past era, but when we're seeing Telltale deliver these story-driven experiences for less, it's harder to overlook a $60 game's lack of replayability. 

Josh Hawkins: I'm glad you mentioned The Order: 1886 Ozzie, as I'm actually on my second playthrough of the game, (first time I played on Medium, and now I'm playing on Hard) and I'm already planning on a third playthrough to nab all my collectibles and finish up any trophies I might not have gained on the first two playthroughs. I think it's been an exceptional experience in a brilliantly crafted steampunkish universe and I'm stoked for any plans they might have for future games. Does that mean that The Order is "replayable"? Not really. Once you've seen the story you've seen it, and it won't change any on the way through a second time. But for me replayability isn't the hugest factor into a game purchase. Sure, it's big, and I mentioned that earlier, but for me I look at how long I'll spend with the game, and how much it interests me. Not trying to push for The Order or anything, (I just really enjoyed it) but I've already logged in almost 16 hours in the game (12 or so in the first play, and 4 and a half in the second time through) and it's been worth every penny of the $60 I spent on it. Will I play it again in three-four years? Probably not. But for now the premise, story, and setting of the game are more than enough to justify my purchase. But I suppose that's a whole different topic right there.

Steven Wong: I think it's interesting that some of the games mentioned so far (Spelunky, Rogue Legacy, Darkest Dungeon, etc.) are not only well below the $60 range, but offer great replayability because they're often so hard that you have to restart. For these games, having to restart is often a gameplay feature.

Perhaps we should take a moment to define what replayablity means to us. I don't mean we should get philosophical about things, but let's consider how Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare has a short but linear campaign, but tries to make up for it with very thought-out multiplayer. Should multiplayer count toward the replayability factor? While we're at it, what counts as acceptable replayability? Running through a game twice? Or more?

Multiplayer games like Left 4 Dead and MOBAs like League of Legends should probably be in their own category, since the whole point is to replay levels over and over again. Also, what makes for good or even great replayability? Loot runs in Destiny or Diablo 3? Picking up collectibles and achievements? Do DLC expansions count?

For me, I'm happy to play a game once and be done with it if there's a lot of content or it has an excellent story. According to Steam, I put about 169 hours into playing Skyrim. I played through it with one character, and I don't see myself replaying it anytime soon. I also put a ton of hours into Fallout 3 and New Vegas, and I was pretty much done with them after that. I didn't put the same number of hours into playing Wolfenstein: The New Order, but I was happy to play it.

I didn't think I'd play Far Cry 4 a second time, but I did, just to see how things would play out if I made different decisions. I guess that speaks to how the Telltale games are often worth a second pass, just to see what happens if I do something different. Similarly, I played the Mass Effect trilogy twice with two different characters just to see how different I would feel being a Renegade compared to a Paragon. I don't think the games change all THAT much, but it's fun to have your decisions carry over from game to game, and that makes for a good replay experience.

But then there are games like The Last of Us, which I know that I'll never play again, and I won't bother with the multiplayer. A lot comes down the quality of the game. If I really like a game, and I put a lot of time into it, I'm OK with not playing it again. I think lengthy storylines or memorable characters and gameplay more than make up for it.

Daniel Perez: I'm torn on this particular topic as I enjoy games with high replayability, but I also don't have much time to sink into these games to get the most benefit from them. And this is just a recent thing as I now have a toddler that takes up a good portion of my time each day.

Prior to having a kid, I loved playing games like Skyrim, Fallout 3, and Fallout: New Vegas for just how expansive their world was as well the wealth of content they had. Even to this day, I plan on returning to those games just to see what I missed during my original playthrough.

Now, I enjoy playing a game once and then moving on to the next one. There are few games that I return to weeks or months later after I'm done with my initial playthrough, two of which I've been finding myself playing regularly are Destiny and Evolve, although I don't know how much longer I'll be doing so as I know there are some games coming out in the very near future that will be taking time away from these games with high replayability.

That's why I was pleased with The Order: 1886. It had a fascinating story told within a timeframe that I really appreciated as I was done with the game within the same week that I started it. Developers shouldn't feel they need to fluff their games up with mindless combat fighting uninspiring grunts just to add more time to a game. Give me a great story, great gameplay, and great graphics, and it's guaranteed I'll have a great time.

Andrew Zucosky: Replayability, for me, is the icing on the cake when it comes to video
games. It is not really a priority for me, and honestly I think it can potentially be problematic. However there are plenty of games where I have played two to five times and I love them each time I play them (I beat over Dragon Age: Origins five times, this obviously surprises no one).

Defining replayability is a little tricky, according to my personal dictionary it is replaying a game after the main objective is complete. So even certain Rogue-likes fit that definition (though technically LoL doesn't since there is no main objective besides...well, win).

But like I said, replayability isn't a huge factor for me, Hell, game time isn't either. I'll pay $60 for a one hour game if it knocks my socks off. I really only care about the personal value I am getting with my game, be it a sense of accomplishment, engaging story, etc.

Replayability can be tricky because it is a value that a developer can easily add to a game without too much thought behind it. Plenty of gamers have this silly notion that amount of hours put into a game equates to its inherit value. This is where we see people cry about RPGs being only twenty hours long or how you can beat a certain game in five hours when you try and RUSH TO THE END OF THE GAME.

So say we take a $60 ten hour game that has replayability for at least one more play through. Now the game time increases to twenty hours, makes the $60 price tag seem a lot more reasonable, huh? But now the question is, is the replay truly worth it? Did the developers craft this game to maintain a certain value through multiple play throughs? How much value are you really getting by playing a game again just to collect all the flags, or to see a different dialogue option, or to turn left instead of right?

I can't answer that question, it should be based off of what you (royal you) value when playing a game, and not for the sake of extending gameplay time.

That being said, if developers are not cautious enough they can make the replayability feel artificial and as a player you can feel cheated. A myriad of people are calling for more replayability in their games, especially AAA games. But what if a game doesn't require replayability?

Daniel, you said best when talking about The Order, "I'd rather play a great 5 hour game, than a mediocre 10 hour game."

If a game can knock it out of the park in five hours then hoo-f***ing-rah it has done its job. There is no need to stretch a good concept thin. So I think replayability can potentially be great, or potentially bad. It all depends on what value it adds to the game.


What Chatty Thinks

Hemtroll: There are different types of replayable IMO. An awesome game that doesn't have any meaningful story branches or choices can be replayable because it's just fun, Wolfenstein and such. The gameplay and story remain the same every time (maybe minor variations) but it's just so fun that you don't care. Then there are games where the story changes or the gameplay offers a bunch of choices and alternative actions, think Total War, Telltale games, Mass Effect etc. The first one is harder to accomplish for me personally, I rarely replay action games. The second is harder to accomplish in general because all of the options and alternatives need to be explored enough to make them worthwhile. Take Oblivion for example, a game frequently described as "wide as an ocean, shallow like a puddle". Frankly, I loved Oblivion but it certainly wasn't as well explored as Morrowind.

I'm not counting score-based arcade games and such where you just try your best to reach the maximum score as replayable because you don't really finish those games. Same goes for open-ended sandbox games that don't have a fixed goal.

Zeejay: Randomly generated levels, fun rewards to unlock and additional challenges are great for re-playability.

FTL is an example of a very re-playable game, It's has random elements and no two plays are the same. It also has cool challenges that unlock fun rewards (extra ships).

Binding of Isaac is another good example.

Moonfist80: Nostalgia plays a pretty big factor in it for me. The games that I played when I was growing up I can still pull out and have a ton of fun. Almost every year I pull out an Infinity Engine game and play it for weeks, even though I've already seen all of the story and I know what happens, and in some cases, I've almost gotten to the point where I know where all of the encounters/traps/bad things are. It's like comfort food at this point.

There haven't been too many modern games that I'll play through multiple times that I can recall.

To check out the full list of community responses head over to the official Chatty thread.

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