Replayability in Video Games - selene tan
selene tan

Replayability in Video Games

by on Apr.14, 2009, under Blog

“Replayability” is one of the features that video game boxes trumpet, often with the word “endless” tacked on the front. It’s considered to be fundamentally opposed to “story” — games that brag about their stories, like those in the Final Fantasy series, aren’t replayable. Games like Tetris, are.

The most common way I’ve seen to make a game with story “replayable” is to limit the amount of content you can see in one play-through. Multiple endings, multiple character choices, branches in the story — these are all ways to restrict available content. Of course, games usually limit the impact of such choices, making the replay basically the same as the original. And some gamers don’t even bother with a second run, wasting the effort that went into producing the replay content.

I think the issue is that games with stories tend to have a lot of fluff — not exactly filler, but activities that are only interesting because of the crumbs of story interspersed. Sometimes even the crumbs are boring the second time through, so new content has to be added to entice people into replaying the game.

On the other hand, people re-watch movies and tv shows, and re-read books all the time. (I’ve certainly read my favorite books more than once.) Sometimes there’s new content, e.g. an extended edition of a movie, but usually not. There are two reasons this is more common:

  1. It takes less time to re-watch a movie than it does to re-play a game.
  2. You can skip to the good parts.

Number one I’ve seen addressed a few times in RPGs. The most common method I’ve seen is the “New Game+” mode, where you start the game over but keep your items, experience/levels, and/or abilities from your initial run-through. Since most of your time in an RPG is spent in combat, this speeds up the replay pretty well. In Chrono Cross there was even the ability to speed through cutscene text. (Although at that point I started to wonder why I bothered.) In adventure games it would be nice to have a “solve this puzzle” button available on a second play-through; I haven’t seen that implemented. I suppose walkthroughs fill that role.

Inability to skip to the good parts is what makes the time factor such a big deal — few people are willing to play through 4 hours of game just to get to a single 2-minute cutscene. To some extent you can get around this by making multiple saves; I know I had a lot of saves in Final Fantasy VII just before cool cutscenes or bosses. One issue with this method is that you don’t necessarily know before going in whether a section of the game will be worth seeing again later. Another issue is that it can take up a lot of space, although this is less of an issue now that modern consoles have more than 1 MB/15 slots of space for savegames.

Some games have skipping to the good parts built in. In the recent Half-Life games, once you’ve completed a section, you can choose to start playing from that point. You’re given a standard set of equipment/ammo, and the checkpoints are frequent enough that you can pick almost any part of the game you want to play again. Games in general seem to be getting better at this kind of replayability — Mirror’s Edge and Saint’s Row 2 also make it easy to re-play specific missions. Unfortunately, the games that really need it (i.e., RPGs) don’t seem to bother.

Replayability of the more-content kind is nice to have, but replayability of just-the-good-parts goes a long way towards encouraging me to revisit a game.

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