Designer: Elements of Replayability

One of the most important elements of a game is replayability, or the reasons for a player to play it again.  There are two main elements that go into replayability: fun and variety.  Seeing as how fun is relative to each person, it is often better to focus on the variety that your game can have.  Here are some notes on replayability:

  • Horror games can have a lot of trouble with replayability since most of their enjoyment comes from the scares.  Once you’ve experienced the scares, the game becomes fairly basic; many of the games are linear to guarantee the scares of the game, so without the scares, the game becomes fairly bland.  Randomizing when the scares come, creating multiple paths with which to travel, and especially making randomized monsters/levels can make more replayability.
  • Action games can be repetitive if you fight the same types of enemies and attack the same way too often.  Creating different characters with a variety of powers, weapons, and attacks can make for a variety of experiences.  You can see this with a lot of the modern shooters that throw big spectacles into their single player campaigns – buildings collapsing, forcing you into vehicles, etc. – to make the levels distinctive.
  • Puzzle games can be replayable if there are random puzzles.  If there are only pre-made ones, then once you know the answers, then you can breeze through them without any challenge.
  • The random chance in board games and card games (from the randomized decks and the dice rolls) creates a large variety of situations in the games.
  • Non-random games can be replayable if there are a number of effective strategies.  If there is only one tactic to use, then the game will not be worth revisiting (and also likely had some balance issues).
  • Multiplayer always creates replayability since the strategies of the players can change each game.

So, going by this list we can see that there are a few important factors that determine replayability:

  1. Multiple ways to play:  Different strategies, different units, different approaches to solving problems all allow players to play the game without suffering the same experience as their first play-through.
  2. Randomization: Whether this comes from random elements in the game itself or from the variety of ways that human competitors play, this varies a player’s experience from game to game.

Replayability can make or break a game.  There has been talk in the past year about how big budget horror games cannot succeed (hence Resident Evil, Dead Space, etc. have become action games recently) since they generally lack replayability; people play them and then sell them back as used games, hurting the sales of the game (so companies claim).  Is this because horror games can’t have replayability?  Probably not – they just need to work it into the game.

Variety is the spice of life.


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