If a virtual tree falls in the forest and no one sees it is your development time wasted?

I just had the stupidest argument ever about Dishonored and by extension a certain approach to game design. Stupid because clearly neither party involved had any intention of being convinced one way or the other and because I genuinely believe towards the end simply failed to understand what was being talked about. Dishonored really isnt the point here though, it does serve as a useful jumping off point though so in brief heres the controversey.

Dihonored was a fairly hyped game and when it came out the reaction was mixed to say the least. Opinion quickly split into two opposing camps – one said the game was too short, the other that there was loads of content there but if you didnt explore then you would miss it. In essence if you followed the games mission objectives you would miss out on a large percentage of the content. Based on articles across a wide range of reputable gaming sites and a number of the major gaming forums it seems you could miss out on 20-30 hours of gameplay if you simply follow the obvious path the game lays out for you.

Which leads me to the question, is it a good idea to design a game in such a way thats its possible for a sizeable part of your audience to miss out on the majority of your content? That’s an actual question and if your answer is yes I would genuinely be interested in the details of your answer (“Yes, because” is worse than no answer at all).

As the above entreaty may lead you to conclude I come down fairly firmly on the “No” side. I honestly cant see any justification for designing your game in such a way that a sizeable section of your audience will miss out on the majority of your content. What you are doing is voluntarily wasting your time, if you have content in your game and most of the people who play it dont see it then its wasted content. If you feel that 100% of that conent is needed to insure the integrity of your artistic vision, thats fine, but why not show it off? You don’t have to hold people by the hand but its not difficult to manipulate the narrative or the gameplay in order to highlight all the content you’ve worked so hard to include.

My main objection is from the development side and the unjustifiable waste of effort. But lets look at it from the players side, Player A buys a game and enjoys it finishing it in 10 hours, Player B buys the same game and enjoys it finishing it in 40 hours. PLayer B has receive 300% more enjoyment from the game, which is probably going to piss off Player A when he finds out. “Oh its ok Player A enoyed it” is a farcical nonsense defence. If Player A enjoyed 25% of the content you included why wouldnt he enjoy the other 75% (now likely he wouldnt enjoy the full 75% but its still a ludicrous discrepancy). If Player A accounts for the majority of your audience then you have wasted time, effort and money on meaningless content. Time, effort and money which could have went towards increasing the quality of the content the players will see or ensuring they see more of the content included. Even worse what if Player A only sees 25% of the game and is disappointed? Then you’re even worse off, your game receives poor word of mouth and future efforts are crippled because your game was judged on only a quarter of its content.

Its the game designers responsibility to showcase their game in the best light possible, it would be unacceptable for, say, a director to create a film 4 hours long but have the credits roll after 1 hour so only the people who knew about it or were too lazy to get up experience the full thing. The worst thing about it is when childish elitism, particularly from the pc-centric sectors of the gaming market rears its ugly head. There’s a differnce between “hand-holding” and “drip-feeding” and being deliberately obtuse due to misguided elitism.

Maybe I’m missing something here. If I am feel free to point it out.

2 thoughts to “If a virtual tree falls in the forest and no one sees it is your development time wasted?”

  1. Without worrying about the math of it all, I would agree with you to a certain extent.

    They should have found a way to guide the player to the ‘hidden’ content, or better yet, train the player to look for it (it’s far more rewarding for the player to ‘find it’ themselves). It’s a waste of the developers time if nobody see it, it’s unfair on the player, it hurts your games reception and so on and so forth.

    However, players like to explore. They like the chance to find things nobody else has found. The exclusivity of it. I don’t think Player B should have that taken from them completely. They clearly engaged with my game far more than Player A and I want to reward them, thank them for doing so.

    So, I would have used a tutorial to train the player to explore more and placed reminders along the way that they should be doing so. I would also, however take, let us say, 5 hours of gameplay and not guided anyone towards it. Allow that be what Player B gets for investigating more than Player A did.

    I think that with the above approach, Player A is move likely to find those extra 5 hours of gameplay too.

  2. Yes I agree, I dont think you need to reveal everything a game has to offer because as you said you shouldnt deny players who enjoy it of the chance to explore. I was more protesting at the extreme discrepancy you see in games like Dishonored. I think if a casual players sees around 70-80% of a game thats probably ideal, with the extra 20-30% serving as a reward for players who put more time into the game.

    Though I’m not sure if I’d qualify that extra time as engaging with the game more, not that I can think of a better way to put it but “engaging” just, seems sort of off.

    One other thing I meant to mention above was that in today’s gaming climate expecting people to come back and explore a game feels a little outdated. Casual gamers are unlikely to do so and unless there’s a meta-incentive e.g. acheivements/trophies/etc. most hard core gamers (especially on consoles) will blast through games once and move on – for hardcore gamers there are simply too many new games coming out to keep up with (even worse if they’re involved in a time consuming gaming sector such as MMO’s, MOBA’, RTS’, Fighting game, etc.

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