Replayability is one of my favorite words when it comes to games as it describes one of the strongest selling points of them. Unlike other media, games can be replayed for many reasons and for this entry I’m going to try and look at them all. For the sake of the entry I’m going to define replayability as returning to a game after finishing it as well as continuing to play through a title.
1. Escalation: From the arcade days of the industry one of the basic hooks of getting people to spend more money was to up the challenge with each new level. Eventually the player will reach a level that is so overwhelmingly difficult that it will end their game, and then they will spend more money to try and beat it. While the use of quarters has fortunately gone away this mechanic has stayed. You can see this in just about every video game out there; with each new level/section/world something new or different awaits the player, whether it’s a new enemy to kill them or some kind of item to be used. In essence this is why most games don’t start the player out with everything as they need some kind of hook to keep the player going.
2. Competition : Another mechanic that has been around for awhile and has since gotten even stronger thanks to the internet, playing against real people is always better then dealing with a limited AI. I’ve seen multiple ways of building competition in games, from full on multiplayer modes to just a simple high score list in your game. In other words why beat the crap out of an AI when you can do it to your friends?
3. Cooperation : Like #2, cooperation has been around for roughly the same time span. Like most arcade gamers I remember the excellent X-Men arcade game with its 6 player co-op. L4D seems to be the best coop game in recent years and has managed to combine both points 2 and 3 into it’s game mechanics. Once again there just is something different about playing a game with real people as opposed to the AI.
4. The Experience. Now for this one, I may be the only who uses it but we’ll see. #4 is about the game play itself and how many games are not replicated. For instance, I like to play Shadow of The Colossus, Ico, and Killer 7 at least once a year. Not because these games are highly replayable but because there isn’t anything like them around. I do think that in some way this point can also be attributed to classic games like X-Com or Star Control 2 as we’ve yet to see a game truly capture what made these games great in recent years. I can easily compared games that fall into this category to art as each one is unique and usually never replicated again, or if it is without the same spark that was there in the first place.
5: Randomization When I first started coming up with this list I thought about leaving this one off as it is a really broad game mechanic. However the more I thought about it and how much of an effect it has I realized that it needed to be included on this list. While randomization on it’s own can be a diversion , when combined with point 1 can really add to a game’s life span just take a look at Diablo 2 if you don’t believe me. I’m a firm believer in adding randomization in some way shape or form to my game titles, even if it is just something small like randomizing enemy design in an action title. Every little bit can help keep the game experience fresh.
Replayability can both be considered an afterthought or the main point of the experience depending on the game and I believe these 5 points constitute it well.