Probably one of the worst titles I've used for a thread, or in this case 'blog', since I've started contributing to the internet nearly 2 decades ago, but it'll have to make do.

I've been thinking about this for a couple of days now, my train of thought having been put into motion by a comment over at Eurogamer.  The article was about some strategy game in which, after each victory, you had to chose one perk to 'level down'.  The comment said that this was a great idea, as it would keep the game challenging as you 'got better' at the game.  But do we really get better at a game durig the time we  play it, or is it just an illusion created by the developers?  Sure, there is progression to be made, but more often than not, the trail of progression has little to do with player agency, and more with a drip feeding of incremental upgrades and unlocks, as laid out by the developer.  It's all very similar to how all the free to play shovelware on mobile works: a steady stream of small 'achievements' to keep us hooked.  Were you able to take on that one boss because you had gotten better at the game, or because your time spent in the game had bestowed you with enough stat multipliers that you were capable of taking him down without having to resort to being actually more skilled?

Giving it some more thought, you realize that mostly any FPS or third person action game is all about an artificial balance between how strong enemies are and how good your gear/how high your HP is.  Skill isn't a requisite to beat a game, and most games don't care if you get better at playing it or not.  This rings also true for RPG's and strategy games.  Your squad levels up and unlocks better gear to take on tougher enemies.  They're not tougher because they're harder to battle, they just take more damage before succumbing.  The only genre's that don't seem to adhere to this are competitive online multiplayer games, shmups and puzzlers.  A good puzzle game gives you a set of rules and expands upon them, requiring you to learn its language and its finer details.  The same can be said for competitive online multiplayer games, although the satisfaction here does not come from wallowing in the unique language of a good puzzle game, but from forming a better understanding of a blander, more common set of systems than your peers.  Shmups on the other hand have little love for upgrades, their language rae the patterns of bullet hell.

Which then begs the question: why do games care so little for skill and personal progression in a game?  Is it because devs want as many people as possible to be able to beat their games?  Is it a way of artificially padding out a game, where you can't reach certain areas unless you have spent enough time with the game for your in game avatar to have become stronger or acquire the right gear?  Is it a meansof levelling the field for all gamers, regardless of their prior level of skill, because devs have to develop both for those new to gaming as veterans who have been playing the same types of games for 2 or 3 decades?  After all, how can you expect gamers to improve while playing your game, when you can't control who it is that will be playing and how well versed they are in the gameplay you're offering?

So, as to reach any kind of conclusion (not that I promised I would), I think you could say that the only games at which you get better, are those that are ahead of the curve in terms of their difficulty.  And those games will always be more of a niche proposition as they willfully exclude a large part of the market: those that aren't capable, or willing to invest the time needed to improve.  Thinking back over recent years, the only game I played that I can come up with that required you to really improve in order to progress, is Fast Racing NEO, a game with brutal AI that is so fast that you need time to even just adjust yourself to the speed at which it chugs you along.  Perhaps people will say the Souls games are a good example as well, but improvement is a fickle thing.  If you've played one such game, you will have learned the language of the franchise and each consecutive entry you play will have become easier to you, requiring less of you.

So yeah, not much of a conclusion.  But I didn't promise one either.

Posted by SupremeAC Wed, 19 Oct 2016 13:50:19 (comments: 12)
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Fri, 21 Oct 2016 03:33:00
I think more people these days (myself included) are fine with enjoying an interactive experience. I used to love skill based games, but as I've gotten older (I'm 43), I play everything on easy now. When I game, I just want to relax and have some mindless stress-free fun.
 
Fri, 21 Oct 2016 04:12:31

The "skills" as you call them which help gamers get good at certain games like shmups, music/rhythm games, platformers, fighting games, racing games etc are fast reaction time and good ability for memorization.  I am now arguably a more skilled and experiences version of the gamer I was when I was eight, yet back then I could often finish coin-op shmups and side-scrolling platformers with one credit.  Nowadays, much to my disappointment, I can't even beat more than one or two levels at these games.  The reason is my reflexes have got way way slower and my memory is now bordering on dementia.

 
Fri, 21 Oct 2016 08:51:07

I dunno. Even in a game like RuneScape (totally feedback loopy and stat-based), even in its most menial tasks like mining or woodcutting, there's a noticable difference between people who can do bullshit fast regardless of the equipment they're using, people who are slow and crap at doing bullshit, and bots that are superhuman at doing bullshit.

 
Fri, 21 Oct 2016 09:03:47

Heh, with all the buzz about the Switch and me not really expecting any replies to this, I forgot all about this blog.  Nyaa  Thanks guys, for replying anyway.

I wasn't talking about how some people are more skilled in general than others though, I was challenging the idea that we get better at a game the more we play it.  We improve as gamers through playing many games, but we don't often improve at playing a single game.  Because every gamer comes to a game with a certain level of acquired skill, it's hard for developers to create a game where they can task the gamer with actually getting better at it.  The only way to do this is to offer something novel, a new 'language' to learn and get the hang of.  If a game can't offer that, all the devs can do is simulate progression through artificial means, unlocking new gear or abilities, artificially raising your proficiency by introducing stats to the game.  Which, when you think about it, is very similar to how free to play games work on mobile.  I find that to be a disturbing thought.

 
Fri, 21 Oct 2016 09:21:36
SupremeAC said:

Heh, with all the buzz about the Switch and me not really expecting any replies to this, I forgot all about this blog.  Nyaa  Thanks guys, for replying anyway.

I wasn't talking about how some people are more skilled in general than others though, I was challenging the idea that we get better at a game the more we play it.  We improve as gamers through playing many games, but we don't often improve at playing a single game.  Because every gamer comes to a game with a certain level of acquired skill, it's hard for developers to create a game where they can task the gamer with actually getting better at it.  The only way to do this is to offer something novel, a new 'language' to learn and get the hang of.  If a game can't offer that, all the devs can do is simulate progression through artificial means, unlocking new gear or abilities, artificially raising your proficiency by introducing stats to the game.  Which, when you think about it, is very similar to how free to play games work on mobile.  I find that to be a disturbing thought.

Yeah, but I'm sort of disagreeing with that, too. Nyaa

I got better at mining and woodcutting in Runescape than I was at the start, and aimlessly clicking on shit is a pretty universal MMORPG "skill". I think it's more a question of how conscientious the gamer (or how stupid, in the case of getting good at mining/woodcutting) is, rather than it having to do with the design of the game.

Basically, I'm saying you can get better at anything, even if it's very similar to something you're already good at. Yet, in a sense, I do agree that most people don't because they're not conscientious and/or stupid enough to, if the game doesn't require them to, which is how I understood what you’re saying.

 
Fri, 21 Oct 2016 09:47:30

So you're saying that on a game per game basis you improve at mundane tasks just to be less bogged down by them?  As ever your angle in looking at this is...  interesting.  LOL

But say you were to play another game that had a similar mining/woodcutting element of 'gameplay', surely your newly found skills would transfer to that game?  That's the point, it's difficult for a game to be rewarding by offering us a challenge to muster (and it speaks in favour of you if you derive joy from achieving such lofty goals as getting better at mining), because most likely we will already have acquired the required skills.  Unless the challenge is to become skilled in some unique element of gameplay, as offered by good puzzle games.

This whole thing started with me thinking about having put nearly 100 hours into MH4U.  You'd think that the game is about taking on bigger and more dangerous monsters, while really all it is about is getting that shot of dopamine when you forge a new piece of gear.  Sure, battling the monsters is kind of fun, but it's repetitive busywork.  I'm not much more proficient at it than I was 90 hours ago, my gear just got better, allowing me to take on stronger monsters.  So that's not what keeps me going.  So what is it then?  it's that little tingle in the back of my head when I forge a piece of better gear, knowing that it'll bring me a little bit closer to a new monster, to the end of the game.

Here we have a game that is considered to have a good, deep combat system, good gameplay mechanics, but in the end all of that doesn't matter.  It's about that tingle you get when unlocking something new, something marginally better than what you had before.  And it's no different from my wife playing some mindless free to play game on her Ipad, pouring in hundreds of boring hours, with only some incremental meaningless progression to show for it.

 
Fri, 21 Oct 2016 11:26:04
SupremeAC said:

So you're saying that on a game per game basis you improve at mundane tasks just to be less bogged down by them?  As ever your angle in looking at this is...  interesting.  LOL

But say you were to play another game that had a similar mining/woodcutting element of 'gameplay', surely your newly found skills would transfer to that game?  That's the point, it's difficult for a game to be rewarding by offering us a challenge to muster (and it speaks in favour of you if you derive joy from achieving such lofty goals as getting better at mining), because most likely we will already have acquired the required skills.  Unless the challenge is to become skilled in some unique element of gameplay, as offered by good puzzle games.

Well that depends. Even when games are copying each other directly, there are often subtle differences that mean some readjustment is required. So even just getting to the same skill level I had in the prior games does require some improvement because now it's ever so slightly different. The real skill ceiling, in my experience, is often not so much the game, but my own potential/interest in getting better at the game. Or maybe I'm just crap at games, so don't ever even become adequate? Nyaa

What's most interesting is the motivation for the improvement in getting "better" at woodcutting and mining, a "skill" which I was already adequate at (knowing how to use a mouse being the base skill requirement lol), was as arbitrary as the motivation you're describing in your Monster Hunter existential crisis.

P.S. Good to see you're still posting fascinating topics!

 
Tue, 25 Oct 2016 09:57:38
I agree with the entire premise, but that does not make for interesting conversation.

Learning the language of the franchise is a skill progression, as is territory taking and weapon/ armour/ skill upgrades.

Games like the most recent Tomb Raider do this exceedingly well, even the mediocre Far Cry series rewards those prepared to get on their treadmills.

With far less than games being completed by those who start them, says something about all this, but I am not sure what exactly.
 
Tue, 25 Oct 2016 10:15:47
aspro said:
I agree with the entire premise, but that does not make for interesting conversation.

Quite.

aspro said:


Learning the language of the franchise is a skill progression, as is territory taking and weapon/ armour/ skill upgrades.

The latter is progression, but not of skill.  It is merely padding to justify the interactive nature of the medium

aspro said:


With far less than games being completed by those who start them, says something about all this, but I am not sure what exactly.

I'd say this says something about the hedonist consumeralist world we live in today, and little about how good people are at playing games.  We overspend in relation to the time we can free up to enjoy our purchases.  Perhaps the indie scene has brought some change in this, as it has helped change our mindset towards what we should expect and pay for a game.  Thanks to them, we now feel comfortable paying €15 for a padding free game that will last us only a couple of hours.

Which brings us to how games have changed over the last 3 decades, going from short skill-based obstacle courses on limited hardware, to 'experiences' that mimic film, which were made possible by the ever increasing freedom of more powerfull hardware.  Perhaps, as the medium and its demographic matures, more gamers will acknowledge they lack the time for these 30+ hour games, and devs and publishers will let go of this idefix that games must be long to justify their traditional pricing and we will start seeing more shorte and cheaper games.

But that's all rather off-topic.  Nyaa

 
Wed, 26 Oct 2016 09:03:06

I thought about your comment a few ties over the last 24 hours. It's a really good point.

Which brings us to how games have changed over the last 3 decades, going from short skill-based obstacle courses on limited hardware, to 'experiences' that mimic film, which were made possible by the ever increasing freedom of more powerfull hardware.  Perhaps, as the medium and its demographic matures, more gamers will acknowledge they lack the time for these 30+ hour games, and devs and publishers will let go of this idefix that games must be long to justify their traditional pricing and we will start seeing more shorte and cheaper games.

It's so good I think I'll co-opt it without attribution in a future episode of The Game Under Podcast.

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