Let me blow your mind really quickly: playing video games are like doing chores these days, man.
I’ll gloss over how WoW and Farmville are designed to keep you playing (I’ll leave that research to Cracked, apparently), but want to talk about how this extends to even casual games you’ve already bought and paid for.
Games like Rock Band, where you can only unlock new songs in career mode, which means slogging through all the awful songs you can’t fucking stand to get to the ones you like. I still haven’t played Hot For Teacher because I gave up at the prospect of having to play through a set of only Tool songs. Does part of being a Guitar Hero means wasting your free time on things you wouldn’t do for money?
I saw Just Dance at WonderCon and it looked like fun, so I thought I’d check out some reviews of it. Turns out the motion capture isn’t so great, but in the review I read, the complaint wasn’t that; like with Dance Central, all the levels come unlocked. Christ, finally. “Well, what’s the incentive to play??” is the question. I guess because you enjoy the game itself, not because it makes you grind for the things you actually want. If you only like dancing to “Bust a Move”, and that’s why you bought the game, well… fuck off and let me play the one song I like.
This is something that goes back at least as far as Legend of Zelda for the Wii, where training takes the form of an endless stream of trivial tasks before you can get around to actually starting on your little quest. And oh you should hear me bitch playing Mario Galaxy 2. No thought is given to speed or efficiency, because even if I beat all the worlds on one level, I may still have to go back and beat some extra level just to get enough stars to access the level boss. The game has all the choice of a Model T dealership and everyone in this galaxy is asking for a handout. “Hey, I need someone to clean up all this garbage!” “Help! My goats got out of the pen!” Oh so I work for you now? Bowser’s been on a week-long rape vacation with Princess Peach while I’m helping a giant bee scratch its ass.
What I’m asking for is a little more choice, rather than forcing every player to be an OCD completist. I’ve already bought Mario Galaxy 2, so what does Shigeru Miyamoto care if I play every last level or give up at the opening cinematic and use the disc as a coaster? What was special about even recent games was you could play it straight through, beat it, and having achieved a feeling of mastery over the game, could then — at your leisure — go back and play the rest, trying out the levels you skipped to beat the game. It becomes self-directed exploring rather than mandatory fun.
Let players love your game and keep coming back to it, rather than force them to take it in one great indigestible lump. Maybe there’s a marketing reason for designing games this way, but when it comes to gameplay, it’s turning the casual gamer off.