Like most forms of media, the purpose of video games is to entertain the customer. A person sitting down to play a video game is supposed to experience enjoyment from interaction with the game. A video game that fails to provide entertainment has failed at its purpose. Like any form of entertainment, consumers prefer video games that provide the maximum amount of entertainment based compared to cost. Thus, if one game provides five hours of entertainment at $40 and another provides twelve hours of entertainment at the same cost, the second game is usually the more popular.
During the early years of the video game industry, the standards were pretty low. Without much competition, a video game could provide only minutes of entertainment and still be competitive. But, even with low competition, there was a limit to what consumers would accept, based on cost. Arcade games, that cost only a quarter, often provided only a few minutes of entertainment. But, home games that cost $15 – $20, and required a purchase of a console or computer, were expected to provide significantly more entertainment value.
Due to the limited memory of older games, it was usually impossible to produce a game that could provide more than about half an hour of continuous game play. The exceptions to this, like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong quickly became some of the most popular games on the market. For other games, the developers relied on high replay value to sell the games.
High replay value generally came from one of two features with older games. Unique game play was one of the two features that added replay value to a game. Games like Pitfall!, Spy Hunter, and Dragon’s Lair were just about unlike any other game on the market. The originality meant that players would play again and again to enjoy the unique experience. The other major feature was the ability to play with multiple players. Games like Combat showed off this feature very well. A second player was much made each game feel different than the previous game.
As the industry matured, replay value became nearly essential in video games. In fact, replay value was commonly one of the features rated in video game reviews. Unique game play still created high replay value, but developers also found new ways to add replay value. Newer games commonly included multiple paths to complete the game and hidden items in the game. Thus, it was common for players to defeat a game, but not have seen every secret in the game. Only by replaying the game could the full game be experienced.
This was fine when games were consistently about 5-10 hours long, but game play time has increased significantly in the 21st century. The average action game takes over 10 hours to complete and the average role playing game takes about 30 hours to complete. Massively multiplayer online games technically have no end and gamers spend hundreds and even thousands of hours playing them. Whichever the game, one thing is common among modern games: replay value is growing increasingly rare.
Instead of replay value, many modern games include trophies or achievements. Trophies and achievements are in-game goals that require going above and beyond the standard experience to complete. A simple goal may be earn $10,000 in the game, while a difficult goal may be to find every secret item hidden in the game. These goals are nearly always designed so that they can be completed regardless of decisions made during the game.
The inclusion of trophies and achievements is a transparent attempt to get gamers to play a specific game beyond the normal time necessary to defeat the game. Depending on the game, gathering every single achievement or trophy can easily take anywhere from a few hours to ten times as long as the it took to complete the game in the first place. In fact, in massive multiplayer games, gathering these achievements often becomes the goal of the game as soon as the player’s character reaches maximum level, something that can easily be accomplished in about a week’s time.
These new goals seem to come at the cost of replay value. Modern games, while enjoyable on a first play through, rarely have similar appeal on later replays. The length of the game simply makes a second play through too arduous. Also, since the game play is longer, it get tends to get repetitious late on the first play through, rather than on the second or third.
In some ways it is beneficial that trophies and achievements are replacing replay value. Trophies and achievements technically require exploring additional content, while replaying a game generally means repeating past content. There are slight exceptions on both sides of this, but it proves true in the average case. But, this also means that replay value is quickly disappearing from most modern video games. This is especially unfortunate for casual gamers, who are generally more interested in replay value than trying to complete every little bit of content in the game. It also has a negative impact on massively multiplayer games. End game content is significantly improved by achievements, but starting a new character becomes a chore and is often boring.
For now, the gaming industry, and more importantly, the consumers seem to be accepting of this change in direction. Whether this continues to be true or whether replay value once again grows in importance in the future is not yet clear. But, whether it does or not, the trophy and achievement system seems to be a permanent addition to the gaming industry.