Over the past thirty years or so, as computer and video games have become more mainstream, basic assumptions about the design of interactive entertainment have changed. In the early days, when the majority of the market was hardcore, designers aimed for more hours of play per title because longer games were in demand. (They often did so by rigging games with impossible battles and repetitive chores, but the demand for long games was real.)
Fifteen years ago or so the demands of the market began to change. Consumer research showed players in the aggregate preferring shorter and easier games. While hardcore gamers still existed, they now made up a much smaller percentage of a market that included casual gamers and people new to computer-driven entertainment. Presenting these customers with 100+ hours of hardcore (if not also tedious and unfair) gameplay made no sense, and ran the risk of alienating them from the industry.
Like mountaineers determined to cross another peak off their list, hardcore gamers tend to finish games no matter how grueling the experience. It’s a badge of honor and a way to differentiate themselves from the masses. Casual gamers, on the other hand, tend to explore interactive works like tourists, following their whims and interests for a few hours before heading back to the hotel for a nap. And according to a recent article on CNN’s Tech page, this sight-seeing approach is fast becoming the dominant response to interactive entertainment across all demographics:
“Just 10 years ago, I recall some standard that only 20% of gamers ever finish a game,” says John Lee, VP of marketing at Raptr and former executive at Capcom, THQ and Sega.
And it’s not just dull games that go unfinished. Critically acclaimed ones do, too. Take last year’s “Red Dead Redemption.” You might think Rockstar’s gritty Western would be played more than others, given the praise it enjoyed, but you’d be wrong.
Only 10% of avid gamers completed the final mission, according to Raptr, which tracks more than 23 million gaming sessions.
Let that sink in for a minute: Of every 10 people who started playing the consensus “Game of the Year,” only one of them finished it.
Computer and video games are not cheap to produce, and the best of breed — often called triple-A or ‘AAA’ titles — can be more expensive than big-budget films. Sinking previous development resources into a product most consumers will never fully experience might make sense if the expense was recouped through additional sales, but that’s a huge gamble in even the best scenario. Making the odds worse is the ugly fact that consumers are simply hard-pressed to find time to play and enjoy longer works.