5 Easy Ways To Completely Ruin Any Game

Did your favorite game developer completely destroy your favorite game? Here are my 5 sure fire ways to turn an epic game into an epic fail. What are yours? Here's your chance to call them out!

Number 5: Design for the Top 5% of Your AudienceGame developers everywhere, let me introduce you to a bell curve...No, no, no. Not a "belle" curve, you nitwits. A bell curve. Bell curve...There you go. A bell curve is a common distribution in which most of your measured population lies somewhere in the middle (like most tomatoes being maybe 3 or 4 inches across), with just a rare few members of the population existing at one extreme or the other (like running across a tomato the size of a watermelon). In the bell curve above, "innovators" (people willing to try a new technology just because it's new, for example) represent only 2.5% of the general population, while "laggards" (people who are highly reluctant to adopt modern innovations, like video games... cell phones... electricity...) represent 16%. Everyone else falls somewhere in between.My number 5 pet peeve is game development that targets the top 5% of a gaming population while basically ignoring the middle 90%. (That doesn't add up to 100%, smarty pants, because of the bottom 5% at the other end. Now quit being so critical and work with me here.) The top 5% of an MMORPG population plays on $2,000+ machines with blazing internet connections. They live, breathe, and sleep thier favorite game. They play 10 hours a day or more, and they spend the other 6 to 8 waking hours trolling through the game forums and sneaking peaks at game videos on their mobile phone in the middle of class... and dinner... and board meetings... As best I can tell, some of them are on the forums sleep typing, for all the sense they're making, but I digress. My bone to pick here is not with the gamers. It's with the developers.Game developers love top-five-percenters because these superfans are all over the game forums talking about how awesome and amazing and scrumpdillyspectaculicious the game is, and how they desperately need new content right now or they are going to run screaming into the street or jump out a window in their heart-bursting angst. And, really, who can blame developers for wanting to be treated like stars? But 90% of the gaming population is made up of perfectly decent gamers with perfectly decent machines who don't have enough time to both play the game and be active on the gaming forums, so at the end of the day something like 80-90% of the feedback that developers are getting on the gaming forums is from more like 5-10% of the gaming population. It's no wonder they're getting a skewed view of player preferences.So, what's the problem with designing for the top players? Dear God what isn't. Graphics are pushed too far for average graphics chips. The speed required to play even in PvE is pushed too far for average internet connections. The time required to gear is pushed too far for average work schedules. The time required to level is minimized to the point of absurdity until the game has almost no story left and becomes all about max level progression. (Yes, minimized. Hardcore gamers--and yes, there are exceptions, but I'm talking as a general population--want alts, alts, and more alts. And they don't want to wait for them.) The list goes on and on. The developer loses out too, by the way, because the top 5% of the population in a pay-to-play system accounts for an equally small percent of their overall income. Now, designing for the top echelon in a pay-to-win system at least makes more economic sense because the top 5% are paying a lot more than everyone else, but the resulting play experience is going to be just as miserable for the average player, if not more so.Number 4: Design for the Bottom 5%I don't see developers making this mistake as often, but the result is just as bad. Near the end of a game's life cycle, after it has been developing content for the top 5% for too long and has driven away far too many of its middle-of-the-road players, a developer will sometimes flip-flop strategies, trying too hard to fix the problem by doing too much too late, simplifying what was once a complex game to the point of absurdity, in an attempt to cater to the other end of the spectrum and expand their market by attracting younger players. The developer adds things like pandas and pokemon in a complete 180, finally abandoning the voice of the top 5% by catering to the bottom 5%. It's a sign of the end, my friends, a sign of the end.Number 3: Income-stream OverkillMy number 3 way to kill a game is to push so hard for income streams that the game just stops being fun at all. When you work for three months to get some in-game item and then the very next day the developer offers something that looks even cooler for the bargain price of $9.95 you have to ask yourself what's the point of playing? If I wanted to spend my online free time spending real life money to try to look as cool as the next gal I'd spend my afternoons cruising Piperlime for boot sales. Just as bad is the game developer that moves a solid PC title onto a mobile platform, making it free to download but then ungodly difficult to get that perfect score without "powerups" that you have to buy... and buy... and buy... (Can you say Diner Dash?) Yeah, let's take a perfectly decent casual title and turn it into a black hole of death just waiting to suck a gamer's money down into its greedy maw. Enough said, I think.Number 2: Deviate from Your Core IdentityEvery game has a core look, a core play style, a core feel that first attracts the people who come to love it. But sometimes a game's very popularity can become its downfall. Suddenly the developer is getting user requests all over the map, pulling them in a thousand different directions. If the developer doesn't have a core vision that it can stick to against the rising tide of clamoring players, it's going to be tempted to try to be everything to everyone and end up being nothing but a hodge-podge of gaming cliches that don't even hold together.Add animals! Add pets! Add facebook! Add twitter! Add achievements! Add leader boards! Add motorcycles to the medieval castles! Add castles to the racetrack! Add a racetrack on my farm! Add a farm to my training camp! Add a training camp to my pirate ship! Add a pirate ship to my land-locked fortress!What?The only game in the world that could really work being this eclectic is Disney's upcoming Infinity, rated E for Everyone, by the way, 10 and up because of some cartoon violence. If you're not Disney, you can't get away with it. Pick a direction and stick with it.Number 1: Bad Interface DesignAs bad as all of the above gaffes are, none is as bad as a poorly designed interface--period--making this my number one pet peeve in bad game design. When you enter the gaming world for the first time, getting around should be intuitive. Even if achieving a game objective is difficult, navigating the interface shouldn't be.Let's look at two examples. First, the bad: James Cameron's Avatar, The Game. I'm not talking The Avatar from the cartoon series. I'm talking the one from the movie. Oh, right, they were both movies. But I'm talking about the movie with the tall blue aliens. Yes, that one. I loved that movie. When the game came out on Playstation 3 I just had to have it. I bought it when it was first published, at full price, which I almost never do, because I just couldn't wait to be immersed in that world. Only immersed was a little too like it. As in immersed over my head. As in drowning.I love a game that makes me think, but I want to be forced to think about problems inside the gaming world--how can I get around that mountain?--how can I open this treasure box?--not, which of these stupid buttons is forward again?Now compare that to Call of Duty MW3, a game I picked up on something of a whim since I don't usually go for first-person shooters. The first thing I ever did in the game was to PvP as a level 1 in a death match with a ton of level 80's. I got decimated, obviously, but at least I could move around. Within moments I could run, I could shoot, I could duck, I could reload, all without ever thinking about it again.Sure, I sprayed about 37 bullets in the general direction of a level 80, who calmly turned around and one-shotted me in the face while running backwards and jumping over a retaining wall. But at least I understood what happened. That's a place you can learn from.So please, game developers around the world, I'm begging you. Even if you insist on designing for the top or bottom 5% of your audience; even if you add so many income streams to your revenue plan that I can't turn around without stumbling over something else to buy; even if you introduce elves and engineers, pandas and motorcycles into the same gaming universe; please, please, at least make it easy for me to find my damn sword and point it at something appropriate.

Featured Correspondent

app developer, author, rancher, gamer, (and occasional lawyer)

Published Jul. 21st 2013
  • [[Deleted]]
    I'll comment on each number so's not to be all over the place.

    Number 1: Bad Interface design - I think the giant flop that was the initial launch of Final Fantasy XIV speaks for itself, luckily for Square Enix X|V AAR seems to have been able to rise from the ashes... with a customizable Hud no less, which is awesome for the record.

    Number 2: Deviate from your core Identity - This is true of just about everything... how many times do companies deviate to try and please everyone just to piss everyone off... look up the history of just about any major cola or tea company and at one point or another they've had to revert back to their original recipe after trying out a "new and improved" version due to customer demand.

    Number 3: Income Stream Overkill - I call it microtransaction retardness but to each their own. Look at Guild Wars 2... you can reskin just about any peice of gear... however except for the core set of armor introduced at launch all new additions of cool looking stuff have been through the "gem store"... and they've had to pull a whole gear set from the store because it was just about identical the the human Teir 3 cultural light armor gear which is some of the priciest gear in the game and led tons of people to play human just to wear that specific gear set. So you can imagine the outrage when you could buy almost identical gear skins on the gem store for a mere 800gems.

    Number 4: Designing for the bottom 5%, most common in MMO's typically early level handouts get added, leveling boosters, boss fights are made easier all to make it so people can get in and catch up to the "majority" of the playerbase. The real issue here is it negates all the effort those that came before put in. Those that had to work really had to obtain say a rare sword only to have some noob get the same sword six months later because the boss fight for it was dumbed down... yeah its a slap in the face.

    Number 5: Designing for the top 5% .. again its hard to please everyone, and when you have people that basically become addicts, its as good for business as it is bad, yes their out there telling the world about your game, they happily pay any and all fees, however their the also typically the first people to turn into sourpuss's when they run out of content, or when something becomes easier. The game becomes their identity and they become to involved with every little detail... or rather critical of every little detail.

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