Learning From Failure

Learning From Failure
Hard-Earned Victories

Chris Plante | 21 Dec 2010 12:37
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But is this reward system better? Many gamers appreciate the escapism that games provide. Judging from recent sales numbers, frustration-free games can do staggeringly well; in October's NPDs, 9 out of 10 games fit the bill.

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That games have trimmed away their more frustrating factors over the last thirty years was arguably a necessary step in their evolution. How and where we play games has changed dramatically since the 80s. In that decade, most casual gamers experienced the medium at an arcade. To milk players for change, arcade games were purposefully difficult. A successful arcade game had to be easy enough to interest the player, but difficult enough to warrant a constant stream of machine-fed quarters.

Now, most anyone can game most anywhere. In 2007, a report from Nielsen Co. found more than 40 percent of television-owning households in the United States also owned a videogame console. In 2009, GfK ChartTrack reported 8 out of 10 British households owned a next-gen console.

On top of that, former non-gamers have been seduced by highly addictive Facebook and iPhone games like FarmVille and Peggle. The industry has successfully cast its net far beyond its core.

None of these platforms - console, browser, mobile - require the compulsive difficulty that funded arcade machines. Most of these games require payment up front. The player pays for a complete experience, and with console games averaging $60 a pop, it's reasonable they want that experience to be pleasurable.

Games that allow players to funnel in money, like FarmVille, don't string the player along by making the gaming increasingly difficult. They do the opposite: Paying for extra parts of the game makes it easier.

Even Super Meat Boy knows the power of, well, power. Accomplishing specific tasks in the game unlocks bonus playable characters, some with abilities that cut the game's difficulty.

Games have been perfected for pleasure. Are videogames then the pleasure pills, the bellwethers of our self-destruction that Aldous Huxley warned against in Brave New World? A reach, perhaps, but they do have that potential, especially in the hands of developers who design games to exploit human weakness for personal gain.

As Blue Byte studio's Teut Weidemann so casually put it in a speech at GDC Europe 2010, "We have to bring them in and keep them addicted and make them keep playing." His co-worker, Blue Byte executive producer Christopher Schmitz later added, "Game design is not about game design anymore - now it's about business."

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