Going With The Flow

Going With The Flow
A New Breed of Player

Marshall Honorof | 29 Mar 2011 13:08
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Real-time strategy has made some impressive forays into the hybrid market as well. Many PC gamers will remember 2010 as the year that Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty finally graced their systems. While it did not take long for series veterans to tackle the campaign's toughest difficulty or devise mind-boggling online strategies, their involvement is only a small part of the story. Starcraft II's campaign was much easier than its predecessor's even on the "Normal" setting, and the missions were much shorter. With the addition of a "Casual" setting, new players could digest the entire, epic campaign in bite-sized chunks. Even better was the addition of a Practice league and skill-based tiers for multiplayer. Starcraft II's match-making does a great job of providing players a real challenge to build their skills while rarely subjecting them to challenges beyond their means. Its generous "achievement" system also ensures frequent in-game rewards (such as new avatars) for both newbies and veterans alike.

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If hardcore games can be played casually, surely there must be a way to increase hardcore appeal for casual games. The fitness game genre is a great contender for this innovation, as it can help hybrids combine multiple hobbies into new experiences. While Wii Fit and Dance Central are not necessarily deep games, they can get fairly complex and require real skill to master. Imagine a fitness game with a narrative, or an in-game reward system. Bruce, as an avid cyclist, likes this idea. "The concepts of interactivity and strategic challenges have moved over into other areas of interest for me," he says, explaining a new system that allows amateur cyclists to mimic professional races with a stationary bike and a PC. "That's not a game, per se, but the concepts are the same, and I think there's an interesting bleed over from one to the other."

Whether or not developers realize it yet, hybrid gamers have opened the floodgates for a new philosophy in game design. They want something deeper than a casual game but more accessible than a hardcore game. Hybrids want games where they can hone their abilities, but a lack of time or dedication will not make the experience impossibly hard or unapproachable. So far, the best ways to hybridize a game have been through scalable difficulty settings, social play, in-game rewards, and short-but-meaningful play sessions. As the hybrid demographic matures, so too will the industry's gameplay innovations.

When the industry fully embraces this paradigm, both gamers and developers will do what nature has been telling them to do for the last three-and-a-half billion years: hybridize. Hybridize, survive, and evolve.

Marshall Honorof is an eBook editor for a large publishing company in New York. Check out his pop culture blog at http://chronologynut.tumblr.com and his website at http://www.marshallhonorof.com.

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