Bethesda's Brett Douville has outlined a few key goals to keep in mind when it comes to managing difficulty in mainstream games. The bottom line? Games can always be easier.
The unfortunate truth these days is that unless you're making Ninja Gaiden or something, if you want your game to hit it big, you're more than likely going to have to make it relatively easy to beat. Nevermind the "back in my day shields never regenerated!" hollering of the crotchety hardcore bunch, games need to be playable in order to be consumed and enjoyed by the mass market.
Which brings in the matter of the balancing act between making a game easy enough to be beatable but challenging enough to be fun. Bethesda's Brett Douville, inspired by a playthrough of the atrociously balanced Buffy game on Xbox, has offered his set of solutions, and he seems to be suggesting that games - at least, the ones that aren't Ninja Gaiden - should usually be easier before anything else.
"Your easiest setting should basically be 'push button, win game,'" Douville offered. "You will think that it can't be made easier, that there are no wall missions. You will be wrong. Make it easier. Give them an out."
Douville's main point seems to be that a game should always give its players as many options as possible to beat it, and to be generous with its help. No hiding potions in dark corners, don't be afraid to offer hints (he even says he admired Perfect Dark Zero's gigantic arrows pointing players where to go), make it easy to change difficulty settings, and adjust to the player.
"Push button, win game?" I'm sure a lot of people are going to say that this is exactly what's wrong with the games being made today. But really, Douville seems to be more than aware of this reaction and wants to be clear that he's speaking primarily about mainstream single-player action games. The hardcore can keep their atrociously difficult bullet hell shooters, everyone else should be getting a break.
"Difficulty often breeds frustration, particularly in the narrative-plus-action games that licenses lend themselves to," Douville said. "Give your players a break... and they'll come back."