Posted by : Jameson Durall Monday, December 27, 2010

In the spirit of football season, my son has been asking often to toss the football around.  He's always had a strong arm and throws the ball well, but is a bit hesitant when catching.  I bought him a new football recently with soft tips which seems to have helped a bit but not entirely.  He had yet to catch more than a couple of passes in a row so I decided to to turn it into a game.

I told him lets see how many in a row you can catch and when he caught the first one I showed a high level of excitement and encouragement for him.  At that point, a light went off and it was really interesting to see.  He then started aggressively trying to catch the ball and seemed to forget any fear of the ball itself hitting him.  He had quickly caught 4 in a row and after dropping the next was anxious to try again.  Then he went on a streak of 17 consecutive catches that really excited the both of us.

This got me thinking about the ways we can hit this spark in a player of our games and get them to compete against themselves and keep playing.  Back in the NES days, I would play games like Super Mario Bros over and over in order to improve my time.  I hear people talk a lot these days about how in game timers are "too gamey" but they are really effective and help promote this kind of self improvement.
Grand Theft Auto San Andreas
Open World games are probably the best example of providing a "Play" experience in modern gaming and most do a good job of giving the player plenty to do and goals to achieve.  But to give a more fitting example of what i'm talking about, a friend of mine once told me that when playing Grand Theft Auto San Andreas that a group of friends would take turns seeing who could pull off the longest wheelie on a motor cycle.  That kind of motivation was likely not though about during development or at the very least focused on very little.

Leaderboards are an interesting mix of self improvement and outside influence.  Not only does it give the player a continually moving bar to achieve but it also allows them to see how well their friends are doing an be able to promote their accomplishments.  Does this kind of accomplishment count as in game or does it fall more into the current generation of achievements and out of game rewards?

These days I play a game to the end and then move on...but that is probably just a change in me more than games themselves.  I'm not really sure what a game could do for me to put lots of extra hours into it just to improve my performance.  Do you think games have enough of this type of gameplay these days?  What can we do to get more of this in our games?

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2 Responses so far.

  1. Slone says:

    Personally, I think game timers are only a problem when you can fail based on the timer. I like the TrialsHD approach of considering finishing the map a win, but you have to reach certain time goals to get beyond a "bronze" win. It gets especially fun when you start competing to oust your friends on the leaderboards. Some of those maps, I really enjoy, and some I hate. It's nice to be able to focus on the ones I enjoy without being forced to master ones I hate.

  2. Isaak says:

    I think what you're talking is streamlining the experience from play to a game.

    You basically put a game mechanic on 'throwing a football around' and turned it into a game, allowing your son (the player) to focus on playing rather than fearing failure which, when trying to learn something, is pretty damn great.

    Whether contemporary games give players enough freedom to think of basically their own mini-games like that, I'm not sure.

    Open world games provide a sandbox to do whatever the players want, but more 'closed' experiences such as competitive first person shooters aren't very easy to take advantage of.

    You could certainly make it easier with social media integration, but instead of pre-made texts by developers have them customizable by the player.

    Players could openly challenge their friends through Facebook, Twitter and the like.
    Record a video of something awesome, slap on a tweet/update with 'Beat THIS!' and get it on!

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