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Gaming is a Life and Depth Matter!

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Did you get the subtle connotation that the word Life has for Gamers?

No? Read on anyways!

We Gamers are a funny bunch. We need instant gratification, and you’d think we would quickly tire of our latest toy and want to move to another game. But once we are hooked to a game we want it to never end.

Very different from a good book or a movie where you are eagerly anticipating the climax. You may read the book again next summer and catch the movie again when the DVD comes out but it’s not like the effect that games have on us.

Oh! Just one more level, another boss battle, another set of powers!

Marketers should welcome this phenomenon. Here is an opportunity to engage for far longer and much further than other mediums ever could.

This poses a challenge to game designers – how do you design games with depth? Depth, that gamers appreciate and talk to other gamers about.

But first let’s get a few myths out of the way around Game Depth:

Myth 1: Only core games can have Depth. Casual games by definition are 5-10 minute affairs.

Anyone who has played casual game blockbusters like Plants vs. Zombies, Crush the Castle or Desktop TD will tell you that these are extremely deep games, with level upon level. Each level might be a 2-5 minute affair but it all adds up!

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Myth 2: If you want a game with Depth do RPG, better still, do MMORPG.

RPGs, and their MMO cousins define the stereotype of the nerdy, unsocial gaming addict who loses his or her sense of reality within the sweeping scale of such games. Classes, sub-classes, shards, guilds, grinding, parallel economies – you really cannot match RPGs for depth. But strategy games like theCivilization 4, FPS like System Shock 2 and simulator games like Microsoft Flight Simulator offer real Game Depth, but on different parameters, as described further on in the post.

Myth 3: Designing games that have Depth means huge investments and development times

Please go to Kongregate or Armor Games and check out some of the casual games I mentioned before. Many great casual games operate on a principle I call “Simple Mechanic, Gazillion levels. Also, check out classics like Harpoon. It aint true!

Myth 4: Advergames have to be like ad spots. Short sharp messaging. Depth would be death.

That’s confusing mass media with an engagement centric interactive medium like digital. In a previous post I broadly categorized advergames into tactical and strategic. I have already pointed out the casual gaming examples that are a rough parallel to tactical advergames. As for Strategic Advergames, cue America’s Army – that is one insanely deep game, just check out the number of missions and different people with which you can play.

So what are the multiple parameters on which Game Depth can be achieved? Do remember these are not mutually exclusive.

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Game Modes

 Remember, Age of Empires, pretty deep already but then you can play in different modes – King of the Hill, Deathmatch, Regicide, each with its unique flavor.

Binary  Gameplay

Ever played the Total War franchise, forget the primary and secondary gameplay of a Grand Theft Auto, here is a game that bundles two games into one in my book. You can either be in the GOD gameplay planning your kingdom’s destiny or leading your troops on the battlefield in the RTS gameplay.

User Generated Content

 That holy grail of great game design that gives the player the ability to create their own missions and scenarios, it’s a great way to crowdsource game depth!

Simple Mechanic, Gazillion levels

  Unless you were Osama Bin Laden and did not have a phone or access to the internet, you would have heard of Angry Birds, the breakout mobile hit from Rovio. It is faithful to the casual gaming depth principle of creating a very simple game mechanic, and then building scores of interesting and challenging game levels around the same.

Scale

Refers to the physical size of the game levels as well as to the duration of the game missions. Parkouring your way across Damascus in Assassin’s Creed or cruising around Liberty City in GTA, the size of the levels is a huge factor in creating game depth. Also, hard core simmers will testify, lurking for hours under water to torpedo a convoy in Silent Hunter, has a charm of its own, though you and I may opt for the time acceleration button!

Multiplayer

 

It’s classical gamer behavior to jump into multiplayer the moment they are done with the single player. That’s when the real engagement and longevity starts for a game – with the unique game outcomes that result from playing with different players at different times. Friendships and rivalries are forged in many a game lobby – be it on a Call of Duty or at Scrabble.

Game Variables

The most obvious way to make a game deep is to increase the number of game variables a player can control or choose from in a game – classes, skills and traits in RPGs, weapons and equipment in FPS, Buildings, people, and resource types in a GOD game, and a bewildering array of buttons, switches and levers in a Sim.

As long as one is designing for cause and not designing for effect this can only be a good thing!

What do you think? Have I missed out on any parameters? What are the challenges in achieving depth? Comments are open!

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