Replay Value. It’s the last thing we think about when deciding whether or not we’re interested in a game, but it’s among the first when time comes to actually buy it. Having a reason to come back after the credits roll has always been important; it’s what the old arcade game literally banked on after all. However, in a modern game industry where the choices are too many to count, having more replay value could very well make the difference between a purchase and a pass. What is that makes a game re-playable though? One would think that a modern game would need a wealth of content in order to stay on the shelf, but I don’t that’s quite it. Content certainly helps, but it can’t do anything if the game doesn’t do something to win its players over first.
I’ve been thinking about this off and on over the years and I’ve never really come up with a satisfactory answer before. There’s just no one thing that grants replay value to a game. For a game like Destiny, it’s the desire to try out the new content and see how you stack up against your fellow players. What about a game like Mass Effect though? Or Metroid Prime? Neither of those games get content updates, nor do they ever sport new challenges/opponents to tackle. They offer the same experience every single time, yet not only manage to bring their players back time and again, but also remain each and every time. Different games, very different means of keeping their players coming back.
Destiny derives its replay value from its community and moment-to-moment gameplay. From the very beginning, Destiny has always felt really good to play. The weapons just feel right. They flinch just enough when fired. The projectiles actually look like they make an impact on the enemies, and each type feels different. Running feels fast. Jumping makes one feel like they’re executing an incredibly athletic and stylish maneuver. It all just feels right. “Feel” is not enough to win people over though. They need something more, and for Destiny that something is its players themselves. It, like many of its peers, lives and dies based on the size of its community. If the community were to shrivel up, then the global competition that is Destiny would quickly follow it. After all, what’s the point of acquiring rare/top-tier gear if there’s no one to show it off to? In short, Desitiny is a game that is only re-playable so long as there are other players to measure up against. It feels good to play, but feeling fun moment-to-moment is enough to bring a player back, especially when the point of the game is gathering gear in order to show off and be competitive. What about older, single player games then?
Being simply fun isn’t enough for a single-player experience either. Instead of encouraging players to compete with one another, single-player games have to something else; they need to bring you into their world.Metroid Prime does this by creating an atmosphere. It brings its players into a world of isolation; giving them the (mostly) unique experience of navigating an alien environment all by there lonesome. It makes sure to fill that world with secrets and scattered pieces of information meant to reward your exploration. Exploring the world leads to a greater ability to understand it, and that feels great no matter how many times one experiences it!
Mass Effect creates its hook through its characters. Even us fans will admit that the actual moment-to-moment gameplay in Mass Effect is kinda basic, if not downright clunky. However, we’ll almost always overlook it because we’re here to watch the adventures of our favorite characters unfold! Mass Effect asks its players to latch onto its characters rather than its gameplay, and it mostly succeeds. Depending on how much time one has, they could gladly get engrossed in the exploits of Commander Shepard and Co. time and time again. No competition, community, or add-ons needed (though those are always really nice to have).
Games with replay value do something that games lacking it do not. They offer something unique; something only they can offer. Sometimes it’s a strong community. Other times its an enveloping atmosphere, and still other times its an utterly charming cast of characters. They show you why you’d want to spend time with them, and that, I think, is what makes all the difference.
What is it that makes a game re-playable for you? Is simple fun enough, or does it take a little something else?