What is Even the Point of Your Game
Did you ever ask yourself during game development what the point of your game is? Well, I did. And, if you would ask my parents, they would tell you that playing any game is the definition of wasting time. Well, obviously I have a different perspective on that. First of all, I see entertainment for what it is: entertainment. And second, I find that games are in a very unique position to convey a message since this medium can take player agency into account like no other. Sure, there were always the Choose Your Own Adventure books and alike. But video games are on a whole other level in terms of possible consequences from player choice and putting a player into a position, where she or he has to make a decision.
So, some games feel like they are a waste of time. And others are able to give you the feeling, that your time is well spent. During the development of my previous game, I at some point found myself thinking: What is even the point of this game? Yes, it is fun to shoot Lootboxes. But it did not feel like there is a point. You probably think by yourself, that I am an amateur. And you are right. Real game developers probably don’t have problems like these. Anyway, I started to think about what it is, that some games feel pointless, and others don’t.
So, I came up with a list
And all the points in it seem to make the player feel like she or he is not actually wasting time. Most of them are actually pretty obvious and basic human traits. They are wired into our brains and therefore do not seem pointless.
For someone with a university degree in game design, this might sound like rather basic stuff. But for me, it wasn’t and I really struggled to not make my games seem pointless.
The most obvious one. If the story is good or bad is another question, but same as a myth, a tale, a book or a movie a story is something people see meaning in. So if you have a good story, you increase the chances, that the player feels like your game is meaningful.
Some kind of progression goes a long way. When people have something to work towards, to improve upon in order to overcome yet another obstacle, they are much less likely to feel like there is no point in playing your game.
People like to explore new worlds and new locations. If they can discover something new and thus learn something new, they see meaning in it. This can also be in an abstract way, like discovering a new thought. This way they don’t feel like the game is pointless.
If you ask people, why World of Warcraft hooked them like it did, when it came out over a decade ago, I bet most of them would point in one form or another to the social interaction. The whole idea of MMORPGs is built around social interaction. Why else would someone choose to fight against lag, server issues, and on top of that pay a monthly subscription for it? Like in real life social interactions are meaningful to people.
Most people are competitive in nature. Nature itself is very competitive. If a gazelle is not faster than a lion, it probably will get eaten. So naturally, many people want to show, that they are the best at something. For some, this might increase the stress level and thus turn them further away, but many people see a point in being or striving to be the best.
Life is all about overcoming obstacles. So, games, where you have to overcome obstacles, should resonate with most people. They will see meaning in getting better, learning and mastering a game. But, if the obstacles are too hard to overcome, people may get frustrated very quickly. So there is a fine line to walk here.
People do not just like to role-play inside their bedrooms. There is a history of traditions and rituals when it comes to masking yourself to be someone or something else. It all ties together with the wish to be a better person and striving for improvement.
In a lot of games, you have to collect stuff. Collecting things is deeply wired into the human brain. People see a meaning in collecting art, figures, stamps, and many other things. It is not so different from collecting every gem in a level, every Pokémon or every cosmetic skin in a game.
This ties together many aforementioned points. Collecting skins and masking as someone else. Cosmetics may also be woven into a progression system. Also, competition plays a part too, since people always want to be the best looking, most sexy, or just the most eye-catching person around. So, concerning the argument, that it is OK if Lootboxes contain “just cosmetics”: I would argue, that the same way progression, story or competition can be vital parts of a game also cosmetics can be a vital part and by no means inferior to them. Lots of games are built around the collection of cosmetics and cosmetic progression. If you would strip that away, they more often than not would feel a lot more pointless.
And last but not least, there is fun. Not only girls but all people just wanna have fun from time to time. Entertainment is a vital part of conceiving a game as pointless or not pointless. If people are aware, that they play a specific game to be entertained, then they probably can see the point of the game just being fun to play.
Still, Don’t Know What the Point of Your Game is? Make a Nice Cocktail!
If you look at some of the most successful games in terms of how long people played it and do not feel like there was no point in playing, they almost always have a mixture of different aspects. Think about games like Diablo 2, Path of Exile, World of Warcraft, Old School RuneScape, Warframe, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Team Fortress 2, League of Legends, Fortnite, Overwatch, etc. Most of them cover every base regarding the list. Or at least they lean heavily into some aspects.
But what do you think? Write a comment below. Or, if you did find this post informative, let me know in the comments below too. I would love to hear from you. If you think I missed something, let me also know.
If you want to know more, check out other posts about game development on this website.
To learn more about Game Development I can recommend The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, Second Edition by Jesse Schell. If you are interested, you can follow the affiliate link to also support this website.