Replay Games: How Developers Keep You Coming Back

By | 1 year ago 

We’ve pretty much accepted that AAA games cost about $60 and that’s not going to change, even for short games. It’s easy to feel ripped off by games with short campaigns, particularly if they don’t offer you anything beyond the main story. While many games use multiplayer to flesh out the content and keep people invested, there are a variety of other ways to keep people playing once they’ve made it through the story.

Like any other aspect of game design, developers have to balance giving players more bang for their buck without relying on demanding more money. And while not all of these methods of getting gamers to replay games have a squeaky-clean moral approach, they’re still pretty dang effective at keeping that controller in our hands.

DLC Encourages You to Replay Games at a Cost

DLC is a mixed bag. Yeah, it’s nice to return to an old favorite with a new story, but it’s not the greatest way to encourage people to replay games. When it comes to encouraging people to replay games, it’s milking more money out of them, not offering them a reason to return. And it’s certainly lucrative, as a market analyst predicted that DLC sales would reach over $1 billion in 2012.

Dragon Age: Origins Awakening Replay Games

You didn’t have to replay Dragon Age: Origins to enjoy Awakening, but good DLC is a great way to inspire players to replay games.

DLC can be great. For example, Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening added new characters, provided a return to familiar characters, introduced new ones, and gave players a strong story to remind them of why they liked the game in the first place. Other examples of good DLC include Undead Nightmare in Red Dead Redemption, which added a whole new mode of play for fans of the game. But considering that DLC typically costs the player extra money, it’s less about getting more bang for your buck and more about getting more buck from the player.

Branching Storylines Make You Replay Games To Make New Choices

Branching stories are one of the trademarks of RPGs, and also a great way to get people to replay games. In games that feature stories that can head off in different directions, such as Heavy Rain, the choices you make can leave you wondering whether you should have done something different. The same is true of games with small decisions to make, too—most of Telltale’s games, like The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead can make you replay a second or third time to see how playing a different way can change the ultimate outcome.

The Wolf Among Us Replay Games

Though the story might be largely the same, series like The Wolf Among Us encourage you to replay games with choices that affect the way you interact with characters. Image Source: K-putt via Flickr.

While branching stories are a great way to encourage people to replay games, they can also be a little frustrating. As a completionist, sinking over 100 hours into Dragon Age: Inquisition might have been fun the first time around, but it’s a pretty daunting task when it comes time to figure out what happens when you side with the templars instead of the mages. And not all decisions are weighted equally—there are quite a few games where your decision-making feels hollow due to a lack of consequences.

Seeking to Understand Deep Lore Gets Many to Replay Games

There’s a big difference in storytelling between being vague and requiring the player to work for the story. The former is more likely due to a lack of story—wild speculation can be fun, but when you’re having to fill in the blanks because there’s nothing but blanks, the effect is significantly less. That doesn’t mean you have to spell everything out. On the contrary, games like Bloodborne work because they require you to delve deeper.

Bloodborne Replay Games

This crying woman in Bloodborne actually has significant purpose in the game’s story, but it’ll take time and effort to understand exactly how.

Most of From Software’s games rely on this technique of giving you tantalizing hints of a story rather than spelling it out in codices and dialog. Mixed with new game plus, players can find themselves discovering more and more of the story, making new connections, and learning more with every subsequent playthrough. While this doesn’t work for everyone—plenty of people blaze right through games like this without caring at all about the game’s story—dropping these hints on occasion is a pretty effective way of encouraging people to replay games.

Getting people interested is hard enough, but getting people to replay games is even harder. Especially as you try to balance giving people what they pay for, versus making money, offering multiple paths without requiring too much time investment, and providing enough information to keep people hooked (but not so much that they get overwhelmed).

How do games get you to keep playing once they’re over? What are your favorite replay games?