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Sunday Time Waster: Shelf Life

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When are you done with a game?

Assuming it’s a game you enjoy; one you have been waiting to play ever since the publisher told you how “rich”, “engaging” and “deep” it was going to be upon release. Does there come a time when you decide, “I’m done” or do you simply lose interest like a four year old in a toy store?

Ohh shiny!

Developers go to great lengths to ensure that you spend as much time as possible with a game, even when it doesn’t really deserve it. We’re all different when it comes to shelf life for our games, much of which depends on the game itself which is why putting a “value” tag on any piece of entertainment is really tough to do. Some games are like Twinkies—they’ll last seemingly forever; others more like fast wilting lettuce…

I have been the commissioner of an Out of the Park Baseball League for going on three years. I play that game almost every single day in some capacity. Some days it’s simply running a week of the season and uploading a game file so the other 29 owners in my league can check the week’s games. Other days I find an hour or two vanish right before my eyes as I start to really dig into the league data, looking for potential trade partners and juggling the lineup around like Casey Stengel. You can lose yourself in a game like OOTP, particularly when playing in a multiplayer league format.

I have spent literally hundreds of hours with the game over the years (OOTP 12 comes out next month) and I don’t see my time ending anytime soon; even if version 12 is a bust OOTP 11 has an almost limitless shelf life due to its career based nature. It’s a Twinkie.

As long as the people in the league want to keep going, we’ll keep going. We’re currently in the playoffs of our seventh season and our league has taken on a life of its own. We know the players, the history, and the rivalries. We have created our own sense of history. Owners come and go but the league just keeps churning right along. (NHS user Maceman is in our league and currently battling me in the NLCS…)

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Out of the Park Baseball is a game I feel I know intimately. However I don’t think that’s too common in today’s climate of disposable entertainment. As much as I can’t understand the mainstream fascination with Call of Duty and Halo, there are a lot of people who have grown exceedingly intimate with those games, and I am quite sure many of them couldn’t possibly understand how I could spend so much time with a baseball game without player models and what is basically a really pretty spreadsheet.

I have people on my Xbox Live Friends List who every time I see online, they are playing Halo or CoD. The idea of playing anything else, any other shooter specifically, holds no interest or at the very least a passing one. Homefront? Crysis 2? Killzone? Eh, whatever. Those people are not putting down CoD or Halo anytime soon.

It’s much like World of WarCraft.

MMOs come and go and publishers try desperately to crack the Blizzard Shield where inside rests a pot of very large gold, but they all end up failing. Sure, many MMOs are still running—alive and kicking with minuscule user stats compared to WoW but that game has become a part of life for a lot of people. It, too, has limitless shelf life. Another Twinkie.

But let’s back away from those games for a second since they are the exception to the rule and get back to the main question at hand – when do you consider yourself “done” with a game? When was the last time you played a game to the point that you knew every crack, crevice, blemish and stretch mark?

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The definition of being “done” with a game is different for everyone. For some, it’s when they see the credits roll. For others it’s not until they have uncovered every secret coin, completed every level and discovered everything there is inside the design. For others still, completing the game isn’t important as just enjoying it until it becomes boring and then moving on to the next thing. All of this has to do, I think, more with our own personalities than it does the game itself.

I’m not a completionist by nature. I don’t have a burning need to “finish” a game. Some, my wife for instance, would claim that personality trait extends beyond the digital space. If you listen to the podcast you know that I reached the end boss of the original Dead Space, got frustrated, and used the disc as an ornate coaster. I felt no burning desire to conquer it because the developer hated me. I played and enjoyed Darksiders but never finished it, either. Some games I’ll play through until I see the credits, others still I’ll play multiple times. Games like OOTP I’ll play for years.

Brandon, on the other hand, has Gamer ADD and has to find every trinket, locate every Riddler Question Mark and collect every orb or his brain revolts against him and won’t let him sleep. A friend of mine played through Dragon Age with every character class option and played through every single romance thread. That’s a level of intimacy with Dragon Age that very few people reach.

Demon’s Souls is doing this to me. Last night, after a day of boardgames with my wife, daughter, and one of our friends, I played Demon’s Souls without the assistance of the phantoms and hints due to PSN being “under maintenance”. After multiple tries, I finally, triumphantly, defeated the boss in the storm castle area. If you’ve played the game you know what I’m talking about – he of the giant tongue. It was a terribly tough fight until I figured out his weakness.

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I sat if front of the television around midnight, smiling at the screen, palms sweaty (another common trait when playing this game) looking at the soul remains of the boss demon shining before me. I wanted to give someone a high five. My dog receive a vigorous ear scratching instead.

Supposedly, there’s only one more general area left. Although I know there are many, many things I haven’t seen or done in Demon’s Souls. There’s that damn red dragon on the first starter area. What’s that machine in the prison section? There’s more to uncover and I genuinely want to get to know this game as much as I can. I want to play with and against other people—and die. I will most assuredly do that. I want to try various classes and run through the game again with a fighter-type and not a mage. It’s rare when a game does that to me.

I see other players enshrined in some hall of heroes with stats that boggle the mind. How did they do that?

Digging deep into a game is normally a rare thing for people in my profession. Time normally doesn’t allow for it. We play, we finish, we write, we move on to the next thing. Demon’s Souls is an old game, and I have no reason to keep playing this, professionally speaking, other than to simply enjoy it and discover all of the things From Software packed into it.

It’s a neat feeling.

And one I wish happened more often. The game may not be a Twinkie, but it’s certainly passed the lettuce stage.

***

(Happy Easter everyone.)

Bill Abner

Bill has been writing about games for the past 16 years for such outlets as Computer Games Magazine, GameSpy, The Escapist, GameShark, and Crispy Gamer. He will continue to do so until his wife tells him to get a real job.

9 thoughts to “Sunday Time Waster: Shelf Life”

  1. Personaly, I aim for the 100% mark. I even used to do it back on the mega drive, where I had to get every emerald in Sonic, or find any secret levels, collectibles or easter eggs hidden about. It continued onward, and I still have the same mentality today with trophies.

    However, there are certain times where I just stop, because I just couldn’t give a damn.

    Pefect example are multiplayer trophies. I hate them. I just don’t care. Those attrocious ten thousand kill ones in Resistance and Bad Company are the biggest load of horse apples I’ve ever come across. I get you’re trying to keep people playing the multiplayer, but maybe you should try makeing the game memorable rather than putting in some piss-take of a requirement to hit the 100% completion. Likewise for things like “Get every medal in the game”. I feel crap like that gets in the way of acctually playing the game, as people piss about trying to finish off a trophy rather than playing the match. I got sick of seeing people trying to get road kills with helicopters in Bad company.

    Likewise, if a game is just boring. I still can’t get myself to play Killzone 2. I just don’t care. There is NOTHING memorable there for me. Am I done? Eh, maybe not. Will I go back any time soon? Doubt it.

    I keep all my games nestled on my shelf, and some I go back to. I just finished Red Faction: Guerilla again last night. It’s a fun game and I felt like breaking stuff.

    I guess for me, I’m done when I’m bored. Some games are crappy, and I get bored after a few hours. Others I play repeatedly. I do try and aim for the 100% every time though, but some achievments just reek of the desperation of developers to make me play their game, or achievments put in there just for the sake of it, and not for any “fun” factor. These make me bored a lot faster than others. I’d have more fun getting fun achievments with a bit of a challenge than have to suffer to get pointlessly hard ones for “the satisfaction” of succeeding.

  2. I think you mean gamer OCD, ADD would imply that he can’t focus on a game for more than five seconds at a time, basically ;).

    My end of life with a game depends on the game. JRPG? Done when I’ve seen the ending. By that point I’ve seen almost anything the game has to offer and not much is going to get me going back. Even personal favorites like the Persona series that I would love to replay just suck SO much time that it’s hard to justify.

    Shorter games can definitely have me back for more, especially with the advent of silly crap like achievements. I mean, really, they mean nothing but they do often give you ideas for novel ways to play the game and a silly ding noise for doing so. Case in point, playing Alan Wake I would never have tried to do one of the last enemy-packed areas without firing a shot normally, but hey, there is a stupid achievement for doing just that and I said, “I want that. I don’t know why, but I want that”. So, I got it. Pointless, yes, but damn fun trying to pull it off.

    Some games are like good books, you want to re-read them at some point just to appreciate them again. Dead Space, Gabriel Knight, Day of the Tentacle, 5 Days A Stranger, all fantastic games that I hope to never be completely done with because they’re like comfort food for the gamer appetite.

    I’m not sure what my point was here, except that I really like Alan Wake ;).

  3. Although I enjoy games with multiple options, strategies, etc., I usually just end up with one and stick to it. Where the long enjoyment comes from is the micro – how engaging, dynamic, and rewarding is it? For example, the RTS Company of Heroes only has a few strategies compared to, say, Civ 5, but COH is all about the micro, and this is so rewarding on its own I still play it time to time.

  4. Another good time waster bill.

    For me, I like to take my time. If I find a game I really like I try to savor it. I try to be the guy that knows it backward and forward.

    It’s the REASON I read forums, reviews, sites like NHS where I feel like I know the writers and what malkes them tick, and play a lot of demos.

    I don’t have unlimited gamer income so I try to really reseach games before I buy them because once I do I want to play them until they’re spent and I’ve spit out the carcass.

    Sorry that sounded gross.

  5. Looking back, my entire game career has been a series of me believing I was the best at something, and never quite realizing that I wasn’t.

    I notice that I subconsciously place myself within the game, which leads to a lot of the bad (game) decisions. I like to follow my own ambitions, that have nothing to do with the game’s objectives. WoW and Fallout were particularly potent for me.

  6. I wish every game I bought had the shelf life of a good fighter or sports title. Virtua Fighter I’ve played for years, NHL whatever year. I buy a new one every three or four years and thet get played consistently. Shinobi 3 I still play regularily but some games just getp played and I don’t know if it’s nostalgia or great game play bringing me back.

    But those are the games I hunt for. Bayonetta offered me tremendous re-play value and surprisingly so did Vanquish, but that’s just because I was so addicted to the style of game. Generally it’s sports titles; Viruta Tennis and Hockey being my favs, or a fighting game like VF, MK or SF. Anyone of them is fine for me.

    I find that games with a social element work really well which is why Halo, CoD and WoW are so popular. A community can and does build up around them with a solo action title it’s much harder to do. Your left with leaderboards which don’t really scream interaction. RPG’s get away with it because they are frequently over 20 hours just to play the main campaign quite often with as much as 30-60 hours of gameplay sort of artificially added on there. Resonance of Fate is taking me forever to finish but I dig the fighting system so much that I don’t mind.

  7. I used to trudge through games just to complete them, but now I’ll drop a game in a hot minute if I’m not having fun. Homefront, for example. And I’m pretty close to 86ing Portal 2 (“Let’s test again”- f*#k off Wheatley!). Life’s too short to make yourself play a shitty game just to get an achievment or the satisfaction of victory.

    There’s been a couple where I’ve done exactly what Bill did with Dead Space- got to the end, there was some bullshit boss fight or something that took me more than a few times to get through, and I just said to hell with it and moved on. Seeing a dumb cinematic and a credit sequence isn’t worth it unless I’m actually invested in the story and gameplay. I know I’m done with a game when my fun threshold starts to taper off…in most open world games, this hits at about ten hours, on the clock.

    There are very few story-driven games that I think are actually worth second playthroughs or even keeping around for posterity, I’ll sell a game I just absolutely loved the day I finish it. I do really like things like fighting games, racing games, mulitplayer shooters, and soccer games that I can get unlimited replay out of and I usually have several of those kinds of games on hand at any given time…but a game like DAII is out the door ASAP after I beat it. No point in keeping a 50 hour game sitting on the shelf to depreciate and winding up trading it in at Gamestop for five bucks less than a year after its release.

  8. Not out of a sense of completism – it remains my favourite of the series. I can dip into it for five minutes, and often find myself a just-one-more-go an hour or more later. And even after many, many years I can never be sure that I will beat my computer-generated adversaries (although that probably says more about me than the game). And you can play it on a netbook. I dread the day when I find I can no longer install this on whatever portable I am using …

  9. I think that’s a good point on games that don’t really have an “end”

    Civ qualifies, definiately.

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