I came across a fantastic article earlier this week that I urge all of you guys to check out. Over at the Game Development section of Tuts+, author Darran Jamieson brings up a point that I’ve never actually thought about before: the dangers of penalizing your players after they lose a game. It is a mechanic of games that a lot of us came to expect as the norm: for example, Jamieson points out that in the game Monopoly, players are penalized for losing all their money.
They are forced to sit out of the rest of the game – and if you have played Monopoly, you know that a game can take hours to complete. Nobody wants to sit there and watch the game unfold while unable to participate; which is probably why I have never been able to complete a game of Monopoly in my life. If you think about it, it’s a stupid mechanic. While I understand it forces players to try that much harder so they can win and continue playing for as long as possible, but it is more important to keep all players invested in the game.
As Jamieson points out, most board game designers are ditching this idea that it is okay to penalize a player for losing by forcing them to watch instead of play. Again, this seems like such backward thinking, but it happens in video games all the time. A perfect, personal example is Counter-Strike (which Jamieson references as well). When you die in Counter-Strike, you have to wait until the next turn; and if you’ve ever played the game, you will know that some matches can take quite a while. If a player has to wait over a minute to play again, they have already checked out and are thinking about doing something else.
Chalk it up to lower attention spans or the fact that there are more ways to entertain ourselves than ever before, but this type of gameplay trope has to die. At the very least, if a player has to endure the never-ending cycle of playing, stopping, playing, stopping, repeat, ensure the player has to stop only a few seconds at a time and it makes sense for the game to behave in this way. A perfect example is Towerfall Ascension. Sure, once you die in a round you have to sit back and wait for the next round; but it perfectly acceptable due to the nature of the game. Most rounds never last more than a minute, and because the game can only be played locally, it’s actually entertaining to watch the reactions of the other players as they try everything in their power to survive and win the round. It is not like Monopoly in that you have to watch people count money for hours; rather, you get to watch people shoot arrows at one another for about 30-seconds until you play again. It’s a perfect contrast of how penalizing players for losing works for and against a game.
If I could summarize this point up in one phrase, it would simply be this: never penalize your players for losing by locking them out of the game for a certain amount of time unless it absolutely makes sense to do so. If doing so could keep your players from playing the game for longer than a few minutes, rethink your strategy. More often than not, there is a better answer right around the corner.
Jamieson also brings up other examples pertaining to keeping players from playing your game. It’s worth a read if you have a few minutes, so check it out via the source below!