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31 Jul 2014

What Makes Exploring and Looting Fun?

One of the best co-op games I’ve played in years is Torchlight II. A game similar to the Diablo series, it’s an action-RPG tasking players with tackling missions (solo or cooperatively), engaging in entertaining battles, finding/selling loot, and exploring dungeons, caves, and other dangerous places. I love the game, and when the wife and I start playing it? It’s hard for us to stop.

What separates the game from merely being ‘good’ to being ‘addictive?’ It’s the exploration and looting aspects of the game. It’s why so many people enjoy the Borderlands series. In my opinion, it’s a fairly average first-person shooter; not bad, not good, just meh. Yet, when you add the exploration and looting concepts into the equation, you find that the Borderlands series is actually pretty damn fun.

Yet, the interesting thing about these types of games is what makes the games fun. Every new entry in the Borderlands series likes to tout how much awesome new loot is in the game, but that isn’t the draw of these types of games. Rather, it’s the…


The act of looting

Think about the sensation of opening a wrapped gift for a moment. Especially when you were younger, the act of opening a gift was nearly unbearable. The mystery inside the box, the anticipation to open the box and find out what’s inside is the most rewarding part of opening a gift. Even when you discover the gift inside the wrapped box is exactly what you asked for – what you wanted more than anything in the world – it cannot beat the sensation of unwrapping the gift and wondering what lies inside.

The best loot-focused games give you that same sensation. Blizzard’s Heartstone: Heroes of Warcraft does this to near perfection every time you open a new pack of cards. You have to actively open the pack and look at the cards by hand to see exactly what they are. This anticipation is addictive, and it’s what keeps players coming back to earn gold to buy cards (or, buy cards with real money).

Going back to Torchlight II again, whenever I open a chest or battle a dungeon boss, I get increasingly excited for the climax because I look forward to seeing the type of loot I’ll be rewarded with. After I obtain the loot? I look forward to the next set of loot, and the next, and the next set, etc.

It’s addictive, and it keeps me coming back for more.


The mystery

It’s the main reason why The Legend of Zelda series is still so popular. When a game presents a sense of mystery to every area you can explore, you want to explore the area. When I come across a dark, scary cave entrance in an Elder Scrolls game, I instantly want to enter into the cave and explore. Why? Because of the mystery. Is there a rare item in the cave? Who knows. A gang of bandits? Possible. Monsters that could rip me to shreds? There’s a possibility – but I won’t know until I enter!

If you can hook your players by enticing them to discover the mystery of any location in your indie game? You have them hooked.


That one rare item…

The best exploration and loot games also have rare, awesome items. The notion that you could find a rare item that wouldn’t have been possible if you didn’t open that treasure chest, explore that area, etc. is enticing enough for the average player to continue playing long after they normally would have stopped playing. The promise of finding rare items if you just continue playing is addicting, and it adds new life to any exploration/loot game.

Have any questions/comments about what makes an exploration and loot-heavy game fun? Let us know in the comments below!

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