What Makes a Game Sticky?
Bhagpuss recently tackled this question, and it made me pause to consider what the answer might be for me. My initial thoughts all quickly discounted, thrown by the wayside, one by one. At least so far as a single universal reason was concerned. Rather quickly, I was left with the last defence of the indecisive, ‘It depends’.
More seriously, I think it does depend. But I think my reasons to stick to a game have shifted over the years, too. Hmmm. Ok, maybe that’s not entirely right either. More accurate to say that the weighting of my reasons has shifted over time.
The Early Days: To See the Next Cutscene
With all the hate cutscenes seem to get these days, this may come as something of a surprise. But at least for me, and once upon a time, I would tolerate an unthinkable degree of grind in order to hit the next big cutscene.
They were the candy treat for doing your chores.
That might sound a bit harsh on the whole, you know, ‘game’ part sitting behind them — and I don’t mean to suggest I didn’t enjoy my time with these gigantic JRPG-style games at all, because I did.
But let’s be honest; particularly if you wanted to take on some of the more difficult, optional, content of the games, you could be grinding a long, long time.
Although that optional content does bring up another potential reason…
The Challenge / Full Completion
Full completion is such an alien concept to modern me; it’s almost unimaginable that once upon a time, it was such a strong driver.
But it really was. I had to beat every boss. Obtain every character’s ultimate weapons and limit breaks. The time required didn’t matter — just get it done.
Occasionally this motivation still surfaces. Particularly for the Dark Souls games, for whatever reason. They still manage to tickle whatever otherwise dormant centres of my brain control this particular motivation and give it a temporary spark of life.
It’s hard to say why this motivation otherwise died out for me, seemingly so completely. Part of it shortly is simply down to reduced available time. Another part is likely to be the huge increase in available games on hand. There isn’t the same need to make each and every one last hundreds upon hundreds of hours.
I once judged games quite heavily by the number of hours of content they boasted, with the higher, the better. Beyond a certain point, that’s not even a desirable trait at all anymore!
To Climb Every Mountain
Or, in other words: To explore! To have seen what a game world has to offer just around the next corner. Closely related in some respects to the previous motivation, but still distinct. Even if only in the sense that this particular motivation lasted longer than climbing every mountain and beating everything I found did. (Dark Souls notwithstanding.)
In fact, I’d say this one has lasted through to today. Open World games — be they MMOs or Singleplayer like The Witcher 3 — are still amongst my favourites. I’m still of the opinion that adding ‘Open World’ to almost any other genre makes for a better version of the original genre.
Ubisoft gave changing my mind on this a really good shot for a while there, but for now, I remain undeterred!
Although… Elden Ring was an interesting case here. Open World + Dark Souls should be the bestest thing ever…! And… I did enjoy it. But I remain unconvinced it needed the open world aspect. Or at the very least — I do still hope Dark Souls IV ends up being a thing as well as an Elden Ring II.
Sure! Plenty of other reasons!
I particularly enjoy it when a game lets you start from relatively humble beginnings and then become a big deal in some meaningful way. X4, which I did a stint of recently, does this really well.
I’ve been trying to think why XCOM 2 — pictured in the featured image for this post! — has this sticky power too. And what about RimWorld? Dwarf Fortress?
I think the answer to all three of those is the potential to generate stories.
Sort of full circle a bit there to my first reason; but rather than just watching a story unfold as intended — the emergent stories of these types of games, the ups and downs of the characters involved is in many ways more compelling.
Ooh, and all this without even getting into multiplayer co-op! …! OK, that’s perhaps for another time.