Sunday, November 29, 2015

Coming So Close and Yet... Part 1

Cheesy picture to begin the article! Yay!

Having knowledge on both gaming and sports, both of which involve elements of winning and losing, I would know how thrilling it is to win in a video game, beating levels that turn out to be insanely difficult and finding out what exactly I needed to do to beat that level. I would also know that winning big games in sporting events has that unique kind of adrenaline rush that you can't get anywhere else.

So what's this about the "near-win?" How significant is the near-win? How do you define a near-win anyway? My basic definition of the near-win would go something like this. When you achieve some levels of success throughout your main journey but you don't necessarily complete your main journey is how I would define a near-win. You can see this in video games. I may be able to complete some side tasks that will factor into all the unlockables and goodies that come from the game, but those side tasks may not matter at all when it comes to the game's Story Mode. I get little wins here and there, but I don't get the big win that matters.

Game development can be complicated when it comes to the near-win because of the fact that you want to keep gamers emotionally invested in your game without frustrating them. You want to motivate them by implementing the near-win mechanic, but you don't want to paste the near-win in every corner of your game. The carrots that are dangled in the side tasks of the game depend on what kind of rewards the players can expect to get. If the rewards are just "there" and not all that motivating to get, then there won't be much of a Replayability Factor for your game. What is the theme of your game? How can you tie your rewards around that theme? Those are questions to consider when implementing the near-win.

I have developed a stronger appreciation for articles on Gamasutra because the writers who bring up the interesting topics that I include on this blog bring up topics that have also been on my mind at one point in time or another. I'm so thankful that this article in the link brought up the element of the near-win because I do find this element to be missing in some video games that could really use such an element. In some video games all you get is this; you either win or lose, and there's no in between. You either get all the golden coins or you get bags of garbage.

While I am not an advocate for handing out participation trophies to every gamer who embarks on a Story Mode journey, I do advocate the idea of giving gamers some sort of reward for the 2nd place finish, for achieving Runner-Up status. I do believe going "almost" all the way in a game should count for something, and it should be something to motivate the gamer to get back into that game and complete it the next time around. That's why reward systems that are divided into separate tiers can be so useful because they help gamers tell the difference between receiving an upgrade that's Silver Medal status and receiving an upgrade that's Gold Medal status.

Best visual example of a "Near-Win" IMO
Briefly going back to sports, I remember watching one of the best Super Bowl games in my life as a sports fan. It was Super Bowl 34 (in the beginning of the year 2000), between the St. Louis Rams and the Tennessee Titans. It was a back and forth contest between 2 teams that really wanted to win the Lombardi Trophy so bad. The Rams were up 23-16 late in the 4th quarter and the Titans went on one last drive on offense. The game came down to one final play where wide receiver Kevin Dyson caught a pass and fell 1 yard short of scoring a game-tying touchdown. Linebacker Mike Jones made the key stop to end the Super Bowl right there.

I mention this moment because that's pretty much the kind of thrill you would like to give your gaming audience when developing a game. Even if you're like Kevin Dyson and you fall 1 yard short of achieving your ultimate goal, you shouldn't be punished in any big way even though you still lost and had to start the final level all over again. There needs to be a 2nd place "I almost got it" kind of reward in place for gaming moments like this, and that reward may be all the gamer needs to finally see what he or she did wrong in the final level and then correct that mistake and beat the game.

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