When talking about a game's staying power, we're looking at the power the game has to keep you, the player, coming back over and over again. Ask a gamer - any gamer - what games they keep going back to, and you're likely to get a myriad of responses. Some keep returning to "Star Craft" or "CounterStrike", a "Final Fantasy" title or a "Grand Theft Auto" game. The games that might be mentioned may not have much in common on the surface, but underneath they all share some striking commonalities. The first of which - and the most important - is player involvement.
When discussing player involvement, we’re looking at the degree to which a game makes the player feel involved in the game’s story or environment. Many games are quite successful at this, keeping the player involved for hours at a time. One illustrating example is "Starfleet Command," a late-’90s PC game. While many "Star Trek" games center around well-known characters, "Starfleet Command" puts you in command of a starship and sends you out into the universe to complete missions. The story revolves around you, the player, and it makes the game that much more compelling because you feel that you are making a difference in the game’s virtual universe.
A game’s storyline also keeps players coming back to play. A game may share similarities with movies, books and TV shows. Players get drawn into the settings and plots, connect with the characters in a multitude of ways, and keep coming back even though the story is known once the game is solved. A good example of this is "Half-Life." While at its core "Half-Life" is a straight-up first person shooter that doesn’t offer much new in terms of game-play mechanics (well, maybe the crowbar…), the involving story is what grips players.
Another reason gamers continually return to a game is the challenge factor. When a game takes a long time to complete – and player involvement and storyline interest are also high – a game can engage a player for a very long time. An excellent example of this is "Elder Scrolls: Morrowind." Even now, two years after its release, there are still players out there who are playing the game, learning more about it and experiencing new things.
Game expandability, primarily geared toward PC gamers, is also a key to a game’s staying power. Can players add new content to the game? Can they create whole new worlds, characters or stories to share with other players? If players are given the tools necessary to add to a game, they feel some shared ownership and, therefore, a kinship with the game and its community. "Morrowind" is an excellent example of this; since its release, dozens of modifications (mods), objects and characters have been created.
The final factor in a game’s staying power is a culmination of all these factors. When some, or all, of these factors come together, they create an emotional attachment to the game that goes beyond consciousness or logic.
This emotional attachment may form in childhood. For example, since I was a young boy, I’ve loved flying spaceships on the computer, and several games have catered to this. Two in particular – "Freespace 2" and "Jumpgate" – connect with me in such a way that they’ve never left my hard drive since their installation several years ago.
Whatever the reason, a game we’re stuck on can be about anything, take place anywhere and revolve around anyone. The reasons for our attachment are many. Regardless, certain games stick with us and prevent us from selling them or trading them in. While the mark of a good game is its success in showing the player a good time, the mark of a great game is that the player will still be having a good time many months after purchasing the game.
Until next week, happy gaming.
Brian Rubin is a freelance gaming journalist and video game enthusiast whose column regularly appears in Campus Circle.