The controversy with Microsoft’s Xbox One DRM that will never see the light of day has revealed that, above all else, developers are still wrestling with used games. I think Nintendo provided the best response on this issue, but what the company proposes is better said than done.
Reggie basically said “make better games.” More importantly, he emphasized replayability in making games that consumers won’t want to trade in. “The consumer wants to keep playing Mario Kart. The consumer wants to keep playing New Super Mario Bros. They want to keep playing Pikmin. So we see that the trade-in frequency on Nintendo content is much less than the industry average – much, much less.”
Looking at the going prices on Nintendo’s games over the last several years reveals how absurdly good the company has gotten at avoiding the whole used game problem, and really the whole problem of video game value altogether. Most games plummet in prices and sales after the first month. The original 2006 New Super Mario bros. for the DS is still $35 — just $5 cheaper than the 3DS sequel that came out six years later. A used copy of the former is still $30. Nintendo can say stuff like this, why can’t anyone else (except maybe Call of Duty)?
Replayability and overall value is probably the whole rationale behind why so many games tack on multiplayer. It’s probably why big AAA games have been tacking on so many RPG elements too. Games like Tomb Raider seem like they’ll do anything — XP, skill unlocks, loot, crafting, challenges, and multiplayer, to turn a five-hour game into a 30-hour game so the consumer won’t trade it in so soon… and it doesn’t seem to be working.
Most of the time I’ll go through all that crap, ignore the multiplayer, and still feel like I’m totally done with a game after finishing it once. Attempts at extending playtime and encouraging replay mostly seem to be just making games feel bloated.
Here’s the weird part: the games that I do replay the most are the ones that don’t have any of those game-extending features.
Super Mario Bros. is literally just its singleplayer mode — you go through the linear levels once and that’s it. Some of the games have a second difficulty mode but that’s it, after that you’ve seen all the content. The same goes for Zelda and Metroid, and yet I keep replaying those games. Non-Nintendo games that fall under the same category include Half-Life, Portal, Mirror’s Edge, God of War, Resident Evil 4, or the first and third Modern Warfare games.
For these games the only thing I can say is that their singleplayer modes are so well-polished that I want to experience them repeatedly. It’s like a really good roller coaster that you end up riding 10 times, a book you like to read once a year, or a movie you see at the theater multiple times. Basically, you just have to make a really good game. That’s probably a hard way to break it to producers though.