Last month I asked readers how they felt about character-switching in video games. Do you enjoy seeing a digital world through the eyes of multiple protagonists? After playing The Little Acre and changing characters every five minutes, I was reminded of exactly why I don’t.
This month I’ve got another question for you: do you immediately replay releases you’ve just completed to make different choices or see other endings? The reason I ask is because of an article I came across on the gamesindustry.biz website recently with the headline: In the past, YouTubers were very problematic… Suddenly they became our allies. This was about a discussion between Quantic Dream founder David Cage and Hazelight Studios founder Josef Fares at the Gamelab conference in July 2019.
They talked about the impact of platforms such as Twitch and YouTube on games which hang on a strong narrative. A number of developers have stated in the past that too many people will simply watch a release online rather than experience it for themselves; once they know how the story turns out, they no longer feel the need to play. I can’t deny I’ve never done this. There have been a few titles where I’m not so sure about the gameplay but have been interested in the plot, and so I’ve found a video (my version of watching a film).
The struggle to create a narrative game people want to play rather than watch was tackled in different ways by Hazelight Studios and Quantic Dream. The former took a linear story path in A Way Out, but its unique cooperative gameplay had an appeal which caused players to want to try it for themselves This was the case for myself and my other-half: we’d watched a chapter on Twitch before agreeing we should purchase the title. The ending may not have been what we wanted but it was an enjoyable experience overall.
Quantic Dream went in a different direction and created a narrative that couldn’t be easily captured in video form. Their solution was to focus on the situations players faced in Detroit: Become Human and provide choices where the audience was split at least 70/30 in their decision. It meant that although YouTubers and streamers could show one version of the title’s outcomes, they were unable to show them all; so viewers wanted to find out for themselves what would happen if other choices had been made.
Speaking of branches, players are given access to a ‘flowchart’ in Detroit which not only shows the decisions they made but the paths not taken too. This was a change from their previous releases where those alternative paths had remained hidden. Cage said: “Maybe that was not a good decision. Maybe hiding everything from the player is not a good thing. Detroit was a better compromise, because it was about showing part of what you missed, and that played a major role in the success of the game.”
He attributes this and the branches throughout his project as the reason why around 78% of players finished it, rather than the 25% to 30% that’s usual for most video games. He also said: “It’s the story. People want to know what’s going to happen next, and a story can achieve this for you. What’s interesting on Detroit is that we managed to make people replay, so they could see all of the different branches – which is quite rare in a narrative game. We achieved this because we showed all of the branches and the variations of the story.”
But if you discount those that can be completed in under an hour, I can’t recall a time I’ve ever replayed a game immediately after finishing it. The version of the narrative I’ve just witnessed is my story and I’m happy with that; I’ve never felt the need to go back and change it, even if I got the ‘bad’ ending. I might reload the last save-point if it’s right near the end and won’t take too much time or effort to see the alternate outcome, but it doesn’t feel right to use my free hours to restart a story when there are so many new ones to jump into.
Saying that though, I haven’t yet gotten around to playing Detroit so it’s always possible the branching flowchart could change my mind. I had the opportunity to try a demo at EGX in September 2017, purchased it soon after its release in May 2018 and installed the game on my PlayStation, but it’s still waiting there for me. Perhaps this is a good excuse to schedule another stream: let’s get something organised for this month, and see live on air whether I’m tempted by the prospect of entering into another playthrough.
In the meantime, over to you: do you immediately replay video games? If so, what elements of a title encourage you to do this? Let us know in the comments below, or in your own post if you’re inspired to write.