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Designing Games for the Wage Slave


"I can afford to buy any game I like; but I rarely have the opportunity to play them."

This sentence embodies the sad reality that has hamstringed my gaming hobby since becoming an unwilling maze-dweller in the rat race of full-time employment. Four years ago, when not otherwise distracted by the mundanities of dodging college work or chores, I could (and did) devote countless hours to the challenges and pleasures of digital worlds. My funding was limited, but I took pride in completing every game, every cover disk demo that I purchased. I reveled in replayability, gloried in gameplay depth, marveled at multiplayer. Life was good.

"So why should I care, you nostalgic cretin?" I hear you ask. Why? Because my cubicle-dwelling cogs and I represent a substantial slice of potential software sales.

We balance on the knife's edge between our glorious time-squandered youth, and the commitments of inevitable middle age. However, the needs of independence (and dependents) have forced us to adapt our playing style to meet our circumstances. Most gamers in this range still game whenever they can, but lack the time to maintain their previous commitment, especially when wives, children, and other such distractions enter the mix. If games can adapt to the needs of the working gamer, they can find a lucrative niche. If not, we will have no choice but to leave our childhood behind and surrender to mundane reality. And when we do, we will take our regular monthly salaries with us.

Here's a few suggestions to better accommodate the time-deprived; many of these ideas could also create a more enjoyable gaming experience for all:

Don't Waste My Time

Make every moment count. I don't play games to punish myself. I play them to be entertained, rewarded, and challenged. I have better things to do than:

  • Attempt the same mis-timed jump again and again: Why oh why have jumping "puzzles" not died the death they richly deserve? There's nothing that quite kills pacing like reloading the same quicksave (or better yet, being returned to your last save point) until you beat a tedious activity through sheer trial and error.

    What, exactly, is my incentive for continuing to waste my precious time in this situation?

  • Replay parts of the game I've already finished: Let me save anywhere, any time, or better yet, do it for me. I might only be able to manage minutes of gameplay at a time. Make them count.

  • Stumble blindly in the dark: Being lost is *not* fun. Pixel hunting is *not* fun. Wandering around a level looking for an obscurely hidden key is *not* fun. Not even knowing what they key *looks* like is *not* fun. Keep me aware of my objectives, and provide a decent method of pointing me towards them. The glowing aura in "Bloodrayne" and three-dimensional pointers in "Grand Theft Auto III", while contrived, certainly kept the player heading in the right direction.

  • Endure obvious filler: My time is precious. I don't want to spend that time enduring mediocre, mundane, or tedious padding that only serve to meet the promise of gameplay hours on the back of the game box.. Make it short if you have to, but make it an adrenaline-pumping, high quality wild ride (nod to "Max Payne") that's worthy of my time.

When placing a sequence in a level, ask yourself: "Am I challenging the player and giving him a compelling experience, or just trying to slow him down?" If the answer is the latter, cut it out like the cancer it is.

Let Me In!

I recently moved into a new apartment. This has literally left me with only a few minutes of gaming per day, while I spend my time hassling with utility companies and debating the merits of beige over magnolia. Some games, it seems, delight in squandering those minutes. By the time I've:

    a) sat through three unskippable splash screens (and let me take this opportunity to scream "I know who you are! I bought a game from you! Now leave me alone and let me play it!");

    b) navigated several tiers of shell interface to load my last save, and;

    c) endured an interminably long loading screen *smoker's cough* "Command & Conquer: Generals" *smoker's cough*;

...play time is over!

Examples of games that got it right include "Max Payne" and "Grim Fandango" both of which provided a very welcome Quick-Load-from-Menu feature.

Curiousity Killed the Cat; Not This Cat, Jack

  Curiousity Killed the Cat; Not This Cat, Jack
  Damnit Jim, I'm a Gamer, Not an Accountant
  Great Wage Slave Games

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