As a sort of counter-point to my last Question Mark on the intended addictiveness of games like Destiny, I wanted to look at a growing phenomenon I am seeing in the way we play games, the way we are increasingly turning towards comfort food in gaming. When you finish beating up the Joker’s goons in a Batman game over a couple of weeks or so, what do you turn to? Do you complete an old game you left unfinished? Pull something unplayed out of your library? Buy something new? Increasingly, players are returning to games that they play on and off throughout the year, games that serve as the “meat and potatoes” of their gaming calendars, filling the gaps between major releases and often providing more value for your purchase than anything else. This comfort food gaming varies greatly depending on the person.
Let’s look at some examples, starting with the one that is definitely not gaming comfort food:
The Single-Player Shorty
Single-player games with stories always do well with a broad audience. Most people who are fervently awaiting Uncharted 4 are not doing so for its multiplayer. They will play and enjoy the campaign and then either move back to their comfort food or on to the next game. These short to mid-length games include Bioshock, Batman: Arkham Knight, Dishonored and the like. While many of them crack our “favourite games” list, they rarely become the large-scale time sinks that characterizes gaming comfort food.
Earlier this year, the Internet collectively lost its shit over the length of the Order: 1886. While the game itself was admittedly not perfect, foremost amongst issues people complained about was its length, especially as was related to its price. The fact that it can be finished in an afternoon angered gamers that spent the same amount of money on a huge content-rich game like Skyrim. But did they pay too much for the Order: 1886 or too little for a game like Skyrim? More importantly, maybe some shorter games are desirable so as to provide an intense break from the longer experience of our comfort games – think watching a movie after binging two seasons of a television show.
The (Modable) Single-Player Time Sucker
There are plenty of users pouring hours into Skyrim years after launch. The same is true of other huge games like Obsidian’s Fallout: New Vegas. A single playthrough of one of these beasts can often run over a hundred hours, never mind a replay with a different character. Add in modification tools, extra downloadable content, player-made content and so on, and you can be playing the same game almost endlessly. I am currently playing the Witcher 3 and loving it but it is tremendously long. I could see it easily becoming a game that someone could obsess over for a year, especially if their time is at a premium. Maybe some people would take breaks and come back to it after sampling other games. It could become their gaming comfort food.
Creation games, the most popular being Minecraft, are another form of single-player time sinks. Minecraft is often the only game a lot of people need, providing them with an open-ended endless creative playground. While I don’t spend much time on them now, as a kid I poured a ton of hours into Forgotten Realms: Unlimited Adventures, an RPG construction kit/game. With Media Molecule announcing Dreams as a companion piece to their Little Big Planet series, I can see creative games continuing to grow on console.
These two types of games are pretty much the definition of the single player’s gaming comfort food. Finished the Last of Us? Time to get back to recreating Westeros or touring around Riften.
The Compulsive Competitive Multi-Player
The fact that people are still playing Counter-Strike in a world of advanced first-person shooters is testament to the appeal of a perfectly balanced competitive multi-player game. For many people, Call of Duty is the only game that they need with its map packs providing intravenous drips worth of additional content throughout the year as players level their characters in online combat. Sports games are the same. Jeff, one of the original hosts of our Exclamation Mark podcast, is an avid NHL player. Every year he picks up the latest game and goes online in the EA sports hockey league, building his team and testing his skill. He still plays through games like Far Cry but, as soon as they are done, he is back to lacing up the virtual skates.
League of Legends, the most profitable game on the planet, and other multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games, also fall into this category. Many players limit themselves to playing this games at the expense of all others. This is part of the growing competitive scene and almost beyond what I would characterize as comfort food. For the less hardcore however, MOBAs may end up being the type of game you come back to off and on throughout a year.
Co-op Multiplayer Bonanzas
The achievement and loot-filled extravaganzas that I so derided last week, including Diablo, Borderlands and Destiny fit into this category as do large-scale MMOs like World of Warcraft and Everquest. These games provide countless hours worth of content as friends work together to chase that elusive last piece of gear or legendary weapon. While I continue to have some issues with the addictive structure and the nature of the content, I cannot deny the fun to be had in collaborating with your friends and overcoming obstacles together. Even solo, acquiring a seemingly unlimited amount of character powers, loot or skills can become a massive time sink. Many of these games release patches or expansions throughout the year to keep you invested and coming back for more.
I played Borderlands 2 off and on for a good part of a year as the DLC just kept rolling out.
Just Like Mom Used to Make
More than ever, we are seeing players engage with games long-term, often only replacing them with the next installment in a franchise. They set their gaming comfort food aside temporarily to reach for another game, often as a change of pace, before returning to their meat and potatoes, be it a game in their online Madden sport league or a new dungeon run in Diablo.
I have been playing the Witcher 3 for well over a month and have yet to reach the third section of the game. I already know that I will play Batman: Arkham Knight next and maybe Bloodborne after that. I am the type of transient gamer that moves from game to game and actually does not regularly fall back on a gaming comfort food. People like me are becoming increasingly uncommon.
So all you World of Warcraft players? You are not so different than the legion of Call of Duty players or Skyrim modders. With huge game releases taking longer than ever for companies to develop, the growth of timesinks and gaming comfort food continues. While not necessarily a new occurrence, it is becoming increasingly prevalent to meet the insatiable demands of the ever growing horde of hungry players with endless appetites for games.
What is your gaming comfort food? Is it maybe just dusting off an old favourite? Or is it a type of game I maybe didn’t mention? Do you like your games to have ends or to be endless? Let me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org