As the title suggests, despite not yet finishing the story of GTA V, I have found myself playing on GTA IV increasingly recently. I completed the story, and the stories on both DLCs, but I keep going back even with the epic world of GTA V’s Los Santos still waiting to be conquered by me from my sofa.
There’s a deeper point for games designers to be found in why I’ve been returning to GTA IV – the golden chalice of re-playability. Every game wants to be endlessly replayable, to keep the market share invested until a sequel is released and we all buy that – no rival games muscling in in the meantime and taking away your attention, and maybe your pennies.
So, why is GTA IV so replayable?
Well, I should first specify that I’ve returned to the Ballad of Gay Tony (tBoGT) DLC rather than the original version, and I mention it specifically because its something that only the DLCs of GTA IV had – Gang Wars.
Gang Wars are, in the case of tBoGT, where you meet up with two friends of the protagonist and go to fight a rival gang. This mini-mission could have you chasing down a drug laden vehicle with all guns blazing before making a quick getaway, or it could have you in a pitched battle as you jump in to the middle of a drugs deal.
Gang Wars offer something that I’ve not really found in GTA V, or many other games, and that’s a fun fight which doesn’t escalate too much – there’s always a way out even when the police get involved.
Many missions in GTA V or the storyline of GTA IV and its DLCs include plots like those in Gang Wars, but usually they focus on the narrative more than the fight. In Gang Wars there is no narrative other than the bare bones of explanation, the mini-mission is the fun in and of itself; and they are exceptionally fun. These are what keep me coming back.
For those who don’t like the gun fights there are street races which meet the same purpose, which do make a bit of a come-back in GTA V. The Gang Wars have helped me realise something deeper about the golden chalice though, that to obtain ‘replayability’ what you need is a fun core mechanic.
That sounds simple, but you’d be surprised. The real kick is the one condition, that that core mechanic cannot be obscured. Digital Salad’s First Law of Games Design right there!
A good example is Assassins Creed III. The core gameplay mechanic of free-running and assassinating in the Assassins Creed franchise is fun, but by III it had become so obscured by inane baggage that you couldn’t get to the core mechanic without stumbling over the junk on your way there. The game needs to be more visceral to get replayability.
What are the games I’ve replayed the most in my gaming life? The Mount & Blade series, GTA IV and all sorts of Dynasty Warriors.
These three games achieved that First Law, they perfected the core mechanic which was great fun and then built a game around it without obscuring the gold at its core.
Of course, every gamer is different. When I like a core mechanic of hacking down mobs of enemies, which is core in all three of the games above, others may like racing driving or flying and so on endlessly – but the same Digital Salad’s First Law will generally hold true.
So, I think that’s an important lesson for games designers, but also quite a helpful insight for ourselves as gamers. Since I’ve realised what I like in games I’ve found that I look at them differently. I did that with Assassins Creed III, I looked at it and decided that I was playing through it to try and uncover the gold at the core – gold that was so smeared with garbage that you couldn’t find it! That’s not what I want to play a video game for, we play video games for fun. Don’t compromise on fun, play what you enjoy and don’t play something that teases you with the possibility of gold but doesn’t deliver. Find a game that gives you that gold and cherish it!
Digital Salad – https://lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com