How Developers Can Add Longevity to a Game Without Really Trying
A lot of gamers will agree that one of the best attributes a video game can have is replayability. It doesn't matter how great a game is, if it's a short experience and you never want to come back to it then you didn't get much for your money. I've played far too many video games with fantastic game mechanics and story lines, but once I finished them I never touched them again. It doesn't have to be this way.
Developers need to learn that there are some simple, albeit sneaky, tricks to get the most out of their games without spending extra months creating new levels. There can be plenty of reasons to keep playing a game after it's been properly beaten. Here is a list of methods I've seen other games use to double and sometimes even triple the play time without working too hard to achieve it.
TIME ATTACK MODE:
This one speaks for itself. After you've completed the game, or even just a single level, give the player the option to try again and shoot for the best time. Yoshi's Island 2 for Nintendo DS used this trick to amazing success. After you beat every level, you unlock the option to do it all over again as fast as humanly possible. It provides double the hours of gameplay, at least, and you can continue to improve your times for as long as you have the game. Racing games use this tactic best, but any game can implement it.
Similar to the Time Attack method. More developers need to put arcade mechanics into their games. I want to have incentive to play levels again and high scores are the perfect way to do it. You want the player to keep coming back to get a better score, so it's important to ensure that every session has a chance to break the record—and you want to have lots of levels with leader boards of their own to keep the score grind from getting old. I can get endless play from a “beaten” game as long as it has high scores, because I only continue to compete against myself—or other people online if the game has that feature. Puzzle games use this trick the most, but it can be made to work with almost any game.
This one might require a teensy bit more work than simply slapping a timer or a score onto levels you've already designed, but it's still not as intensive as creating whole new levels and worlds. All you have to do is include some unlockable items for the player to collect—that they won't automatically collect on the first run of the game. This could mean adding alternate costumes and skins for the main characters to wear that you can't get in the first run—or new special power-ups and items. Kirby games use this trick the best. In Kirby's Amazing Mirror, beating the final boss gives you Meta Knight's super-powered sword, and it's a blast to go back through slashing up enemies with ease. In Kirby Squeak Squad, you can unlock the Ghost power, which allows Kirby to possess enemies—another great incentive to dive back into the game after you think you're done with it. Kirby Canvas Curse lets you play through the entire game four extra times, because you can play as Waddle Dee, Waddle Doo, King DeDeDe and Meta Knight—all with alterations to the game's physics to keep it fresh.
One of the easiest on the list to implement. When the game is totally finished and everything is resolved, all you have to do is create a few new ending sequences to entice the player to start all over again—hoping to see an altered conclusion to the story based on new decisions they make the second time around. The Mass Effect games are most famous for pulling off this trick, although lots of ambitious adventure games have done it successfully.
This is a rare one. Some especially brilliant developers out there have come up with creative ways to vary the game play in a way that provides endless possibilities. If the game has a randomization function, certain aspects can change completely according to the computer's whims. This can mean randomized dungeons in games like Diablo 3, or randomized levels in Cloudberry Kingdom, or randomized terrain in Minecraft. One of the most impressive uses of this trick was in F-Zero for the Nintendo 64, which featured a mode that used some special algorithm to randomize tracks—so you're never driving on the same course twice. Milder versions of this method can be applied as well; like in New Super Mario Bros. 2's Coin Rush mode, which randomly lines up three levels and challenges you to get as many coins as possible.
Some of these tricks may seem like cheap ways to spread a game thin, but no one's forcing you to keep playing. Personally, I get extremely excited when I find a game has alternate modes—especially if it allows me to keep playing forever! Of course, there are some pretty standard ways to expand the longevity of the game, such as harder difficulties and multiplayer modes—but I didn't include those because almost every game has that already.
Hopefully this post has inspired you to go out and find those treasure games that you'll never want to sell. Or maybe I've inspired you to appreciate those extra modes in some of your favorite games that you thought were a waste of time. Remember, if it's a good game you'll never really beat it.