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Average quality games not fun or interesting?

Brad Gallaway's picture

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I was putting some time into a game I'm going to be reviewing soon, and I got to a point (about halfway) when I just felt no desire at all to keep going. So, instead of suffering through hours of boredom and apathy, I just stopped.

As a reviewer, I used to think that I needed to roll credits on every game that I wrote about, but I let go of that notion some time ago. There were just too many games that ran for too many hours without any good reason to do so, and there were also too many games that just weren't interesting or enjoyable. They just were. I eventually came to the conclusion that if a game wasn't able to keep my attention, then that was a statement worth making about the game overall.

I feel pretty good about this philosophy and it works well for me, but every once in a while I like to do a little reality check on myself to make sure I'm not coloring too far outside the lines. If you follow me on Twitter, then you probably saw me asking a question like this:

Would you characterize a game as "average quality" if it wasn't fun/engaging/interesting enough to keep your attention and motivate you to finish it?

It's granted that Twitter is not exactly the best place to have in-depth discussions and I probably could have phrased the question a little more clearly, but this wasn't any kind of scientific experiment and I was in search of some quick feedback.

Whatever.

So here's what I was getting at: In a nutshell, GameCritics uses the full 20-point scale. A score of 1.0 would be something that was atrociously bad, a score of 5.0 would be right in the middle, neither terrible nor commendable, and (of course) a 10 would be something you'd try to convince your grandma to play because it would just make her life that much better. We use all the numbers.

As I was playing this review game, I started to try and mentally place it on that scale. It wasn't broken and it wasn't terrible, but I did find it tedious enough that I did not want to finish—that's a pretty big negative in my book, but then I started to wonder what other people's perceptions might be. Was I out of line in thinking that an "average quality" game should at least be good enough to keep someone's attention until the end? If I gave this particular game a 5, would that be too high, since I was absolutely not going to put in the time to complete it?

Like I said, I put the question to Twitter and here's what I found:

  • 14 people said an "average" game should keep a player's attention until the end.
  • 5 people said an "average" game should not be expected to keep a player's attention until the end.
  • 3 people mentioned suffering from "game ADD" as the reason for stopping a game, although they might return to it later. (I would actually challenge this by saying that if the game was interesting enough in the first place, then you wouldn't be distracted by something else, but that's a debate for another time.)
  • 1 person was undecided.
  • Richard Naik did not answer the question.

According to my totally empirical and unimpeachable results, it seems like most of the smart, attractive and charming people who follow me share my view that a totally average game should at least be good enough to make you want to roll credits on it.

However, this begs the question about the other side. I'm actually quite fascinated as to why some people didn't feel that it should be expected for an average title to be good/interesting/fresh enough to keep someone playing from start to finish.

I can think of a few reasons off the top of my head, but rather than feed myself an answer that may or may not be correct, I would very much like to hear from anyone who takes the view opposite to my own. If you are a person who thinks an average game doesn't need to be good enough to motivate you until the end, please leave a comment and let me know why!

(Although if you just want to comment and agree with me, that's alright too.)

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depends very much on the

depends very much on the length of the game and if after stopping it feels like wasted time.
I stopped Morrowind after i think 80 hours. And although i enjoyed the exploration that time, after going particularly after the main quest, that i couldn't finish, the whole experience felt very much like wasted time. Boiling Point was quite similar, iirc stopped after 70 hours, but here it was rather the buggy programming that stopped the fun.
GT Legends is a game i started some years ago and still not finished. The last cup alone takes dozens of hours. I don't know if i ever finish it (and GTR2 and rFactor...) but it's just too long to finish it in a week or whatever. Here length is good, but at the same time prevents me from finishing.

Shooters or other 10 hour genres definitely have to be at least fun enough to be finished to get an average score.

for me the argument is bunk

for me the argument is bunk because I will often stop playing a very good game midway through and not return to it for months. I have no explanation for this behavior. And sometimes I will grind away to finish a mediocre game just to see where it goes. I have no explanation for this behavior either.

Depends on the gamer more than the game

I think a good deal of the answer to that question depends on the gamer more than the game. Partly, I'd suggest it's a factor of the gamer's level of focus on games as a part of his/her life/entertainment. Much earlier in my life when I played more games and spent more time playing them, I would have been far likelier to feel compelled to finish an average game. Now, as someone less focused on games, I tend to feel I only have time for complete playthroughs of those that are excellent or at least very good but in some way specifically appealing to me.

In addition (and this is in some cases related to age/experience/free time, but not always), I think it's a factor of taste: often as one's tastes develop, one's standards rise, and the merely average and even the merely good become less satisfying and worthy of time. In my case, just as I no longer feel the need I might once have felt to watch television shows or see movies that quite obviously offer nothing or little new (deficits I might not have perceived earlier in life), I no longer feel the need to play games that are merely average--to play them at all, much less to completion.

So to me, average is a game I don't bother playing; good and very good are games I will only if they have specific appeal for me (I like the Prince of Persia series and completed the most recent one, which was only good, for that reason); and excellent are games I consider playing, but actually play only if they appeal to me (no matter how good Halo Reach is, I know I'm not going to bother, for example) and complete only if the playing is enjoyable.

I think the motivation to

I think the motivation to push past, say, the 12-20 hour mark of a game is a very individual thing dependent on a lot of factors.

At this point, you're completely familiar with the gameplay and have probably seen most of what the game can throw at you in terms of challenge. Sometimes you feel you want a new challenge, and other times it feels good just to keep blasting through the game like an master.

Alternatively, you simply may or may not have the time. Games really ask so much more of your time than most other entertainments, and I think most gamers will admit that this greater investment of time does not usually equate to a profounder experience once you hit the 50 hour mark than when you had hit 15.

So I think it's reasonable to give a game an 'average' score of 5 even if it's not one you feel compelled to finish. You do have to consider how others would may find it.

For instance, Brad, I played both Persona 3 and 4 on your recommendation but was unwilling to continue on with either of them after hitting about the 60 hour mark. For me, by this point, the stories were not enough to carry the dungeon crawling and I'd been debating the equation for about 10 hours. But I had still had a few good times with them, and I understand that some people have more time or enjoy the story even more than I. Those people probably didn't find it a struggle to finish. 6 stars (along with my caveats). That's how I'd review them.

My unapologetic personal philosophy when it comes to consuming art or entertainment is that if I'm not feeling completely emotionally involved or flat out enjoying myself then I'm moving on to something else because even a lifetime of leisure would not be enough to indulge in the mediocre.

I start with Final Fantasy 7

I start with Final Fantasy 7 which is a game I and many others consider an absolute classic. I LOVED this game while playing it. However it is also a game I stopped playing around the 95% completion mark. WHY? Because, for one reason or another, I had to stop playing for several months (college restarting, no time etc etc) and it was just impossible to get back into as I had lost track of the story, the characters, the intricacies of the materia system, what I needed to do, what I had done. I had forgotten why I had been so motivated to grind through loads of random encounters to level up. The immersion had been completely lost and I had lost all connection to the game. The game was simply too complex and demanding to warrant re-engagement.

Move forward time and onto Oblivion which was a fantastic game. However I got bored senseless after hitting the 100-hour mark and promptly gave up. By then the novelty of the graphics and huge open world gameplay had worn off and I was getting increasingly hung up on the lifeless characterisations and interactions, annoying levelling system, and too may side quests that did nothing for character building or the main story. The game was simply too demanding of my time with not enough entertainment payoff to justify the huge investment in time I was putting into it. There were simply too many boring or frustrating moments.

Compare and contrast Mass Effect 2 which restricts the openness of gameplay, especially planet-side, and opts for a more directed entertainment experience. I know you have problems with ME2, but I really dug the increased focus on production values, story-telling and scripted gameplay in ME2 over ME1. This was what kept me going to the end. The direction was so effective that it is one of the very few games I have ever given a second play through for the immersion effect. I tried playing ME1 again, but gave up part-way through (my 2nd attempt) as I just couldn't stomach getting spending hours navigating fractally generated landscapes trying to uncover those damned resources and bases.

It's not that games are 'average' that affects completion, it's that games forget themselves. They are first-and-foremost, a medium of entertainment and real life always takes precedence. Grinding, drugdgery, blandless, lack of invention, repetition of elements etc only serve to detract from the entertainment.

IMO it has nothing to do

IMO it has nothing to do with a game being average if you feel the need to complete it. At least in my case I stop games when I don't feel that I see anything new anymore. Gears of War is above average, still I didn't finish it because I just got bored with it after some time. However, I totally get it why some people play it over and over again.

I think that if you played

I think that if you played the game, didnt feel anything new, dont reccomend playing it at all that is less than average. But if you feel the game is good enough that you could reccomend playing it because there's something that it did well for a while but didnt carry on well enough to get you to finish it, it could be average. If you finish it, it's above average, if you finish it and you still like it, it's good.

Depends on the gamer's standards and genre familiarity

I think Ryan was on the right track, but just not focused enough in his reply:

Ryan wrote:

I think a good deal of the answer to that question depends on the gamer more than the game. ...

...

So to me, average is a game I don't bother playing; good and very good are games I will only if they have specific appeal for me (I like the ... series ... );...

Basically I've selfishly chopped up his response to distill my point. It depends on the gamer's standards and their familiarity and fondness for the genre.

Example? I really like third person action and sandbox games, so much so that one that is built with an excellent reward system of perks and ability boosts like Saints Row 2 can overcome the terrible tragedy that it not have Trophies to reward me for spending time with it. By the same token I was strongly driven to try and Platinum the game Red Faction: Guerrilla until I came face to face with the old, awful find 100-things-scattered-across-Mars-you-can't-find-without-an-official-guide Trophy -- a guide that is frequently wrong or has misaligned map icons. Not that I'm bitter about that kind of garbage in sandbox games or anything.

So there it is.

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