So there you are, fourth replay and you feel like you’ve only scratched the surface of what the game has to offer.
You sit wide-eyed as you finally unlock the content that you’ve been working so hard for. Your eagerness to find out if it really was worth the effort drives you to play one more time despite your partner threatens to “Turn it OFF!!!”
Unlockable content is definitely an incentive for the gamer to devote their time into the product. But is it really a reward that compromises game play?
In an age mixed with casual and online gamers some may argue that Unlockable content allows players to have an unfair advantage between those who have the time to invest (and thus unlock) against those who do not (and thus stay locked) in an online competitive arena.
Some may argue that developers forget the casual player and leave the best for those who “invest”. This may be true in some cases but I think developers are highly aware of such scenarios and some have made good strides in ensuring balance play.
Who better to examine than Infinity Ward. This development team has tried to bridge the gap between hardcore and casual, between “the have” and “have not”.
Lets look at MW2. The Copy Cat perk is available to all beginnin players. Its aim is to allow the player to clone the vey equipment that he was eliminated with. Got killed by a lvl 70 with all the unlocks? No worries, you can be the same player in the next respawn. They offer buffers for extended health if you’re having a bad run. Options are available to the new and uninitiated and the initial set ups are pretty competitive to begin with.
The point of Unlockables isn’t about unbalancing the playing field or disallowing access to the casual gamer; the aim is to keep the player playing. It’s about staying on for just one more game and I’ve got that new “whatever”.
Locked content is a game design that is better suited for some games, not all. True, sports games are a good examples of a design that does not need locked content. However the drive behind those who play sport orientated games may be different to those who play FPS or car racing games.
To provide access to all vehicles in a car racing genre would defeat the purpose of the game itself. Exploring the different car mechanics and the driving experience on the track is part of the fun. Start with something small and dainty and earn your stripes to sit in the seat of a super-car.
Why would anyone choose a VW golf when you can have a Lamborghini at the start? By giving the option to have anything, you take away the joy of earning it and the fun in blasting around a course in an everyday car.
As all things in life, boredom can only be staved off if there is something else on the horizon for us to strive for. To dispose of the unlockable content is to dispose of the impetus to replay the game after you have mastered it; if there are enough hidden Easter eggs in a game, than they will be enough hours spent on the game to unearth them all.
The locked content represents more than challenge, replay value or game balance alone. Unlockable content may – directly or indirectly – be the invisible hook that stops us from buying the “other” and making the most of what may otherwise be “another disposable game in the collection”.