The very nature of the gaming industry allows it to continually destroy precedents. Grand Theft Auto III redefined the idea of a sandbox game; Halo revolutionized the First-Person Shooter; yet, many gamers still cling to colloquialisms and lingo of the past. Terms such as "noob" permeate the dialect from the days when gamers ruled the internet; but, as time passes, many gamers seem to forget that even slang can redefine itself as the culture of the group using it changes. Even the producers seems to forget this, and no term has been more affected by this than Replay Value.
Replay Value has traditionally referred to the likelihood of a gamer to pick up and play a certain video game after having beaten it once, with a high value meaning more likely and a low value meaning less likely. For most readers, this seems obvious, but there lies a growing disconnect between the concept which consumers have of this term and the concept which the producers and media have of this term.
Consider this, a review of Fallout 3 cited that the expansive world and sidequests gave it a good deal of replay value with looming downloadable content. The traditional definition indicates that the game being replayed has already been beaten once, yet the review implies that new content is what would be actually played. Ultimately, a gamer would still be likely to pick up the game and put it in the console to play the new content, but that says nothing about the Replay Value of the game, only that it has many places where something could be added. For a gamer, this may mean an additional hour or two of fun; but, if the central game itself were to have good Replay Value, it could mean countless more hours than a mere episode of content. Gaming media tends to acknowledge both with the same level of merit when judging a game's Replay Value, when much more emphasis should be placed on the central campaign. Many times, the media and producers become fixated on a base game with room for more content rather than one that come complete in the box, simply because it means more money for both along the way. The media gets to cover and critique the new content, while the producers get to profit from the downloads of consumers. Even worse is when both groups become fixated on a game's multiplayer rather than the campaign.
Yes, multiplayer is a part of replay value, especially when it is a part of the original game and has an actual purpose. The problem stems from the tendency of producers and media to use multiplayer as a method of rationalizing or justifying a weak single-player campaign; and, following, they will often claim that a game has Replay Value merely because the multiplayer is constructed well or is very popular. Most games spend the majority of the production budget on their campaign, yet the lesser part of the budget becomes what a game is lauded for. This sends the wrong message to companies–that inferior products will be tolerated as long as they have team deathmatch or some other generic online game format–as well as to the consumers–that having the same basic goals in multiplayer as every other game is just fine as long as it is necessarily fun. Gone are the days of attempting to revolutionize these modes; as people flock to free-for-all, few realize that the industry grows stagnant with the shift towards generic multiplayer modes over independent and creative game mechanics and storytelling. Yes, you would fit the traditional definition of picking up the disc to play something you have already beaten, but how is that multiplayer fundamentally different from the ten other games with team deathmatch on your shelf? Is this what we want to let producers know–that we're fine with the growing homogenous nature of games? Do we really want to halt progress on what could be innovative new single-player stories and campaigns merely so that developers can fund another team deathmatch minigame instead of further developing solo play?
Consider the sacred cow of gaming, Super Mario Brothers. It never came with a multiplayer or the promise of downloadable extra levels, but millions of gamers have still played it for hours because they enjoyed the fact that is did something that they found innovative and fun enough to pick up again without the promise of something new, be it a downloaded level or a random online match against other gamers. It merely had an attractive single-player campaign. Truly, this is what creates immersion as well.
The idea of immersion typically makes gamers think about how interactive and inviting a game can be, when it truly is even simpler. Immersion is an additction to a game's beauty. No gamer will ever describe Halo multiplayer as immersive, as you are still ultimately participating in the world albeit through a medium. The campaign of a game such as Halo is immersive, because the player becomes a part of a different universe. Immersion used to be a major part of Replay Value, but the growing trend towards grinding through multi-player ranks has told producers and the media that it is okay if a game is bland in appearance as long as it has many shiny objects to collect along a path through it all, rather than making a game with a beautiful world around it and making the objects a part of this world. Truly time has shifted the very nature of Replay Value.
Chronologically, what determines Replay Value has grown from single-player, to single-player and multiplayer, to single-player with multiplayer and downloadable content. The industry has ultimately placed too much emphasis on the additions while ignoring the key to the concept. Is it going to be the death of the industry? No, but how many shooters have played with a regenerating health bar, space marines, and a team deathmatch mode in your life? Isn't it time for a step backward in the name of progress, a return to a traditional definition if you will? It may not be the most modern idea, but a return to focusing on unique stories and characters with experimental game play elements may do some good for an industry currently drowning in the greys and browns of space soldiers and cover-base shooters.