How to Maximize the Replayability of Your Indie Game
Tricks and Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Time as an Indie Developer
Building a game from the ground up is an arduous task. When you start down that road as an independent developer you don’t know how long it’s going to take, how it’s going to be received, or whether or not it’s going to be worth it.
However, the sense of accomplishment that you’ll have released it into the world will be immeasurable, and you’ll never regret having done so. When I released my first game in 2016, Nimbus Lagoon, it was just a little tap and click game for iOS. It was not commercially successful, but I loved watching the downloads go up and up. Though I took a few years away from game development, I’m back at it now and gearing up to release my next game.
Here we’re going to cover a few things that you can do to maximize the replayability, and therefore the intrinsic value of your game.
Variability and Replayability
When you make a game, you may make it a series of fifteen levels, one after the other, with a singular goal at the end. This may be an immeasurably fun game depending on the mechanics you choose, but at the end of the day, your player is only going to slog through it once or twice.
The thing is after it’s been played, they know what to expect. Providing the player with an experience that is different again and again will have them coming back for more. Variability, therefore, leads directly to replayability.
When we think of gaming, we know that there is an element of randomness already built into every game. Though there is a chance on every update, not every update will spawn a bird that will hit you. Perhaps there is only a 33% chance that the enemy's bullets will hit your character. Or maybe the code for the door changes each time to make sure that you actually find the clues left around the mansion.
In any event, the random events listed above don’t do a whole lot for replayability. In fact, the clues for the doors would personally have me playing less because I know where the papers are, and it’s infuriating that they didn't move around, and yet I still have to go find them.
Truly random events are introduced in different ways. You can insert an element of randomness by allowing a cooperative or even competitive multiplayer mode. Your player or players is often going to be the highest source of variability within your game. The more choices you allow your player the more replayability you can expect.
Remember Super Mario? Remember how it was a unidirectional game where you just went from the start of a level to the end, and then repeated until you get the drop on Bowser in his Castle? There really wasn’t much variability in that game, however, it’s replayability has endured almost half a century. From the tubes that allow you to select levels, to the heart-pounding moments where you lose your mushroom and you’re not sure whether you’ll make it to the end of the level, the game came with its own unique variability that keeps it running.
What can you do to increase the variability created by the player:
- Open-world games, or select your own path games allow the player to choose how and when level objectives are accomplished.
- Unique encounters. Sometimes it may be a boss, sometimes a group of lesser enemies, and other times perhaps it’s a golden chest filled to the brim and left unguarded.
- Choices. Whether the choice comes in the form of declaring your allegiance to one side or another in a conflict, or simply the choice of selecting your own class, this will have an impact on gameplay increasing replayability.
More than Random
If you take the above to heart, and forget to tell a story, however, you’re not going to produce much of a game. After all, games are simply another story-telling mechanism. Make sure that in all the choices and decisions you give to the player, you still move them towards the conclusion, and all the elements of, a beautiful story.
Sure you can have a game that is just random, I mean, look at Minecraft and the millions of games it spawned. However, for those who dislike or bore quickly of building, again and again, many people may play for a while before leaving to return in several years. It’s highly replayable, but also quite one dimensional.
To make a truly viral and compelling game, the encounters need to feel unscripted. The world needs to feel alive, and the player needs to feel like they’re making a difference. You can tell a story without variability — looking at your Final Fantasy — and you can make a game without a story like Minecraft, but combining both together will maximize the appeal to your target audience.
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