What distracts us from our distractions?
If you are a gamer, you have a stack of unfinished games. Maybe it is a physical stack of game boxes and DVD cases, or perhaps it is a scrolling list of titles in your Steam library. Regardless the stack will brazenly taunt you. Where will you find the time to finish even one game?
As gamers, we all make big plans to spend a weekend marathon session trying to grind our way through at least one title. Inevitably life gets in the way and no progress is made. How many times have you sat down stared at the desktop icon to a half finished RPG then instead of starting the game you decide to check Facebook or reddit real quick? Or perhaps a new episode of your favorite TV show is available on Hulu. Even worse you've got a real world chore that needs attention.
The truth is listing all the personal reasons why we don't finish games is like trying to count all the stars in the galaxy. Instead let's focus on things developers and publishers can do to help us help ourselves. Now you might be thinking, what if I just fix my bad gaming habits? That's a noble endeavor, and highly encouraged. However, self help is a little too altruistic and proactive for my taste, I would rather get the talented people making these games to do the heavy lifting for me.
What are some common pitfalls that make a game feel like I'm trudging uphill through miles of knee high sludge? First in my mind, the biggest offender is accessibility after being away from the game for an extended amount of time. Imagine playing an RPG consistently over a week, get up to level 20 and 40% of the way through when you get really busy at work, followed by a string of of social obligations with friends and before you know it, you haven't booted up the game in over two weeks.
When you do finally return to the game again, you've found yourself in a world that seems unfamiliar. You may not even remember where the quests in your journal originated, or what the quest items are for in your inventory. This is basically like waking up from a coma for your character. You nearly have to start over from the beginning to get momentum back. So what can developers do to help a player?
A good place to start is story recap that updates automatically as the player progresses. Not just a log of completed quests, but a narrative that the game builds as the player advances through the story line. So no matter how long the player is away from the game, he can quickly get caught up and sucked back into the plot. In addition, include the last 5 NPCs the player had conversations with and the dialogue. Get the player back into the game by helping him keep his memory refreshed.