(No more) Busywork

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Don’t make the player do busywork. Anything the player can do easily but can’t avoid is busywork. Our subconscious takes care of these tasks in real life. Build a subconscious into your game for crying out loud!

What if there were a “Turning the key” minigame every time you start a car in GTA. Absurd? What about lock picking? Busywork shows up all over the place; Players largely put up with it; They shouldn’t.

Why do we get busywork in the first place?
  • Tutorial: It has to be long and boring!? People are forced to complete worksheets at school, but this usually requires the threat of actual physical pain. Games do not have this luxury. Make your tutorial enjoyable, and let the player quit when they get the idea.
  • Game length: Grinding is not fun. No, “extended playtime” is not a good reason.
  • Multiplayer: If the central contest of the game requires a busywork race, I guess that’s fine. Better to redesign the challenge to be non-trivial.
  • Designer hubris: Making people do boring things isn’t artistic. You’re just on a power trip. Get over yourself.
  • Faulty game design: Maybe you just thought that people would like this, and they don’t? I guess that means you are bad at your job. Time to step it up!

What follows are a few types of busywork, and their solutions.

  • walking: fast-travel
  • combat grind: battle auto-completion
  • Sorting easily sortable lists: computers are super good at this. Don’t force the player to play a sorting algorithm.
  • Communication: Slow scrolling text boxes, unskippable dialog and cutscenes, long detailed descriptions with no summary. These are all avoidable. Just, don’t do them.
  • “unlockable content”: Unless there is a really good reason to, don’t limit the player’s options from the outset. No, “they should experience the whole game” is not a really good reason.

Here are a few exceptions to the “No busywork” rule.

  • The first time: Making the player do something the first time is fine. It’s the fourth and fifth times where it gets wearying.
  • message: If the whole game is about being bored or frustrated, go right ahead. (please tell me beforehand, I’ve scheduled a colonoscopy all that week)
  • player freedom: If the player wants to do boring things over and over, fine, let them. This is about agency, not forcing efficiency.

There you go! All fixed. Call me the next time you’re thinking of making the player do easy stuff over and over. I have a wall you can bang your head against.

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  1. Pingback: Prerequisite Automation | Project Fledgeling

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