R is for Random… And Replayability

It’s becoming more and more apparent that games are utilizing randomness to their advantage, and it’s part of their success.

Something that I’ve personally found to be an awesome experience when gaming is randomly generated content. Usually this means that the loot I’m looting is random or the enemies I’m killing were thrown at me from the left when the first time they came from the right. Why is this so great? Replayability.

If you pick up a game for the first time, you don’t know what to expect. What will each level provide? What will the enemies be? What weapons or gadgets will I get? It’s all unique for the first time. You beat the game and go back through it a second time only to find you’re playing the same story, enemies, and weapons again. You feel as if you don’t want to replay this game.

That’s a key part of video game success: replayability. Randomness is a very popular way to increase your replayability value. Video games use randomly generated content to make each play-through its own unique experience. Usually, no two play-throughs have the same stuff. Look at Borderlands or Diablo: randomly generated loot. You’re not going to have the same weapon every time if you’re playing the same class. Look at Left 4 Dead: you’ll never encounter the same amount of infected, same position and spawn of special infected, or even the same timing of a mini-horde.

But randomness can go even further. A personal favorite of mine is The Binding of Isaac. It generates each floor of the “dungeon” randomly: loot, enemies, bosses, literally everything. All you’re guaranteed is an item room and boss room. The rest is dumb luck. Minecraft is the same way: randomly generated world 3 times the surface area of the Earth.

I’m not saying every game that’s ever going to be successful needs randomness.  I’m also not saying that every game that’s utilizes randomness will be successful.  What I’m saying is that games that use randomness for key features in the game (like looting, enemies, level layout) can expect to have a higher replayability value than other games that generate everything exactly the same every time a player plays through the game.

So to all you aspiring game designers out there, don’t rule out putting randomized something into your game.  And to all of you gamers out there, randomness can truly be your friend, even if it screws you over every now and then (like looting a shotgun with a 4x scope).

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