A while back I did a video talking about the many methods developers use to engage players.
Looking back at that video, I realized that I wasn’t really delivering valuable information, nor did I explain anything in enough detail as the topic was far too broad to be discussed in a single video.
Now why start with systematic engagement? Well it’s a pretty common method used to engage players in the short term. Systematic engagement involves incentivising players to adjust their behavior in order for them to become more invested in the experience, thus becoming engaged.
Now you may be confused by what this means and for that reason, I shall give some examples. One of the more notable examples of systematic engagement is Devil May Cry’s style system. The style system is a distinctive feature of the Devil May Cry series and is often praised by its fans for making the gameplay experience more enjoyable. The question is, what makes the style system so important?
Anyone who plays the Devil May Cry games for the first time will quickly realize just how relentlessly difficult the games can be and at times it can be tempting for players to button mash out of panic. The style system was designed to circumvent this issue as players who button mash are not enjoying the game to its fullest, therefore they are more likely to become disengaged.
By adding a style rank as an incentive, players will be more likely to experiment with different moves in order for them to finally achieve that S rank that they’ve been working towards. Once players finally manage to reach the highest style rating, they are rewarded with a large quantity of red orbs which can be used to purchase new moves and upgrades to their character.
Another example of systematic engagement can be found in Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria. In Valkyrie Profile 2, battles require that players only need to defeat the leader to end the fight. The purpose of this is to encourage players to end battles quickly, thus saving the players time instead of forcing them to kill each enemy individually. The other enemies are merely an obstacle, which must be traversed in order for the player to reach and successfully defeat the leader.
Now this is fine and all but where’s the incentive? Why shouldn’t I kill all the other enemies first? On the right hand side of the screen there is a gauge consisting of 5 orbs. This is actually a timer which challenges players to end a battle as quickly as possible, if a battle is won with all 5 orbs lit up on the screen, the player will execute a direct assault which rewards them with a massive chunk of experience as well as occasionally dropping an extra item.
On top of all this, players are able to accumulate magic crystals by attacking enemies who are airborne, the purpose of this is to encourage players to experiment with combos in order for them to juggle enemies and acquire more magic crystals. Magic Crystals not only reward players with bonus experience but they are also used as a form of currency that players can spend to transport sealstones to other dungeons which allows their bonuses and penalties to be used anywhere. This can drastically impact gameplay and as such it is important to collect as many magic crystals as you can to give you the edge in battles, by using those sealstones to your advantage.
The point is that by giving players another factor to be aware of, you have essentially bolstered their level of engagement. Valkyrie Profile 2 not only saves the player’s time, but it also encourages players to learn the mechanics to get the most out of it. This is how Valkyrie Profile 2 manages to maintain the player’s engagement and it would not be possible without these two systems, the same goes for the style system in Devil May Cry, it isn’t just a random gimmick, it’s an important facet of the game that keeps the game from getting stale and when a game becomes stale, players become disengaged, just like how wasting the player’s time can also disengage them.
Now In my engagement video, I used the loot system from Diablo as an example of systematic engagement and you’re probably wondering why it is an essential facet of the game. The purpose of the rarity system is to encourage players to explore in order to locate unique enemies and treasures, doing so will reward players with special loot with unique parameters that distinguishes itself from standard loot, giving players bonuses to make their character stronger. This also encourages players to replay the game in order to collect even more loot, which gives an extra layer of engagement for people who enjoy growth.
Before I wrap up this video, I want to talk about the difference between psychological and systematic engagement. Psychological engagement is manipulating players into tedious layers of compulsive activity and compulsive activity in games is never fun. Many people have argued that level grinding in videogames is a tedious process and this is where the theorycrafting part of this video comes in.
What systematic engagement does is remove the monotony of games by building systems to distract players from this monotony and by doing so, you manage to make tedious tasks such as grinding more fun for players to partake in. As such my argument to Keith Burgun’s theory that grinding is bad game design is that systematic engagement exists and all game developers need to realize this.
The good news is that many game developers realize this, the bad news is that there is very little in terms of creativity these days when it comes to developing these systems as developers tend to re-use old systems. I personally would prefer if developers experimented with other methods of systematic engagement as old methods usually tend to become worn out over time. Thus my message to game developers is to come up with something new.