Productivity and Replay Value

One of the things that has captured my attention recently is the replay value of games. If you have already played through a game once (assuming it isn't a game with new released content), why play it again? Some players take joy in reliving a favorite game experience, but for many players -- myself included -- there is little motivation to replay a game if there is not new content.

In conversations with gamers, replay value is increased by being able to do something new -- whether that something is experience a new part of the story that you couldn't get before based on choices you had made, or by having an entirely different type of character to play to change your gaming experience.

Getting this interaction was one goal of a recent replay of Dragon Age: Origins. (Click to enlarge.)

Getting this interaction was one goal of a recent replay of Dragon Age: Origins. (Click to enlarge.)

This has been on my mind because I have played through the two highly replayable games Dragon Age: Origins (plus its expansion Dragon Age: Awakening) and Dragon Age 2 twice now in just a few months (initiated, of course, by excitement over news of the next game's release later this year). This is in addition to two other playthroughs that I completed when the games first came out, for a total of four repetitions of the same games. This is highly unusual behavior for me, and to figure out why, I talked to other fans of these games. I learned that many other fans of these games were doing the same thing I was -- replaying the games, making different choices to see multiple paths of the story, and making new characters to have new experiences. Some of them were replaying through the games with new player-created mods to enhance and change gameplay. They were trying to experience all of the possibilities that the games had to offer.

A common thread to most of these responses about replay value, and indeed my own motivations for playing these games over and over, is productivity.

Productivity at its core means to produce things. And, as Hanna Wirman argues in this really neat article, playing a game is inherently productive for the player -- the game does not exist, truly, until a person plays it and interacts with it. A game cannot exist on its own as a thing without the player; she writes, "when playing computer games all players are producers of the original media text, meaning, again, that every gamer is a coauthor of the game, not only a producer of meanings of the game." That is, the "player (co)produces the game throughout the play process itself, unlike the reader of a book or viewer of a film, for whom the material object already exists in the world as a product open for various interpretations by different users."

When we play a game, we are producing it as an active participant; when we replay a game, particularly one with different outcomes depending on player choice, we are producing different objects as we go, modifying and editing our experience with the game. To play all the possible beginnings of Dragon Age: Origins or to romance a different character, and to follow those choices all the way to the end of possible play is a large driver of the replay value of these particular games in the fan community. Along similar lines, playing a different character class can change one's entire experience of a game -- think of the difference in playing a character with a warrior specialization versus a magic user. New spells and abilities shed light on the possibilities of gameplay, and can sometimes make whole new experience available to a player.

I also mentioned people who mod the games to change their experience. Modders are being productive by both creating something that adds to or changes the game experience for themselves, and sharing these mods with the world as a means to further extend the replay value of the game. Whether it's adding new scenes, altering the user interface, or customizing options for characters like skins or armor, modding is also a form of player productivity.

Replaying games fulfills an urge for some players to co-produce an experience. Whether it's through making different choices to explore all of a game's options or active modding to change the game itself, productivity is a component of game replay value. Of course, this can and often does extend outside of the bounds of the game itself -- for many players, one's enjoyment value of a game can be long extended by participating in a fan community. Producing and/or consuming fanworks based on a game, including but not limited to machinima videos, fanfiction, and fanart, also fulfills that drive for production. This game-external experience can influence a player's future replays of a game as well.

In summary, productivity is a core component of the replay value of a game. The ability to produce a new experience from the same object is what keeps players like me playing games over and over again. I am interested to hear of the experiences of others -- what increases replay value for you, and how do you see productivity in your gaming experience?

Productivity and Replay Value by Lauren Collister, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>