Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 24, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 24, 2014
PR Newswire
View All
View All     Submit Event

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

The Hypocrisy Of AAA Accessibility
by David Serrano on 07/11/11 02:21:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


As an outsider looking in at the game industry, many of the choices made by the largest AAA developers and publishers seem, to put it kindly, extremely counter intuitive. But there's one topic where the choices border on complete and total insanity: accessibility. In terms of accessibility, it seems like most AAA developers and publishers have a death wish.

While every other segment of the game market has embraced accessibility, AAA developers and publishers continue to dismiss it. In fact, they seem intent on creating AAA games which year after year, are becoming less accessible to more players than ever before. It's reached a point where they are starting to exclude players in the core audience. Yet the developers and publishers still insist they are creating games which are accessible to a wide, mainstream audience. This is pure fiction. It's very much a case of the industry claiming one thing while they do the exact opposite. The definition of hypocrisy.

I'd like to share my personal experience with AAA accessibility in recent years. I've been playing games for over 30 years. All types of games on multiple platforms. So I probably have twice as much gaming experience as the average player. I'd never had issues or problems with the difficulty of AAA games until 2007, when I first noticed the games were starting to drastically change. Each time I started playing a new game, it took less than an hour before I'd hit the pause button in frustration and say out loud "who the hell is this designed for?" Prior to 2007, I'd never played a single AAA game on the easy difficulty setting, by 2009 I was playing all games on easy, by default. It was never a problem of lack of skill. If I choose to, I can play any game on the highest difficulty level and complete it. The problem was, and continues to be, playing AAA games on normal difficulty became an exercise in masochism which sucked every second of fun and enjoyment out of the experience. It's also worth mentioning it was in this time frame when many AAA designers began relabeling normal difficulty as "hardcore." By the end of 2010, the high difficulty levels became so problematic I stopped buying new games outright. Now, I will not go near any game, from any publisher or developer, until the price is below $30. The bottom line is, the games are not designed with my preferences or skill set in mind. Despite the fact that I'm both a core and a hardcore player. To be honest, if not for my interest in game design, my involvement in AAA gaming as a consumer would have ended for good last year.

Last week I read several articles about EA and Bioware's plans for Mass Effect 3, which have motivated this post. Because given my experience with Mass Effect 2, I simply can't believe they actually plan to go through with it. From the second the combat began in Mass Effect 2, it was clear it the difficult level had been cranked way up. If I had to guess, I'd say Mass Effect 2 was on the order of 4 to 5 times more difficult on the normal difficulty setting than Mass Effect 1. The high difficulty of Mass Effect 2 absolutely destroyed the game as well as the franchise for me. In less than one week I went from being a fan boy to being someone who wanted nothing more to do with the series. I traded the game in within the week. Earlier I mentioned I stopped buying new AAA games last year. Mass Effect 2 was the game which prompted the change in my purchasing habits.

Inexplicably, Bioware plans to ramp up the difficulty levels even further with Mass Effect 3. Casey Hudson, Mass Effect's project director stated “normal is the new veteran in Mass Effect 3, effectively making it the most challenging game in the Mass Effect trilogy." Mass Effect designer Christina Norman stated "in Mass Effect 3 it's not just that the game is harder on Insanity, it's that this creature actually behaves differently on all difficulty levels." Well, so much for the notion that female designers would bring reason and maturity to the AAA community. This means the already quadrupled difficulty levels will now go even higher. Which raises the very same question I've asked since 2007: who the hell is the game designed for? Justify these changes by showing me one piece of legitimate research which proves the majority of the core audience prefers high to extreme difficulty. I doubt anyone can, so what's really behind the planned changes?

EA CEO Riccitiello actually answered the question in recent comments. He stated: "the final game in the trilogy is being further simplified to appeal to an even broader audience. One of the things that Ray Muzyuka and the team up in Edmonton have done is essentially step-by-step adjust the gameplay mechanics and some of the features that you'll see at E3 to put this in a genre equivalent to shooter-meets-RPG, and essentially address a much larger market opportunity than Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2 began to approach. We're huge believers in the IP and are purposefully shifting it to address a larger market opportunity."

Basically, Riccitiello confirmed everything I've suspected about the practice of streamlining or dumbing down games. When Riccitiello states "purposefully shifting it to address a larger market opportunity," he does not mean making the game accessible to the larger, more diverse core audience. "Purposefully shifting it to address a larger market opportunity" means streamlining the game so it appeals to the Call of Duty - shooter / multiplayer audience. Everyone points the finger at casual and social players as the motivation for streamlining AAA games. But developers are not streamlining games to attract non-hardcore players. Developers are, in every genre. removing features which create depth and complexity for core players and replacing them with high difficulty, close quarters based combat to make the games more appealing to a sub-segment of hardcore audience. A.k.a. the Call of Duty - shooter audience. So developers are completely dismissing the preferences and skill sets of the vast majority of core players and focusing instead on the preferences and skill sets of a group of players who likely represent less than 5% of the total audience. This is the new definition of "accessibility."

As stated, I've been playing games for over 30 years. What truly puzzles me about the recent obsession with difficulty is, I've never associated difficulty with fun, enjoyment or satisfaction in AAA games, let alone high difficulty with fun. I've never been motivated to play games for difficulty or challenge and I've never known other players who have. I've done a fair amount of research on this subject and every study I've read clearly shows when difficulty levels increase, accessibility and player enjoyment decrease. You don't need a PhD to understand this so I just don't understand why AAA developers believe streamlining games for a narrow audience will end well for them. Because here's a wake up call for all the developers who are bending over backwards to pander to the COD audience: in an interview last year, Black Ops multiplayer design director David Vonderhaar disclosed some pretty amazing facts about the COD audience.

If the motivation behind raising difficulty levels is to widen the appeal to the Call of Duty and shooter audience, then logic dictates the overwhelming majority of Call of Duty players would exclusively play multiplayer. After all, the difficulty level of multiplayer is far higher than the single player mode. But Vonderhaar admits, "30 to 40 percent of Call of Duty players never venture into mulitplayer, according to Activision research." I believe he is talking about all Call of Duty games to date, not just Black Ops. But Black Ops alone has sold approx. 12.5 million copies, which means approx. 3 to 5 million people who purchased  Black Ops never signed into a single multiplayer match. If you can find the life time COD sales figures, feel free to do the math.

Vonderhaar continued: "there's so much to the game (Black Ops) that's not in single-player." His goal is to "get as many of those people into multiplayer as possible." "The thing that was really important to us going into this game (Black Ops) was that we really had come to understand the diversity of the people who play MP, or want to play MP, and what happened for us was we had this opportunity to create this game that can spread that spectrum of player and personality and type. Even in Treyarch's own ranks, there's lots of different people here and they like lots of different things about Call of Duty multiplayer."

Hmm... so Vonderhaar thinks Black Ops is accessible to the wide range of people who play the game? Honestly? He thinks the multiplayer mode is accessible despite the fact his match making system is designed to ensure that 20% of the players will consistently dominate 80% of the players? When he was asked to cite reasons why so many players avoid multiplayer he stated "the first, and most obvious reason, is of course the toxicity of the online community. The atmosphere, the environment, is pretty hostile in some cases. Mom jokes. Lots of dick conversations. Lots of hatred and racial bigotry. The second reason is that the difficulty level of a single-player campaign game doesn't always prepare players for the multiplayer experience. Some people just want to be told a story; they want to go watch the movie version. Those types probably aren't ever going to be big into MP, but I'm going to sure as hell try to get them in." In other words, 30 to 40 percent of Call of Duty players are not motivated to buy or play the games for difficulty and they probably never will be.

So let's summarize. AAA developers are streamlining complexity and depth out of all games and replacing it with difficulty because they believe doing so will appeal to the Call of Duty and shooter audiences. Yet 30 to 40 percent of the COD audience never play in multiplayer because in the absence of skill based matchmaking, the difficulty levels are simply too high. They also don't play because the active multiplayer audience is for the most part, is filled with sociopaths. This is the audience AAA developers are pandering to?

For the record, Vonderhaar claimed his solution for the multiplayer accessibility problem was the addition of the combat training mode. Anyone who's played combat training understands how absolutely idiotic that claim is. My theory is combat training was actually intended to desensitize new players to the amount of cheating they'll be forced to deal with in live multiplayer. Because Black Ops combat training is populated with wall hacking aimbots which operate outside of the rules and physics the players are bound to. On the easiest difficulty setting, the bots, by design, abuse the player(s) in every way possible, as often as possible. Combat training is so ridiculous that even on tiny maps, the aimbots have the ability to snap aim head shots with sniper rifles in close quarters. The bot's weapons don't have recoil, drift (in scopes), range limits, and I believe they have hardcore mode damage enabled while the player(s) weapons do not. Vonderhaar allows the bots to abuse the advantage the system has over the player by keeping the bots constantly hidden behind line of sight obstacles as players move around the map. In short, there are no rules for the bots. Even worse, every time Black Ops is updated, Vonderhaar increases the difficulty level of the "recruit" mode. So again, another developer who abuses the vast majority of the players so he can pander to the very audience he admits is a big part of the problem. 

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be an end in sight for the streamlining trend. But there's no question it will inevitably result in a partial or full collapse of the core market if developers and publishers don't make drastic course corrections in the very near future. They need to accept the fact they are driving far more players away from core gaming than they are attracting with high difficulty levels. Call of Duty sells million of copies to the same group of players over and over again. The fact that difficulty is a key reasons why so many COD players decide not to access a majority of the content they paid for should be a warning signal for everyone. Difficulty and or challenge are absolutely not motivating factors for the vast majority of players. Developers who believe they can create successful franchises by pandering to the tiny but vocal minority of players who enjoy abusive game play are building a house of cards. It's not a question of if the house will fall, the only question is when.

On a side note, if EA and Bioware decides to advertise Mass Effect 3 as an "core RPG" title, as they did with Mass Effect 2, I honestly believe the FTC should consider filing false advertising charges against them. Because Mass Effect 3 will without question, exceed the skill set of a majority of core players. If EA and Bioware withholds this fact when they market and advertise the game, they will intentionally mislead the majority of core players who buy it. Just as they did with Mass Effect 2 by withholding the fact the franchise had switched genres. EA and Bioware cheated a large numbers of players by not disclosing the facts about Mass Effect 2 prior to release, consumers should not quietly sit back and allow it to happen again. 

Related Jobs

Digital Extremes
Digital Extremes — LONDON, Ontario, Canada

University of Central Florida, School of Visual Arts and Design
University of Central Florida, School of Visual Arts and Design — Orlando, Florida, United States

Assistant Professor in Digital Media (Game Design)
The College of New Jersey
The College of New Jersey — Ewing, New Jersey, United States

Assistant Professor - Interactive Multi Media - Tenure Track
Bohemia Interactive Simulations
Bohemia Interactive Simulations — Prague, Czech Republic

Game Designer


raigan burns
profile image
I'm calling bullshit on some of your comments:

"I've never been motivated to play games for difficulty or challenge and I've never known other players who have"

Surely you've heard of (or met fans of) e.g Super Meat Boy, N, or any of the dozens of other "masocore-ish" games. Those two examples are probably even considered very friendly/easy compared to true masocore games. How about Ikaruga or other bullet-hell shooters? They're basically defined by their insane level of challenge. Those neo-retro Mega Man titles (9 and 10) are also surely nothing if not difficult and challenging. No one is playing these games for anything other than pure exhilarating challenge!

Also: Demon's Souls. There was a period last year where every second article on every blog was about how awesome DS _because_ of the difficulty/challenge. Were you hiding under a rock then?

"I've done a fair amount of research on this subject and every study I've read clearly shows when difficulty levels increase, accessibility and player enjoyment decrease. "

I'm sure that for a certain group of people there is a negative correlation between difficulty and enjoyment, but I'm equally sure that for another group the correlation is positive. Do you have any actual studies to back this up or is it just speculation?

It seems to me like what's really happening is that you have a (perhaps justified) specific beef with MA2 and are needlessly over-extending your criticism to every other game. Surely in a post-Ghosts 'n Goblins world, all AAA games can't help but be getting easier on average!

David Serrano
profile image
1 - Honestly, I've never known a single player who played games and difficulty was their primary motivation to play. Not one... in over 30 years.

2 - Yes, I've heard of Super Meat Boy as well as the other games you've mentioned. Their difficulty levels are exactly why I will not play any of them. One thing I failed to say in the post was in general, I think Japanese titles are the exception to the rule. Because in Japan, perfection and or difficulty are cultural preferences so it's reflected in their games.

3 - "Pure exhilarating challenge"? Really? There is a 800 lb. gorilla in the room the industry has to acknowledge and reconcile. Players who are only motivated to play video games by an expectation of abuse, are not playing for "challenge" or "competition." They do not experience exhilaration, fun, enjoyment, accomplishment, pride, etc... while playing. Any person who seeks out an abusive activity with the goal of deriving pleasure through it is motivated by sadomasochistic tendencies and preferences. It's just that simple. There's a huge difference between a person who decides to perform a realistically challenging task to test of their abilities and a person who perform an unrealistically challenging and highly abusive task because they find the abuse pleasurable. Fun is not what they are after.

4 - Yes, I've heard of Demon Soul. I know there are some features and some content in the game I'd enjoy under difference circumstances. But the difficulty is a deal breaker. Why would I pay money for a game designed to be abusively difficult? Also, the people on this site and other sites who rave about high difficulty games again... most likely represent a single digit percentage of the total core audience. Developers simply cannot continue to place more importance of their preference than those of the overall audience.

5- I've read a number of studies which all support what I've said. Unlike most people, I actually try not to comment on things until I've had time to research the topic. The studies I've read all come to the same conclusion: the key to enjoyment and accessibility is balance. Here's a direct quote from a study titled: Player Performance, Satisfaction, and Video Game Enjoyment, conducted at the University of Mainz, in Germany in 2009. Note the study was conducted using an FPS game for testing. The researchers stated:

"In contrast, (very) difficult tasks do not facilitate positive feelings either [6]. One reason is that difficult tasks are not resolved with high probability, so experiences of failure and insufficient performance arise more frequently under high difficulty conditions. Such experiences undermine self-esteem and lead to frustration and sadness – the opposite of pride, and, when applied to game situations, also the opposite of game enjoyment. A second important reason for hard tasks interrupting the effect of success on enjoyment is that if players manage to resolve very heavy game tasks, there is a often a reasonable chance that their skill and effort alone did not cause the success, but that additional external factors (e.g., luck) co-occurred, which would question the self-attribution of the success. The enjoyment value of mastering very difficult tasks is thus not as ‘secure’ as the fun that players can generate from mastering moderately difficult tasks."

Note the one line: [high difficulty] results in the opposite of pride and the opposite of game enjoyment. Pretty clear cut with no room for debate.

Also see:

Effect of Success versus Other Players on the Perception of Fun By: Charles Butler -

Perceptions of Player in Game Design Literature By Olli Sotamaa -

The results of the studies are consistent. It's all about balance. Creating meaningful and enjoyable game play is not about difficulty alone, nor has it ever been. It's about balancing the level of challenge against the "average" personality type, preferences and skill set of the target audience. The reality is AAA developers have been doing the exact opposite in the vast majority of the games released in the past 4 to 5 years.

6 - It's absolutely not just about Mass Effect. Yes, Mass Effect 1 is my all time favorite game so Mass Effect 2 was the single most disappointing game I've ever played. But the high difficulty trend is now industry wide and it's not "just me." If you look back over the past 4 to 5 years at the higher profile AAA sequels, the base difficulty of the sequel is at least two to three times higher than the previous edition. Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 was twice as difficult as Vegas 1. Madden 2007 was twice as difficult as Madden 2006, Modern Warfare 2 was twice as difficult to play than Modern Warfare 1. Bad Company 2 was twice as difficult as Bad Company 1. Just Cause 2 was twice as difficult as Just Cause 1. Each edition of Rock Band and Guitar Hero is (was) twice as difficult as previous version. Even a "casual" AAA game like Fable III was noticeably more difficult than Fable II.

It not a matter of these games being "unplayable." It a matter of the difficulty being too high for a majority of the people who play to enjoy what they've paid for. But AAA games are absolutely not getting easier.

raigan burns
profile image
"difficult tasks are not resolved with high probability, so experiences of failure and insufficient performance arise more frequently under high difficulty conditions"

I think this aspect of the study is somewhat problematic: yes, obviously when you fail at something and cannot progress, that is frustrating and makes you unhappy.

But conversely, if you succeed immediately, you will feel a diminished reward compared to if you failed several times and had to struggle to succeed.

Also: how likely is total failure in a game? Definitely in old-school games like Ghosts 'n Goblins you can hit a wall. But these days games are so easy! You might fail the first few times, but eventually you make it through -- and the previous failures and difficulty are PRECISELY what makes the eventual victory feel so good.

"[high difficulty] results in the opposite of pride"

There must be more to the argument in the paper because this is just literally not true: SO many players who have beaten N, Super Meat Boy, Demon's Souls, etc. are proud precisely BECAUSE of the high difficulty. Otherwise it wouldn't be an achievement!

The actual conclusion of the study should have been "failure results in the opposite of pride", which is obvious. But high difficulty alone can either reinforce or diminish pride, depending on whether you persevere/succeed in the face of difficulty or fail/give up.

David Serrano
profile image
@raigan burns

If you read the entire study, they review both sides of the problem. They review the problems which result from a game being too easy too. But too easy is not the problem with core games right now.

Also, it doesn't necessarily require "total failure" to lose players. When a game attempts to tell a story and game play is the central device for immersing players in the story, if the difficulty levels are unrealistically high, it breaks the "magic circle" of immersion. I was completely sucked into the story in Mass Effect 1 because I was never conscious of the difficulty level while playing. So even when I did fail, it never felt unfair. So the magic circle remained in tact. But in ME 2, I was painfully aware of the difficulty level from the second the combat started until the game ended. This made it impossible to become immersed in the story or characters. Because every time I failed, it felt like the designer were abusing me then punishing me by forcing me to repeat sections of the game over and over again. Same experience with something as mindless as Bad Company 2. I liked the story in BC 1 but the difficulty of BC 2 made it hard to stay immersed in the story.

So finding the right balance definitely is the key. I guess the main point I was trying to make was, developers need to do better.

Joe Cooper
profile image
"I've never known a single player who plays games with difficulty is their primary motivation to play. Not one... in over 30 years."

I do that.

And I don't even play a whole lot of games; I'm not much of a "gamer". But when I do game, if it is not challenging than it's boring.

David Serrano
profile image
@ Joe Cooper: A game is boring if it's not balanced to provide just enough challenge to keep you motivated to play. So it's a question if the games you play are designed with your preferences and abilities in mind. If they are not, you'll find them either too boring or too difficult.

Jonathan Jou
profile image
I'm tempted to add here that there's a difference between a game being "hard" and a game being designed to induce repeated failure. There are so, so many real-world analogs of activities which people partake in expecting nothing but continuous and merciless failure:

1. Learning an instrument

2. Learning to do tricks with a skateboard

3. Learning a martial art

4. Learning a new language

5. Learning to cook

Notably, these tasks have in common the pleasure derived from besting a challenge that once seemed impossible: a sense of mastery. When a game can give the player transferable skills, which show them how simple the earlier challenges have become (even without the extra equipment/stat bonuses gained), the sense of accomplishment makes them savor the challenge--the fact that it seemed hard before made it all the more pleasant to claim mastery of.

It's a tough, tough balance to achieve, I agree. Games often come across as too hard or too easy, no matter the task or the number of modes or even the "get out of jail free" cards like frequent checkpoints, extra lives, or temporary invincibility afford. Most gamers want to feel like they did something amazing, and not feel like they had to try their best to do it. It's so much easier to blame the game than it is to rise to the challenge.

Also, I'd love to hear how you measure if a game is twice as hard as its previous iteration: was there half as much health? Twice as many enemies? Did you die twice as often? Or is this a measure of personal frustration as opposed to the actual obstacles?

David Serrano
profile image
@Jonathan Jou

The major difference between the examples you mentioned and video games is, the people who created those real life tools or tasks did so to serve a practical purpose or need. The person who created the guitar, for example, probably didn't create it because it would be more difficult to play than another instrument. A chef doesn't create a recipe only because it will be difficult to cook. But game designers are creating tools and tasks only because they are difficult to use or perform. Its difficulty for no practical reason or purpose.

And agreed. It is all about balance. Which is why developers really need to have rock solid research on their target audiences. If the target audience really is a small niche segment that loves difficulty, then knock yourselves out. Crank up the difficulty as high as you'd like. But do not attempt to advertise the game to the mainstream audience as a core title. However, if the target audience is the overall core audience then developers need to have a very accurate profile of the average core player. Which I think is what's currently missing from the equation.

"How you measure if a game is twice as hard as its previous iteration?"

Obviously, only the designers can answer this definitively. All I can do is estimate. But in general, twice as difficult is probably an underestimate. If there was a way to measure the difficulty levels in Modern Warfare 2 for example, I'm sure it would show the "regular" mode in Modern Warfare 2 is the equivalent of "veteran" mode in MW 1. Which would mean the difficulty increased by a factor of three in just one sequel. If Infinity Ward continues the trend, MW 3 will be six times as difficult as MW 1. Yet they'll still market and advertise the game to the core audience ignoring the fact the difficulty will likely exceed the abilities of the average player.

Brad Borne
profile image
You're nuts, games have done nothing if not gotten easier over the past 30 years. There's not a single game that I haven't had to bump up to Hard in the last 10 years or so, Mass Effect 2 included.

Even so, I can't think of a single experience I've had that's half as rewarding as getting really far in Paperboy, beating a high score in Tetris, or beating Turtles in Tim on Hard with my dad, and I didn't even play many of the notoriously hard games when I was young!

I rented so many games that I would always get stuck on, not sure if that's difficulty or bad game design, though. One thing's for sure, all games are made to be beaten nowadays. Back in the 2D era, you had to earn it.

Great, now I feel old...

David Serrano
profile image
@Brad Borne

You may feel they are getting easier but that's based on your preferences and skills. The games are actually being designed to be more difficult. That's not just based on personal opinion, if you search for interviews and comments made by the designers of sequels, in almost every case you'll find they talk about pumping up the difficulty levels, not lowering them.

And I'm probably a few years older than you... so cheer up!

Anonymous Designer
profile image
/disagree . You make alot of assumptions, use personal anecdotes as evidence, and make radical claims such as "there's no question it will inevitably result in a partial or full collapse of the core market". What do you think makes game compelling if not for the problem solving / challenging element? Why are you drawn to things that present a challenge, if you don't want a challenge? What is the point of a deep, complex system if not to solve a problem in interesting ways - just to get lost in the complexity and stumble out victorious no matter what? You might as well take some psychedelics and call it a day. Why are you playing games in the first place? If you want a cool story, watch a T.V. series or movie, read a book. You'll notice that all their narratives are filled with challenge and adversity - the point of games it that you get to experience that. The fact that it may not be balanced or designed to your liking is a different point, but to say that presenting a challenge at all is the problem sounds to me misguided.

If a game sells more, appeals to and attracts new fans, and does so comparatively better than the competition at similar marketing budgets (which is what happens) - it IS more accessible. Hard to argue the numbers, especially with emotionally charged rage rants.

David Serrano
profile image
@Jack Wilson

First of all, don't think you can use stereotypical hardcore tactics to shout me down because I don't agree with you and players like you. Grow up... really.

Assumption? No... my opinion is based on my personal experience as well as formal research from a variety of sources. All of which support everything I've said about difficulty game design and the audience.

"Why are you playing games in the first place?"

For fun, as are most people who play. Now, here's a new flash: games are not only about difficulty or challenge, they never have been and probably never will be. Game designers do not design challenge, and developers do not sell challenge. People play games for a variety of reasons and for most of them, challenge and difficulty are at the bottom of the list. Game designers design activities, tasks, and actions for players, not challenges. None of which require extreme difficulty or challenge in order to be fun or meaningful. And game developers do no sell challenge or difficulty, they sell games.

I didn't say challenge is the problem. I said designing unrealistic difficulty which exceeds the skill sets of a majority of the core audience is the problem. And what new fans are core games appealing to? Hmm..? Every other segment of the game market is currently experiencing growth... accept for core gaming. What do you think is preventing the growth? The games being too easy? Don't forget or ignore the fact the massive amount of growth the core market experience over the past two decades was not caused by inaccessible, high difficulty games. The growth was a direct result of games on all platforms which were accessible to all of the new players who entered the core market. Now inaccessible games are now driving players away from core gaming. It's hard to argue those numbers.

And let's dispel this myth: intentionally abusive difficulty levels have little to nothing to do with problem solving and or teaching. This is another lie most developers have been selling for years. High difficulty is about nothing more then abuse. So the real question is, why do you play games? My guess is challenge, depth or complexity have nothing to do with it. Do you find pleasure through being abused? Or do you find pleasure in abusing other players on-line? Or is it both?

Anonymous Designer
profile image
I wasn't trying to shout you down or troll you - I was simply being straightforward. I play games for the problem solving experience. That always involves challenge - any intentional activity task or action has a goal (intention), and seeing as though this goal comes at the cost of effort, and defining challenge as anything which requires effort (difficulty being gauged in amount of effort), all games are structured with challenge. Albeit you may disagree with that definition, but I don't think it's unreasonable. If anything there's a subjective line when amount of effort crosses over into being a "challenge".

I don't disagree that what you call "core" games are often too hard for casual non-gamers. Although as designed, many of them wouldn't be very fun if they weren't challenging. The weird part for me is you lambasting certain games for being what they are unabashedly trying to be, and not being something else (i suppose you were referencing facebook games as a market experiencing growth, i.e. what mass effect 2 should be like). You can't just take an action game and say making it easy makes it better, because the challenge is the detph - that contrasts with something like farmville where while challenge exists, it is not the depth - the depth is in carrot, progression, unlock and social systems. They are designed for different purposes.

It's hard to design a game that greatly appeals to both core and casual gamers moreso than the best games in each respective field, I think that's when people with your perspective get upset at the lack of such a blend, and when misunderstanding occurs. Challenge is always there, although it's influence on the experience as a whole is more important to some than others. One of the things people are most sensitive about is their own competence - this is why balance and challenge is such a tough issue for games. In my opinion, the immediate simple solution is that modern actions games should all come with modes that you essentially cannot fail in. Would that satisfy your qualm?

Steven Haley
profile image
I also have to say that I completely disagree with this article. The first thing I tend to do when picking up games is change the difficulty from normal to hard - I cite Crysis 1, Crysis Warhead and both Mass Effect 1 and 2 as games I've played in the last 12 months and did this. Then for other games, such as COD4, I deliberately replayed the campaign on veteran for the challenge of it - and yes, I got stuck on one scene in one level (the TV studio, anyone remember that?) for over an hour, but eventually beating it provided a great sense of satisfaction. Before you think I'm an FPS-only player trying to shoehorn FPS aspects into games that aren't like that, let me add that I also felt the need to boost the difficulty on Starcraft 2 and Dragon Age Origins.

I realise that I'm not an 'average' gamer. There should of course be a difficulty setting appropriate to people who are less extreme. However, I fundamentally disagree with your point that difficulty isn't fun. The whole purpose of increasing the difficulty is to provide a sense of challenge, and overcoming that challenge is what is fun. If that wasn't the case, why would people play puzzle games? Or solve crosswords, sudoku or similar? Those games have no narrative, no emotional involvement, no beautiful artwork, no novel game mechanics. Their only purpose is to present a challenge.

David Serrano
profile image
@ Steven Haley

Overcoming challenge is not what is fun about game play. Because challenge represents the cumulative effect or influence of dynamics and rules on a task a.k.a. mission, quest, etc... Difficulty is how the player perceives challenge. Fun is the psychophysiological response a player may or may not experience while performing the task. Both fun and difficulty are perceived as well as subjective. How a player reacts to the effects of challenge is determined by the their skill sets, personality type, self-confidence, etc... This is why what one player thinks is fun, another player may think is masochistic.

So you feel difficult game play is fun but it's a subjective opinion. The research clearly shows high difficulty results in the opposite of fun in almost all cases. Which means your preferences do not reflect those of most players. It is the developer's or publisher's responsibility to define a target audience for a game and to determine the most common skill sets, personality types, preferences, etc... in their target audience. Then it is their job to design and balance the game play based on the profile of the average player to ensure the psychophysiological response a majority of players will experience is "fun." Currently, they are not doing their job. Not even close.

The motivation of people who play crossword puzzles, sudoku, etc... is not challenge or difficulty. It is problem solving. They are motivated to solve puzzles because typically, they have a personality type well suited for problem solving. They enjoy it because it's in their nature, not because the task is difficult or challenging. But highly difficult game play goes far beyond challenge. More often than not, it is designed to abuse players. So high difficulty in video games really has little to nothing to do with problem solving despite what many hardcore designers would like you to believe.

I think you need to ask yourself this question... seriously. What is it you wish to experience when you engage in abusive game play? Satisfaction? Accomplishment? Honestly, I don't believe people who experience pleasure via abusive play are motivated by a desire for satisfaction, accomplishment or fun. I think they are searching for a drastically different experience which there are far more direct avenues for obtaining than video games. Some people are honest about what they are really after while others prefer to ignore the obvious.

Jonathan Jou
profile image
Wow, sounds like you have a lot of grievances with modern games! I'd like to believe that game difficulty levels have been tuned to appeal to the markets in question, and that not everyone who claims to be hardcore finds hardcore gaming as disappointing as you do. Can you give us any clear, objective examples of situations in which "complexity" and "depth" have been replaced by "difficulty"? I'm not even sure how you define those terms, but I'm really quite interested in hearing what you mean when you say a game is "hard" but not "deep." That's one of those things game designers can say about their game, and gamers can express concerns about, but what you listed as an example of games being too hard is hardly an example of good game design at all. It sounds more like the skills the training mode was trying to teach you were missed entirely and you simply found the experience to be an exercise in frustration.

That's a completely reasonable position to take, except that it turns out most people who play first person shooters for entertainment are not the same people who play first person shooters competitively. The developers do their best to eliminate cheaters and balance the gameplay, and even perform matchmaking to ensure enjoyable fights for all, but the culture of competitive play, especially in shooters, has never been friendly to the "core" gamers you claim association to. Competitive players are the ones who want bigger, harder, trickier fights. Competitive players are the ones who *buy sequels*. And, it turns out, websites which review games expect bigger, better, and more challenging fights while being disappointed when they don't also get more of the same.

Are you sure you're playing the right games? It's absolutely the case that a small subset of gamers are clamoring for a greater challenge, but it doesn't sound like the developers are ignoring your needs since there *is* an Easy Mode. Would you have felt better if "Easy" was called "Normal," "Normal" was called "Hardcore," "Hardcore" was called "Insane," and they went and added an extra, extra easy difficulty mode? Or are you just hoping competitive gaming will change because the current competitive culture doesn't cater to your own needs?

David Serrano
profile image
I've already mentioned one game ... Mass Effect 2. I think all RPG fans would agree. Beyond cranking up the difficulty to unrealistic levels, Mass Effect 2 removed almost all free roaming, perks, collectibles, armor, etc... It literally contained less than half as much playable content as Mass Effect 1. Fable 3 removed complexity and depth, mainly due to the fact it also contained half as much content as Fable 2. Bad Company 2 was streamlined because it shifted all of the focus over to multiplayer. The single player campaign in BC 2 was half as long as in BC 1. Just Cause 2 is a great example. There was much more variety in the missions and activities in Just Cause 1. Just Cause 2 was streamlined to focus only on high difficulty combat via one of the most obnoxious AI systems I've ever seen. Splinter Cell: Conviction removed practically all stealth strategy based game play and replaced it with non-stealth, COD style run and gun game play. Even though the control mapping didn't support that style of play.

You're correct about the FPS audience, which was kind of the point. COD and FPS's in general, may have started out with a niche hardcore audience. But that changed a long time ago. The COD and shooter audience is now the core audience. When the audience expanded to the point where hardcore players became the minority, all of the developers had a responsibility to acknowledge it by rebalancing the game play around the skill set of the new audience. But it still hasn't happened. They are in fact, doing the exact opposite. Then guys like David Vonderhaar have the giant brass balls to talk about accessibility and serving different types of players. It's an absolute joke.

I do try to play as many different types of games as possible. Except for those I know are designed to be extremely difficult. But over the past few years, my experience with AAA games has been pretty consistent across the board. As I said, it's not that I can't play or complete the games on normal or the higher difficulties. There's simply no fun or enjoyment to be found in doing so and that's the problem. The research shows my reaction will almost always be the result when difficulty levels are set too high. As far as "my own needs", the reason I wrote this post is for the most part, I think I'm a good example of an average core player. I definitely will never top any leader boards, but I certainly know how to play. I'm pretty sure my preferences are more or less, in line with most core players. So when a player with years of gaming experience, who sits in the dead center of the target audience for AAA games has a universally negative reaction to most games... there is something seriously wrong with the direction the industry has charted. I only shared my personal experience with the hope that someone would read it and maybe, keep it in mind in the future.

As far as the actual difficulty modes, again the structure must reflect the overall audience. Which is why the difficulty of game play in core games must be built from the bottom up, not from the top down. How the modes are labeled is irrelevant. The base difficulty... "normal", absolutely must represent abilities and preferences of the average player in the audience. Easy mode should be structured for new or less experienced players. Any difficulty modes beyond easy and normal should be afterthought for developers. Because those modes do not pay their bills. Games targeted at core players should at the very least, place their needs and desires above those of the minority. It's called common courtesy. Implying that core players should just play on easy is insulting. Why should the people responsible for generating the majority of the developer's profits accept a lesser version of the game while developers bend over backwards can keep a toxic minority of the audience happy?

This is also why Bioware's plans for Mass Effect 3 are wrong, on multiple levels. It seems clear from the comments the designer made that the higher difficulty modes are the design team's primary concern. So all of the game play will be structured round high to extreme difficulty. This will absolutely filter down into all the other modes. Bioware's primary responsibility is to serve the needs of the majority of their audience first, the needs of their niche audience second. Not the other way around.

But even if my personal preferences don't exactly reflect those of the core audience, it doesn't change the fact that high difficulty game play is absolutely not their preference. Those in the industry can attempt to rationalize their actions until the cows come home. But in the end they'll have no choice but to accept that ignoring the preferences of the majority of the audience is simply not a sustainable business model.

Luis Guimaraes
profile image
"Any difficulty modes beyond easy and normal should be afterthought for developers."

Mostly they are, specially both in the computer and console realm of AAA segment, the difficulty choices are mostly an excel chart tweaking for enemies having more armor and cause more damage, with barely anything really interesting beyond that.

David Serrano
profile image
But it does sound like the designers for Mass Effect 3 are focused only on the high difficulty modes and "normal" will become the afterthought.

Jonathan Jou
profile image
Hum, do you really think Mass Effect 2 was unrealistically difficult? The people I've known who played it say the experience was dumbed down, not cranked up. According to Wikipedia, several professional review websites praised the increased accessibility when the RPG aspect was streamlined into a more shooter-like experience. In fact, it looks like Mass Effect 2 was released to a 95% average rating, so this means that most review sites didn't respond as negatively to changes in difficulty as you did. I'm not sure how a 72 video game review sites could praise the gameplay if the game's target audience was, much like you, going to be in for sore disappointment at the dramatic increase of difficulty.

Of course, I am absolutely open to hearing specific, actionable details in any of the mechanics of any games--was there not enough cover in MA2? Did enemies shoot through walls to kill you before you even knew they existed?

I hear you use words like complexity and depth and I'm not convinced I understand what you're getting at. I'd be very interested in hearing about things you would have changed in any of these games you believe got harder and less complicated at the same time.

David Serrano
profile image
@Jonathan Jou

I think Mass Effect 2 was unrealistically difficult in comparison to Mass Effect 1. After all, there was a large established audience for the franchise who purchased ME 2 with a very reasonable expectation the game would more or less remain in the same difficulty window. I think it was just too big of a jump in a single release. Given that Bioware didn't release a demo of the game, they had a responsibility to inform the players about the massive change before the game was released.

As far as the actual mechanics, most of the increased difficulty was based around the removal of damage protection. In ME 1, the different levels of armor actually provided noticeable differences in damage protection. But in ME 2, the armor protection is fictional. The unlocked upgrades are little more than window dressing. Providing players with .005 seconds of protection is pointless. If you take more than a second of damage in ME 2, you're on the verge of death and fighting through a red blind screen. Which became a big factor during the first play through because you didn't have time to effectively evaluate the environments. The combat in ME 1 also allowed for both long range and close quarters tactics while the combat in ME 2 was designed to primarily force players into close quarters tactics. Against multiple AI "tanks" who were immune to most powers and also had the ability to bum rush you. The combination of the lack of damage protection, the removal of tactics options and multiple bum rushing tanks (with multiple levels of damage protection) was overkill. I think it showed an overall lack of respect for the established audience by the developer and designers.

I think ultimately complexity and depth is a matter of giving players as many options as possible. In ME 1, complexity and depth was created by providing players with multiple weapons, armor upgrades, ammo upgrades, an inventory system, free roam environments and mission levels which allowed for different styles of play, etc... All of these things helped immerse players in the story. In ME 2, they removed practically all of this and replaced it with increased difficulty to make the game more appealing to shooter fans. Who for the most part, value combat and difficulty far more than depth and complexity. Then the developer claimed the game was more accessible for everyone, which was absolutely false. ME 2 was streamlined to make it more appealing to approx. 5% of the audience, not to make it accessible to the majority of the audience. Increasing the difficulty level made it inaccessible to players a franchise like Mass Effect should attract into core gaming.

As far as the ratings for ME 2... let's just say multi-million dollars developer advertising budgets will secure a huge amount of good will or ignorant bliss from many websites, magazines and media outlets. I worked in magazine publishing for over twenty years so I have first hand experience with this. Throwing additional millions at social marketing companies to anonymously engage players in user forums also doesn't hurt.

Jamie Mann
profile image
Not sure I agree with all the points raised here, but to me, the main problem with modern AAAA games is that they generally fail to get the balance right between hand-holding newcomers while allowing experienced gamers to hit the ground running: what you tend to get is a tutorial system which fails to explain basic concepts (thereby alienating the former) while trudging along at a slow enough pace to frustrate the latter.

That said, I can think of at least one example where a modern game's tutorial was difficult enough to make me seriously think of walking away: Tron Evolution. The tutorial involves carrying out a set of parkour/PoP-style jumps and despite being an experienced gamer (25 years or so - and I've completed similar games such as GoW, Darksiders and Batman: AA!), there was a run-along-the-wall-and-jump which I kept failing at - and climbing back up the wall to make another attempt was at least as difficult. I managed it in the end, but it seriously impacted my perception of the game.

(Mind you, it's still not as bad as the original Driver's tutorial-cum-entrance-exam, but then, even the developers have admitted that was a bad idea!)

Lewis Pulsipher
profile image
This is why for years I've advocated installation of an "auto-pilot" in games, so that when it gets more difficult than the player cares for, he or she has the option of letting the game play through the difficult part. Then the hard-core who like to be challenged can enjoy just that, while those who don't like to be challenged/punished can avoid the punishment. This provides ultimate accessibility without interfering with the hard-core.

But when this is suggested by anyone, the people who play hard games not because they like hard, but because they think it makes them superior to people who do not or cannot complete hard games, rise up in horror! If there's an autopilot, their bragging rights are evidently somehow diminished. Some also seem to feel that they'll be psychologically forced to use the auto-pilot, even though they won't use "Easy" difficulty. Grow up.

Luis Guimaraes
profile image
There's people who complain even about quick saving.

My cousin has an XBox360, he is a most console player, while I also have one and a PC, preferring PC for single player experiences. When we get to play some shooter in my PC, always in the hardest difficulty possible, he complains that I leave many automatic weapons behind to keep the beginning pistol, and try to get some machine gun as soon as it's his round. I just wait to rely on stronger equipment when I feel it's needed.

Yes, it's always our (designers) fault, simply because we should put the fault over ourselves and not on things we can't control. But games are also kind of toys and sandboxes somehow, and it takes part of the player's will to get the best out of it.

Again, design can always tackle these problems.

Maurício Gomes
profile image
Why this crap article is featured?

I mean, really.

I had to read it more than once to understand it, it is really badly written. When I understood, basically the author complains of streamlining that rises difficulty.

I think he was unsure if he complains of the dumbing down of games (yes, ME3 should NOT be advertised as Core RPG, because it is not RPG even in the broadest definitions), or if he complains of developers trying to compensate the cries of "too easy" by throwing boring difficulty (what is more fun, a epic fight that you need to hit 3 times a boss, or a static thing that has 1 billion HP while your weapon chip 1 HP slowly? Then, what is harder, the first, that moves a lot but dies fairly fast, or the second that lasts so much that eventually you run out of HP first?)

Jeff G
profile image
"I've never been motivated to play games for difficulty or challenge and I've never known other players who have."


Pretty much everyone enjoys being a boss that legitimately challenges them instead of "STAND HERE AND HIT THE ATTACK BUTTON REALLY FAST." Anyone who has played a turn based strategy game, anyone who prefers playing fighting games with friends he's played with a lot before instead of the CPU, or anyone who plays RTS games in multiplayer appreciates challenge, or more specifically, using and developing skill and figuring out/executing strategies.

"more appealing to a sub-segment of hardcore audience. A.k.a. the Call of Duty - shooter audience."

>the call of duty shooter audience


Nope. There's nothing that separates them from the sort of people who want things like wii sports, not that that's a bad thing. They want flashy action, simple games, and they don't like change.

Just because their games are violent and have high-tech graphics, doesn't mean they're "hardcore".

David Serrano
profile image
@Jeff G

"Pretty much everyone enjoys being a boss that legitimately challenges them"

Really... prove it. Show me any legitimate research that supports the claim. Because fun or enjoyment are based on balance according to preferences. So when designers start talking about ramping up difficulty, they need to make sure their plans align with the preferences of their audience.

I happen to agree with you about the COD audience. There's the actual COD - shooter audience and the perceived COD - shooter audience. I think most perceive the COD - shooter audience IS the hardcore audience. The reality is the COD audience is now the broader core audience. The players developers are currently targeting are the multiplayer fans. Who I think belong in their own special sub-category because their motivations for playing are very different then other segments of the audience. They are not core or hardcore players.

Daniel Gooding
profile image
My question to the author is.

What games do you play???

I just looked through all my games within view of where i'm sitting (about 80), and could only find two games that difficulty was only a minor part of the game, and those were Harvest Moon, and The Sims, which are basically open for the player to do what they want.

But even those games, the player can ramp up the difficulty by presenting themselves personal challenges, like 10 Hearting every girl in Harvest moon, while making a ton of money before the end of the first year. or Starting the Sims 3 with 7 babies, and an Old man, and raise all the kids without losing any to child services. (which i've done. It's an amazing test of micromanagement)

I always thought difficulty was why people liked playing games. Because their life was not presenting them with specific challenges, so they seek out games to fulfill that need for challenges.

Maurício Gomes
profile image
I now imagine if there will be baby competition to see who can raise the biggest amount of babies using a Old man.

David Serrano
profile image
@Daniel Gooding

I typically play a new game every other week. Mostly the bigger AAA titles but I try to work other types of games into the mix. Currently, I'm playing Black Ops and Civilization IV. I played The Sims 3 last month and completed all but 3 of the challenges.

People for the most part play games as a diversion or escape from real life or for competition. The appeal of single player AAA games, in the past, was about the fun and enjoyment which was found in performing a task. Fun was not defined by how challenging the task was. Shooting a big gun, for example is fun. Shooting a big gun while 20 NPC's attack you from multiple directions does not by default, make it more fun. If you have kids, playing with your child is fun. Playing with your child while being attacked by an Apache helicopter does not by default, make it more fun lol.

Malcolm Miskel
profile image
If you don't know people who play games for the difficulty you've sectioned yourself off. Sequence breaking, speed runs, completionists? Surely these aren't new terms to you. Forgive me if I'm overstepping, but perhaps you're just not capable of handling the challenges anymore?

Nearly every game I've played since 2007 has been easier than those that came before them. Is that to say that games have gotten progressively easier...? No, that's just my own personal experience which I cannot present as proof. Well, Nintendo games have gotten easier (NSMB and OOT 3DS are proof), but otherwise..?

Lastly, you kind of began to repeat yourself with your article. It could easily have been condensed into half of the final product.

David Serrano
profile image
I haven't sectioned myself off, I just haven't encountered players who play for difficulty. Keep in mind when I was in school, NES was state of the art and most people I've worked with who are my age are not into gaming.

As I said, it's not a matter of lack of skill or ability. When I come across games where the difficulty really ticks me off, I actually force myself to play and complete one of the higher difficulty mode simply to prove I can. But honestly, there's not a second of fun or enjoyment to be found in the process.

Yes, I've heard of sequence breaking, speed runs, and completionists. I actually have some game design training. I think players into sequence breaking and speed runs are motivated to do it mostly for bragging rights. Which is not really what gaming should be about. I would be a completionist if not for the higher difficulty modes but I simply have no desire to go there. So I complete everything else I can then I move onto the next game.

You feel like all games since 2007 are easier based on your skill set, personality type and preferences. But the reality is the games were designed to be more difficult. Do a search on any sequel you think was easy and look for interviews with the designers or members of the development teams. In most cases, they'll talk about how and why they increased the difficulty levels.

Malcolm Miskel
profile image
If you were to immerse yourself into more than two or the three of the popular gaming communities (be it Halo, Mario, or even Mass Effect) you'd run into those three things I mentioned left and right, so I find it rather difficult to believe you haven't sectioned yourself off.

And yes, I realize the majority of players your age don't necessarily do that sort of thing: I was in an internship for a year and my home sponsor was in his mid to late forties and had a much similar view. Playing a game without participating in the community is what I mean by "sectioned off".

Also, why shouldn't gaming be about bragging rights? If that's how you have fun (and I know tons of people that play for that), I hardly see how it matters.

As for the games....I'm afraid the majority of the games I play I often find developers talking about taking the difficulty down a notch. Metroid Prime 2 in the Trilogy set, Other M, the new Tales Of Symphonia, OOT 3DS, Prince of Persia (no death..?), NSMB, Mario Kart Wii (no snaking), Super Smash Bros. Brawl (no wavedashing, and Sakurai spoke profusely about dumbing it down), the new Disgaea, Okamiden....

/Perhaps/ the designers will talk about enhancing the A.I. so it's more engaging, but not more difficult. You've got the basic "we want to challenge the player in new ways", but that speaks more into keeping the game fresh and challenging so the player doesn't just "light all of the torches to open the door" after doing it in the first game.

Were I the type who played only shooters then mayhap you'd be right, but you spoke about games in general. I looked for previews and interviews on the games I I don't see how your personal experience is any more relevant than mine.

Jamie Mann
profile image
@David: I don't think anyone is claiming that "difficulty" is the sole reason for enjoying a game. Instead, it's probably better to say that it's all about balancing the challenge and the reward:

1) If the challenge is too large relative to the reward, the player may become frustrated and/or choose to spend time on something more profitable

2) If the challenge is too small relative to the reward, the player may become bored and choose to spend time on something more interesting

For instance, I'd find a two-mile walk in the city to be unfulfilling: flat terrain, boring scenery and minimal physical benefit. However, a ten-mile walk along the local canal is far more interesting: the terrain is more varied, the scenery is far more interesting and I can feel the physical benefits. But I'd be unlikely to undertake a ten-mile run over the Pennines (a nearby mountain range) as it'd be a painful experience which would leave me physically broken for a few days afterwards :)

Similarly, as a child, I enjoyed playing the card-game Snap and the board-game Snakes and Ladders. These days, these are too simplistic for me, so I play Poker and Risk. But I've never contemplated the more complex card games such as Bridge or Whist.

Note that I deliberately picked examples from outside computer-gaming, as this is a general psychological principle: a given activity is only enjoyable if there is some form of challenge/reward structure. And there's also the "familiarity" factor to consider: activities which feature non-tangible rewards tend to become less enjoyable with repetition.

(Admittedly, people can also enjoy pure risk/reward structures, such as the slot-machines in Las Vegas, but that's a subtly different context. And then you have grinding, which is a heavily distorted challenge-reward setup with secondary attributes. But I digress...)

For an example of this, look at how successful Microsoft's Achievement system has proven. At it's heart, it's about providing the player with an explicit reward for completing a challenge, and the gamer response was overwhelming. Since then, it's been picked up by both Sony and Valve, and I'd be very surprised if Nintendo didn't end up implementing something similar for the Wii U.

... and back to the original point: AAA games are designed to provide a set of challenge/reward activities: the aforementioned achievements, single-player levels, multi-player setups, etc. The problem is that they're designed to appeal to an existing and well established audience - according to the ESA, the average gamer is 37 years old and has been playing for 12 years[*]. And unless it's the first game in a few franchise, most players will have experience of the game's predecessor and will therefore be familiar with the game's activities and control principles.

As such, AAA games are pretty much guaranteed to not be accessible to "newcomers", as this isn't the target audience: the audience is the skilled, experienced 37-year-old gamer who's already played the first seven Medal of Duty on the Battlefield titles. And if you reduce the difficulty/complexity to try and attract new players, there's a very real risk that the existing audience will abandon your game in droves.

Overall then, there's not much you can do about the perceived issues with AAA accessibility: put simply, they're not designed to appeal to inexperienced gamers, or gamers looking for a low challenge level.

Also, I'd argue that games have at least tried to become more accessible. For instance, games such as Doom and the original GTA threw the player straight into the game, with little or no support for gamers unfamiliar with the controls or game mechanics. Compare this with modern games such as CoD (with the lengthy boot-camp tutorial sections) and GTA4, which hand-holds you through the controls and offers repeatable "training" missions to familiarise players with new concepts and techniques.

Admittedly, game developers can do more to make games accessible - watching my non-gamer girlfriend try to play Dragon Age was a major revelation in how much developers assume players are familiar with "standard" HUD/gameplay principles. And there is a risk that games are becoming too complex and insular as developers try to keep the attention of the "hardcore" demographic: there's been several games which have suffered as a result of developers paying too much attention to a vocal minority of fans.

But fundamentally, these games are not designed for newcomers and there are plenty of "simpler" games which people can use to build up their skills and experience. Much as with other activities: to use another analogy. I'd love to jump onto a 1200cc motorbike, but this'd probably result in a broken bike and a Jamie-shaped hole in a brick wall. Instead, I'd be better off leaning to handle a 125cc motorbike and then progressing up the size/power scale as I learn the gentle art of not crashing...


Lewis Pulsipher
profile image
I see David's point of view, even though all the evidence I've seen is that games in general are getting easier rather than harder, with specific exceptions such as Mass Effect.

Nonetheless, AAA games are being promoted and sold through their stories as much as, if not more than, their gameplay. They're not being sold as big challenges. Read some issues of GameInformer or PCGamer magazine for examples (don't forget to read the ads). If that's so, then why make the games hard to play on the easiest setting? People who buy games for the stories often do not want difficult play, they want to experience the story. Such people are not interested in whether they have "skillz", because they don't value such skills. From their point of view of experiencing the story, if the game is in any way hard to play that is a DEFECT, not a virtue.

Those who like challenge, those who think games "ought to be" hard, can lament the trends, but as AAA games become more expensive, publishers must offer games that emphasize story, not challenge, in order to broaden their market.

The ultimate answer is an auto-pilot feature so that all groups, from "I must be challenged" to "I just want to see the story" can be equally satisfied.

Brandon Karratti
profile image
I think this really comes down more to personal preference than simply that games aren't catering to the right audience.

As I read through the comments, I've noticed that a lot of people are defending their views that challenge is worthwhile, and I do agree. For me, a thing is only as important as the difficulty to obtain it.

Something worth having is worth working for, which, despite the assertion that games are for fun, is still a part of games. Playing basketball is for fun. Football is for fun. Chess is for fun. Bowling is for fun. But there is reward to be had in putting time and effort into a task "for fun," and then mastering that task "for fun."

What you seem to be advocating, here, is that games need to be made easier across the board. That because you've noticed that games are overly taxing for you, that developers should all cater their games specifically to your needs.

I hate to be so blunt, but that's never going to happen. Despite whatever complaints or gripes that I might have against a specific game, or against a trope, the best that can be done is to draw attention to a specific concern, but "difficulty" is such a broad topic that it's difficult to define exactly the level at which to set "Normal."

While I can understand your annoyance with Mass Effect 2's shooting mechanics, my problems had less to do with the difficulty of the game itself, but instead with the lack of AI response to my own actions and attacks. (After playing multiplayer shooters for such a long time, it bothers me quite a lot when I shoot an enemy, and instead of acting with self-preservation instincts, they simply walk their way right up and around your cover and start firing at you with no fear because the AI knows that you can't possibly kill it in time.)

As I think has been mentioned above, some games simply require time and effort. I take a certain pride in becoming better at a game, and in easily handling situations that, earlier, would have been much more taxing. Challenge cannot and should not be eliminated. But instead, players should take the time to understand the types of situations that they're getting themselves into in the games they play.

Simply expecting to breeze through every game that you play is akin to expecting a steak to be easy to cook. You've got to take a little time, learn the process, and execute it correctly in order to get the result that you're looking for. Otherwise, you're just going to end up burned.