Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

RPGs and Fear of Commitment

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 29, 2015

mm3_adOnce upon a time, computer RPGs were expensive. Retailing for as much as $79 – which was around $150+ in today’s inflation-adjusted dollars – they were a serious money commitment. They tended to stay reasonably close to full price until the sequel was released – maybe dropping down as low as $45 (which is still $80-$90 by today’s rates).

And in terms of time? Hey, if you were gonna lay down 80 bones for a game, you wanted to squeeze every dollar’s worth out of it. So these games had to be big, beefy, and offer around an hours’ worth of entertainment for every dollar. When you invested in an RPG, you were in for a long-term commitment. Not only would it kill your game budget (well, they did for me), but they would represent weeks – maybe months – of effort to complete.

These RPGs were going to become your world for a while. And they did. I think that’s why I have so many fond recollections of these old-school games. I lived in these worlds for a while.

One does not simply walk into Mordor… or Xeen… or Britannia… or Lost Guardia… or Faerûn…

By contrast, you have the roguelikes. These have been around as long as their full-fledged RPG counterparts (arguably even longer, as some of the oldest RPGs would look a lot more like roguelikes today), but with permadeath lurking around every corner and potentially in every morsel of food, when you start up a roguelike, you do so with the expectation that your entire gaming experience is unlikely to last more than about fifteen minutes. More if you are an expert at that particular game, less if you are new to it. Like the old arcade games, while there may be a theoretically achievable ending (or at least a kill screen), it’s generally just a case of seeing how long you can beat the odds and survive.

If full-fledged RPGs are a long-term commitment, roguelikes are… I won’t even call them a single date. They are more like flirting at a party.

I wonder if that may be part of the reason for the rise in popularity of roguelikes lately is due in no small part to this. They offer a bit of the entertainment value of  a full-fledged RPG, but without the commitment. Because the bottom has virtually dropped out of the pricing on games these days,  I wonder if the time requirement has become an impediment… particularly for the Internet-addicted, social-media-trained audience we’re becoming. Where one game once had to last us for weeks, we can buy a bundle of indie games for less than a dollar a title. I dunno about you, but I get what would once have been considered a years’ supply of games when Steam or GOG.COM have a big sale.  I have a multi-year backlog now.

So committing to a game is psychologically much harder to do. Choose a game out of dozens and dozens with which I’m going to have to be pretty exclusive for a while? That’s difficult!

But worth it?  I dunno. Sure, if it’s an old classic or a popular recent release, I have reason to believe it’ll be worth investing the time and effort into the story, learning the game system, making my characters, and wading through all the introductory material before getting to the “good stuff.” Then it’s only a matter of “settling down” for a few weeks (given my limited playing time) and getting to business. But which one?

And there are all these promising, rarely-covered old and new indie RPGs that somebody ought to try. Seriously. One of my all-time favorites, Knights of the Chalice, received very little acclaim outside of a few outlets, yet it proved to be a couple dozen hours of pure tactical, old-school joy on my end. What if I’d missed it because I was too busy playing the more popular, critically-acclaimed or “classic” titles? Honestly, I played a good deal of the greatly-lauded Bastion and tried to like it (I certainly enjoyed the narration and the music!), but in the end it left me flat, and feeling like I wasted my time.

But is that really so different? Back in the day, there were still plenty of choices, but they weren’t so easy to access. It was a matter of investing both time and a serious chunk of change.

All I can say is that no, making RPGs shorter is not the answer. At least not as a general rule. I’m fine with playing “short” 15-hour-ish RPGs, but I still do love the good ol’ epic quest. Once I finally, like Bilbo Baggins, find myself persuaded to step out the door.

Filed Under: General - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

  • Xenovore said,

    I think there’s still a lot of potential for episodic RPGs, if done right. The problem is: so far nobody seems to be able to do it right.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yeah, that’s something in my “wanna do someday soon” list. Not sure if I can do it right either, but I have ideas.

  • McTeddy said,

    Yep. I’m actually thinking about doing an episodic RPG for #1GAM this year. Each month a new chapter to the same game.

  • galenloke said,

    I’m finding that with the influx of available games (or at least their availability) that we’re starting to need a new language for discussing them. A lot of games are now ‘fun’ but they lack that core mechanic or learning curve that makes it difficult to put down. Example being Transistor, I enjoyed it, but at some point I just stopped playing and had to force myself 6 months later to finish it to see the ending.

    I’m not sure how unique these experiences are, but I’m beginning to hear a lot of similar opinions. It’s no longer good enough for a game to be entertaining, it has to have a grip on the player, a level of addictiveness to keep the player from wandering off, potentially forever. At first it may not seem like a big deal, but to a developer having a player finish your game is crucial. People don’t buy sequels to games they never finished, and they don’t suggest games to friends if they lost interest.