Too easy or too complex: Video games left with tough balancing act to arrest attention

If video games are made less complex, it would certainly increase the number of players in the short run, however, it also means players run out of challenges faster and begin to get bored.

Anand Krishnaswamy April 21, 2021 13:31:09 IST
Too easy or too complex: Video games left with tough balancing act to arrest attention

Over the last few days, one of the questions that has really had me wondering is, should video games be made less complex? Would this attract newer players to the game?

The statement that made me go down this rabbit hole came up in a recent interview of chess GM Alexander Grischuk with Chess24.com. Grischuk admitted that he had tried watching a replay of Dota 2’s The International (the replay is over 3 hours long) and understood almost nothing, despite having watched a coaching video and spending time talking to GM Ian Nepomniachti, who served as a commentator during ESL One Hamburg 2018 Dota 2 tournament under the name of FrostNova. He added that this made him understand how most people felt after watching chess.

Dota 2, by many fans, is considered to be one of the most complex eSports today. It has several unique elements that set it apart, and its reputation among fans is such that they often insist that the extra game mechanics make it more skill-oriented than League of Legends (LoL). LoL and Dota 2 are based on the game Defense of the Ancients which was called DotA, and as such its closest rival as an eSport.

Game Design Lounge claims video games get boring when they are repetitive and become predictable. The same simplicity that makes these games popular at first also results in players moving onto newer games.

The solution to making a game less repetitive and predictable is to increase its level of complexity. By this standard, Dota 2 should be the most popular eSport, or at least beat its rival LoL.

According to playercounter.com, at the time of my writing this column, LoL had more than thrice the number of players online when compared to Dota 2. Dota 2 was at a little over 600,000 which on its own, would be impressive, but LoL had over 2 million online. This is despite larger amounts of money being offered by Dota 2 in tournaments through 2020 compared to LoL.

There are games that make an instant splash and become wildly popular, but fizzle out very quickly. A great example of this in my opinion is Flappy Bird. It hit 50 million downloads in January 2014, but in recent times, it has been downloaded such few times that SensorTower no longer tracks the data related to the game.

While the argument could be made that Dota 2 and LoL are eSports while Flappy Bird is not, it is best to remember that all eSports are still video games. The only difference is that Flappy Bird is a game made to be played on the mobile phone and mobile gaming is not something to scoff at.

The reality for video games is that the easier they are to understand and play, the faster new players join in. However, players are just as likely to get bored and leave the game if it is repetitive in nature. This creates an eternal dilemma for game developers.

If video games are made less complex, it would certainly increase the number of players in the short run, however, it also means players run out of challenges faster and begin to get bored. The ideal video game would be one that is simple and easy to learn and at the same time complex so that there are always new challenges to keep players engaged.

This is very difficult to achieve in the real world. As of today, the only solution that seems reasonable in this regard is game developers finding ways to change or evolve the game experience, adding new content, or creating a special event to excite the players.

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