Sometimes You Need More Than Competition

From our Director of Operations, Chris Germano

Over the past few months, I've spent an increasingly minuscule amount of time playing games the way I used to: fast-paced, headset on, lights low, no distractions, and giving it 110%. However, I've recently come to the conclusion that while my interest in competitive gaming hasn't diminished, my satisfaction with online first-person shooters (as a designer) has significantly waned. Don't get me wrong, there are many amazing games that I would love to keep playing, but I know in order to best stay updated on the marketplace and trends in modern gaming, I need to take a step back from what's big and popular. So that's what I did.

Overwatch Logo
Rainbow Six Smoke

Online Gaming: The Usual Suspects

While I managed to free myself from the grasp of Counter Strike and League of Legends earlier this year, I put more time and attention towards Overwatch and Rainbow Six: Siege. While the two games are very different, the appealing attribute they have in common is the option to play in a ranked, competitive environment. This deadly trap here is the ability to immediately affect your personal rank with every game. It's like MMORPG Syndrome reinvented: perform a repetitive task to see numbers go up. This time, the repetitive task is a time-consuming, exhausting online match with no guarantee of success. Overwatch is fantastic with friends and Rainbow Six is one of the best tactical experiences I've played in a long time. Between the two, I'd get whatever online experience I was looking for: fast-paced, slower action, realistic, ridiculous, you name it. Unfortunately, it only took so many frustrated nights of losing my hard-earned ranks to recognize that I had gradually become driven by the numbers game more than the game itself. Once familiar with the core mechanics and objectives in the game, I simply couldn't be bothered to play the game for anything but the competitive modes. I wanted validation for a strong performance, and as soon as I recognized that, I left the match, quit the game, and uninstalled anything that required an internet connection.

For anyone interested, in the last few years or so I've spent a substantial (100+ hours) amount of time playing ranked Overwatch, Rainbow Six: Siege, Hearthstone, League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, Call of Duty, and Battlefield. Obviously weighted towards generic military shooters.

Designers, ask yourself if you spend too much time with one kind of experience. Start with the kinds of games you like, but abstract what appeals to you. Going genre or mechanic-specific is too narrow, what about the experience appeals to you? The feeling of power? The social connections? Alternatively, the isolation? Once you identify what you're drawn to, look at what you've been spending most of your time playing lately. If you're feeding your desire for a specific experience, that's great for fun but not an effective way to learn and grow as a designer. Never feel bad about what you play, but as a designer you need to always be conscious of why you're playing it.

So What Now?

By no means am I done with online gaming. I know that there is a world of amazing experiences when connecting with players across the world. The problem is, like with most things, there are too many different experiences for any single person to enjoy in a realistic period of time. I plan on going through my laundry list of offline, single-player games, and spend a little time playing them the way they're meant to be played. Exploring a variety of experiences is far more powerful than mastering one, and as a game designer and professional in the industry, I've spent too long not broadening my horizons.

So far I've been greatly enjoying the relaxing yet complex Stardew Valley. I'm looking to stay away from AAA titles for a little while and work my way up in scale. What should be next on my list?

2 Comments

  • Duncan MacLeod

    I 100% went through this with League of Legends a couple of years ago. I realized I was spending 20+ hours a week on a single game, letting all of these other amazing experiences go by. I kept buying Humble Bundles and Steam Sales, wanting to experience these new, finite experiences. I started to love the completionary aspect. Finally know “i got 100% of what i need out of this experience” rather than a constant struggle to climb the escalator going the wrong way that was Ranked LoL.

    I began playing games again and loved it.

    I’ve relapsed however. I’m back to only LoL and i’ve let incredible games that I really LOVE like Horizon Zero Dawn and Bloodborne and The Witness all sit at 20% completion because I just keep going back to LoL every night instead of completing these experiences. Maybe it just is more fun to me to continually try to improve and I do enjoy the gameplay, but it’s a constant internal struggle. I’ll probably end up uninstalling at the end of Season 7 and go back to my PS4 where I have a large backlog waiting for me.

  • Chris

    I think an additional challenge is when you take multiple platforms into consideration, which in retrospect I should have included in the original post. Being a pretty exclusively PC gamer with little interest in consoles (with occasional exceptions for my 3DS), I feel like I’m creating an additional complexity to the issue. While I’m not sucked in to the arguably more distracting world of online competitiveness in console gaming I know exactly what I’m missing out on and ultimately feel more obligated to excel in PC competitiveness in an effort to justify my existing commitment. It’s unfair to draw any conclusions on that phenomenon past the personal level, but I think it would be interesting to see the playing habits of “competitive” gamers on one platform versus many. Thanks for the comment!

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