Variety is the spice of life, and so is, partially, of game characters. When it comes to games with a diverse and astonishing amount of characters to choose thousands of feelings comes, with the same diversity, to player’s minds: whether it should be amazing for its unique offer or overwhelming, so many things to do or just the same mechanic with a different skin. Let’s check it out!
Popular big roster games have always been, and still they are and will be (as long as hard drives proves to be capable of don’t explode by filling it like Guinness record sandwiches) fighting games. Such games mechanics rely on skill and from its surface, its common to say that its replayability comes by the reiteration of the same thing all over again (fight until the depletion of the opponent’s life bar) without a fewer changes from title to title.
Player characters (in a massive way) came to help this question that was challenging the longevity of fighting games. The most characters equals to the most possible strategies and possible matches and then into replayability, and then engagement. And then happened to be dozens of characters, and then they blasted the screen feeling like being on Wonka’s factory.
New or uprising genres such as the famous Massive Online Battle Arenas offer the player an incredibly large roster of characters, each one with its specific abilities and recommended strategies, usable by ones who have mastered the game or newbies who haven’t got a clue.
Both massive forces of this MOBA games are Riot Games’ League of Legends and his counterpart Valve’s Dota 2, each one with an astonishing number of available characters ready to be chosen (even though sometimes you have to previously unlock them). The immense roster this games hold is, partially, explained by the fact that they inherited the unalterable blueprint of its predecessor Defense of The Ancient Door (or Dota), which was an adaptation (mod) of an existing strategy game where; whose, as stated by the genre, units seems to be enough diverse in order to extend the challenge and the so called strategy itself.
So rather than the menu, such games seems to weigh all its focus on the ingredients, where a larger number should equal directly to the beloved word of replayability. The more the best, the longer diversity the game takes, then the more possible outcomes than should be expected. And irony shall be left out, because when it takes to its success, sometimes we’re out of arguments. The formula, somehow, works; but only when the other factors are enough relevant to reinforce such feature.
A) Fun comes by mastering a single character or a portion of the roster
Mastership comes along in games in so many different ways that, it is not surprise that is a crucial part from which players get its engage on big roster games. But of course, with mastership comes challenge. And without it, there is no need to dig further on the plot; it’s all said since someone opens the case.
Alongside this way, players will perform accordingly to the portion of the roster they choose and the feeling of both belonging and need to it. That means that players choose alongside a variety of criteria from which we barely know its upper levels (but it keeps useful sometimes): artistic value, recommendation, game’s suggestion parameters, team making, auto-challenges imposed to grow up, usefulness, adaptation, etc.
Players choose characters following a variety of criteria from which we barely know its upper levels such as artistic value, usefulness, adaptation or challenges, among others.
Mastering the game based on one character makes the system to no longer require its roster to surprise or amaze the player. It stays on the background offering support or a second chance, and thus can be easily ignored or skipped from the player’s brain even though it is there (shining, glittering or whatever) since its very first time.
Dota2 and other MOBA kind of games, offer a huge roster where few characters are selected by experienced players based on role they play, on a deep understaing of the system rules and a vast community support.
Nevertheless, mastering such portion requires to have a strong, well designed and consistent growing ground, where mechanics, design and art collide together to diminish the need of depending on using loads of characters for no use. Games (from its community, to guides up to themselves) can suggest the player to focus on one or a few, having the roster to encourage newcomers to find his data-soul brother. Adding levels, titles, specific matches, unlockables, etc; just to make sure the player feels comfortable without needing to switch from one character to another, being able to run out of flow, falling into boredom or anxiety.
Such specialization way brings into the scene a valuable aspect of recycle and sub-game, meaning that each player extracts a portion of the game from the initial set up, creating multiple variations of the experience even though the game stays the same.
B) Fun comes by trying and/or testing every single character
Otherwise than mastering a single soul chosen wisely according to different wills of the player, sometimes the syndrome of the free buffet is diagnosed when it’s too late: try to reach, unlock and play every single character on game, until exhaustion. Why exhaustion? Because it happens by reiteration, a dangerous feeling when the player can’t rely on anything but in the low amount of change (meaningful change) with every choice he makes.
It’s like having a favorite meal just everyday: somehow you’ll found that the base flavor that keeps repeating on yourself and making you burp like a wild frog is, and will be, always there; no matter what or why, you won’t be able to escape from its base, letting you end in a state of repeatability where nothing seems better than quitting.
Tobal 2 holds the Guiness World Record for the biggest roster ever made. Up to 100 playable characters: more than the half, copycats of styles and moves from the rest.
Fun may come from testing, but only if the game’s inner dynamics are meant for such thing. Otherwise, the engagement meter (if measurable) will be equally numbered in tries on the amount of playable characters: an easy and scary equation.
Fun may come from testing, but only if the game’s inner dynamics are meant for such thing
Such game disease is a common denominator on fighting arcade games where the rosters get higher in each new title and offering in exchange a little nor few additions to make the system refreshing or nurturing for the dynamic minds that players often require. If the game seems lazy to suggest anything rather than choosing characters and try them out, perhaps it should be better on the shelves where it was taken from..
So this practice works like a tiredness meter that grows higher each time a player tries a character and repeats the same effort by re-entering the game and tries to find a meaning to the choice he has done.
Can every single character provide an experience that can be enough powerful to reset the feeling of tiredness the player may get from the continuous try?
What happens when rosters are so huge and mechanics are static and (broadly talking) boring? The graphic shows the overall progression from the player’s start up to ending without any reward from the fact of having tons of characters.
Of course not always tiredness is something that may happen from choosing every game character available, it has to do tons with deeper features such as mechanics and the overall feel the game brings up. But then characters turn into something less important or relevant in order to excel or to have a greater experience.
And then it leads to…
Fun can come in so many diverse ways from roster huge packed titles, which seems quite off the record to pick up only both values. But those have provided to be present and critical for player’s experience upon an outrageous array of selectable alter egos.
There’s no reason for filling blank spaces with dull characters if there’s no meaningful need for lending them to the players. Copycats, stuffing excuses and ostentatious developer desires leads to systems capable of overwhelm players and later bore them, losing every intention to keep on exploring the else game features (if there’s any).
Every addition in such games shall be justified with a more valid argument than “just to reach every single mind” or “for a wide variety of styles”. If characters are, make games giving a significant meaning for them, or it will end up being nothing but a free buffet with an expected stomach ache.
PD: In the forthcoming article I’ll tackle the techniques and must-have features of titles who wish to impliment such big rosters and bring them a meaningful role inside their games. Stay tuned!