Serving Customers Instead of Labeling Them

Nothing says “the holidays” like plenty of food, drink, friends, and family. And party games, of course. My closet is overflowing with board games and peripherals just waiting to be unleashed on visitors (aka “informal market research participants,” aka “gracious victims of enthusiasm.”)

Guitar Hero remains popular on these occasions (which is no statement against Rock Band — I simply haven’t acquired a personal copy yet. Much as I’ve enjoyed my three fruitless visits to EB…) And yet, Guitar Hero 3 failed me as a party game until I finally gave up on “principle” and unlocked a couple cheats — specifically “no fail” mode and “unlock all songs.” So now I’m having more fun with my friends and family, but I’m a “cheater.” Oops.

I didn’t have much choice, you see. Eve’s little sister kept failing the same (beginner’s) song in coop play over and over again — neither easy mode nor my desperate attempts to save us with star power ultimately helped. And since I haven’t had time to naturally unlock every song in the game, my guests have proved less than impressed with an artificially-limited portion of GH3’s already-spotty song list.

Which brings me to today’s question: why force customers to rely on “cheats” for content or functionality that makes a game more enjoyable in the context of a party? Why not offer a party mode that includes all songs, all (or most) avatars, and the option to completely avoid song failure? After all, party players can still focus on the challenge of hitting more notes than their friends, getting a longer note streak, etc. And hardcore gamers can still be encouraged to progress through career mode by putting the bulk of the game’s Achievements there — not to mention by offering them interesting functionality built around leaderboards, etc.

I’m picking on GH3, but this thinking applies to any party game. And, in a looser sense, it applies to most video games in general. As I’ve written in the past, I believe there is demand for games that bridge audiences by offering inexperienced people a way to play along with experienced gamers. How many cooperative action games might Eve be willing to play if she could activate “casual” or “companion mode” while I played normally? Not a “cheat mode” buried behind a secret code, though the functionality I’m talking about usually isn’t even available as a cheat or otherwise.

See, Eve wouldn’t be “cheating” — she’d be “having fun.” There’s a big difference.

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