What is "Replay Value?"

I was reading the Delphi topic when it occurred to me that the participants in that thread seem to be remarkably preoccupied with the graphics for that plug-in even though many people stated that they consider the plot of a game to be more important than the graphics. If that is the case, then it seems to me that the attention paid to graphics is misplaced. Most of those 37 pages are about graphics. But where have there ever been 37 pages of discussion about the plot of a game?

But that in turn leads me to wonder: Is plot really that important?

It seems to me that one of the few objective measures of a game's quality is its "replay value." I think most people will agree that a game that they played over and over again is better than a game that they played only once and then deleted from their hard drives. But that only leads to the question of: What is "replay value"? Let's consider this issue by dissecting the various components of a game:

I. Graphics

Leaving aside the fact that many people seem to think that plot is more important than graphics, we must also wonder exactly what objective value graphics have. The graphics for EVN is rightly considered to be superior to that of its 2 predecessors. But how much time do people spend admiring those graphics?

Try to recall the first time you saw an Auroran Thunderforge or a Polaris Raven. How much time did you spend admiring it? 30 seconds? (Try staring at the clock for 30 seconds to remind yourself how long 30 seconds can be.) 1 minute?

How many times did you play EVN? Let's suppose that you did spend at least a minute admiring the Thunderforge. Let us further assume that you played EVN 10 times. Did you spend that same 1 minute for each of those 10 times?

For some reason, I doubt it.

Which is why I have to say that I feel sorry for pipeline. I don't know how much time he spent on those graphics but I suspect that for many (most? all?) of them, it was longer than 10 minutes. Yet I suspect that most players never spent so much as 10 minutes on a single graphic. The "input" into making the graphics was disproportionately high compared to the "output" (amount of time a player spent admiring the graphics).

So it seems to me that graphics have very little replay value. If anybody ever played a game for its graphics, it seems very unlikely that anybody would play a game over and over again for those graphics.

II. Plot

Though most people claim that plot is more important than graphics, it is an even murkier subject than graphics. At least I've never encountered anyone who claims that the graphics of EVN are worse than those of its predecessors. But how does one compare the plot of EVN with those of EV and EVO?

But then it occurred to me that plot may not be very important when it comes to "replay value." Consider the Civilization series, for example. Some people claim that the amount of time Civ addicts around the world spent on that series is enough to build the pyramids, the old-fashioned way. What plot does the Civ series have?

EVN increased the replay value of its plot by creating 6 distinct storylines. But if we treat them in isolation, how many people play each of the storylines 10 times? To put it another way, let us assume that a person likes the Polaris string. It seems to me that after you played it once, you would have a good idea of its story and you are unlikely to forget its story for at least a few weeks. If you play that string again within those few weeks, then it is unlikely that you would replay that string when you already know what the plot developments will be. If you do replay that string again soon after the last time you played it, then it is unlikely that you replayed it for its plot.

III "Gameplay"

There have been a few threads polling people about their favorite EVN mission string. (exhibit A, exhibit B) What I find interesting is that some of the people who responded attributed their preference to the "power" of a particular race's weapons. (read: Polaris)

But whether a race has powerful weapons is only tangentially related to graphics and plot. It is almost completely the result of damage values. At least a person can directly see the graphics and read the plot. The only way a person can figure out the precise damage values is to look into the game engine, something that cannot be done when you're playing the game.

If most people don't replay a game for its graphics or its plot, then the only possible answer is that we replay games for the "gameplay."

Whatever that is.

Here I encounter another difficulty. This seems to me to be the most likely reason why most people replay a game. Yet I can't define it. At least most people know what "graphics" or "plot" is. But what is "gameplay?" And why is it that one game's "gameplay" is better than another? How does one make such judgments?

Graphics

Graphics are often an initial selling point for a game, especially in big market games put out by major companies, (example: Crysis/2, any big-budget action movie). They have nothing to do with replay value.

Moreover, graphics are fun to make. Its the same with any art, be it visual, music, literature, theater, etc. Its enjoyable to create and perform, much more so than to observe listen or read. Delphi has 37 pages of graphics because (I assume) he enjoys making spaceship models, regardless of whether or not it will take another 10 years for his TC to be finished. While doing so, he has undoubtedly learned the basics of 3D CAD modelling, texturing, light processing, and other useful skills.

Bad graphics can reduce replay value and drive players away. Poorly made in this case being graphics that either look unappealing, or ones which are confusing in how they display information to the player. Avara didn't look like much, but it displayed game information quickly and simply, allowing you to concentrate on playing instead of interpreting.

Plot and Story

I'd put these along with graphics. Not all games need a story, but those that do need something decent. A poorly written or executed story disconnects the player from the game, and can break the player's willing suspension of disbelief. Its almost better to have no story than a badly told one.

At the other end of the scale, a good story along with acceptable-but-not-great graphics and gameplay can make a game worthwhile to play.

The argument Htjyang makes about story can be applied to any medium. I won't go see a movie twice in a row, but I may watch a good movie for a second time a few weeks later.

Gameplay

Good gameplay is a game with depth, a game which can never be completely mastered, a game where no two playthroughs are the same and new methods of winning are always available. There are two approaches to this, one is complexity of rules, and the other is complexity of strategy. They don't both often work together, and one is not necessarily better than the other.

EVN has complexity of rules. There are a huge number of options in how you can outfit your ship, and the AI ships you can fight against. But the AI is predictable, and there are known counters to AI behaviour (see: Monty Python, Not the 9-o'clock news, Qaanol maneuver, etc...). This provides replay value in different game behaviour, but the same set of strategies always work.

Let's compare EVN with three other games, Tetris, Go, and any of the CoD series.
Tetris has a very simple ruleset. Part of its attraction is being an "unbeatable" game - you can always compete to best yourself. There are a huge number of options in how you try to arrange the board, and stress comes from the increasing speed of play. It is possible to play indefinitely, but you are eventually limited by your own reaction speed.

Go has an extraordinarily simple ruleset. It is also an incredibly complex game in terms of strategy. Go is a better example than chess, because chess is close to being computationally solved (in the sense that computers can out-chess humans). You can play as many games of Go as you like, and no two will be the same.

Consider the single player mode (non-zombie) of Call of Duty. Any of the series will do. A lot of beating the game is trial and error, learning what events trigger the next wave, what cover is safe, etc. There is some strategy involved, and it is possible to beat the game without dying once, but most players don't accomplish it. CoD also doesn't have a high replay value. I've played through the single player campaigns, and at the end I always thought "Well, that was fun, but I'd rather play something new/else now." - because playing through it again would feel repetitive, not new.

Multiplayer

Any competitive-play multiplayer game will develop depth and strategy by virtue of playing against other humans. This is why multiplayer will extend the replay life of a game, and, if done well, be the main event (see: Quake/Unreal Tournament/etc...). Some games have such terrible AI behavior that nobody ever bothers with single-player mode.

I would also argue, that discounting story elements, multiplayer is always more fun than singleplayer. Either playing with friends, or against people you don't even know, knowing that its another person you are winning or losing to adds an ego element and competitive feel to the game that singleplayer lacks.

C-C-C-Combo breaker.

I have to say it is not so much really good graphics that are important, something that does help draw me in however is, clean, crisp graphics that all work together. The moment more styles get thrown together it all starts to look a little odd and I find it hard to get past that.
I personally really enjoyed the graphics in EVN, I have spent a lot of time flying around in ships I like the look of rather than the way they play just for the reason they look great.
You say you feel sorry for Pipeline because of how little people probably pay attention to the graphics he spent a lot of time on, and that the work that went into it is disproportionate to that of the admiration that people feel for said graphics. Well it might be, if the game had only sold to one person, but take the amount of time each of the thousands of people that bought the game admired those graphics for and you get a greatly increased amount of admiration time. Well worth the input I would say. If I could be part of a game that was as good as any of EV games I would be incredibly proud.

You're saying EVN introduces six story lines to increase replay value but we should just look at one of those individually... But why would you? it makes little sense to treat each story individually, the point is not that you want to play the same story twice in a row but that you have another five to work through before you go back to the first one and by that time you're ready for the first one again. Replay value in this case is that there is enough to do in between the things you do that when you get back to doing it the way you first did after doing all the other things it it's almost new again.
I might not want to watch the first episode of Firefly(for example) twice in a row but after I have watched the entire season I am ready for episode one again. I have watched every episode of Firefly way more than ten times as I have played every story-line in EVN more than that as well.

Anyways "Gameplay" as it were is not one thing, like "Plot" or "Graphics", it is a combination of these things, among others.
I would say look at some popular games and see what draws people back to those games over and over or keeps them hooked, the thing that pops up most is variety in choice.
This is my opinion anyways and as it stands it is only an opinion.

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