Press lever, get pellet.
I recently completed a simple, little game called Game Corp DX. The basic idea is that the player controls a nascent video game development studio and must lead it to success and triple A gaming. I can’t say I had a lot of fun with this game, yet I invested a couple of otherwise productive hours into it. I did this because of the systems inherent in the game that make it easy to play, even if it’s not fun. Game Corp DX makes clear the distinction between a game that smoothly works the player through its systems (easy to play) and one that gives the player joy through its systems (fun).
The game begins by starting the player off with a small office and a few resources. By providing a helpful hints and obvious goals, Game Corp DX leads the player towards success in bit sized chunks. This prevents the player from being overwhelmed by the introduction of new mechanics and provides a clear metric by which the player can measure their progress. Game Corp DX doles out challenge in a way that clearly marks the path to success and so short circuits the frustration of not knowing what to do next. It also gives the player a non-stop succession of quickly achievable missions to always push them forward. In short, the game is designed to weed out all of the natural stopping points that cause most players to move on to something else. At no point has the player accomplished a major task or run up against an insurmountable wall that would encourage them to stop. There is always an easily achievable task waiting for the player joined with a tiny boost of success. Game Corp DX is easy to play because it is designed to be a smooth walk to inevitable victory.
Yet the game is totally unsatisfying. When the missions stopped, so did I. If something had caused me quit the game earlier, I doubt I would have picked it up again. The same traits that made the game so easy to play also undermined the joy that I might have derived from it.
Fun from a game often comes from the return on what the player invests into the game. The nature of the investment varies substantially. Sometimes it’s an emotional investment into the characters and their stories. Sometimes the player invests time and effort into improving their skills to overcome challenges and figure out puzzles. Investment may even come in the form of simply walking around and enjoying the sights. Regardless of what type of investment the player makes, the have to make one if the rewards created by the game are to have meaning. Game Corp DX never asks much from the player, including the all-important investment. There is no story to explore, no environment to discover, and little challenge to overcome. Every victory in the game is a tiny mote of success that is only slightly more than the small amount of effort invested in achieving it. Player investment is little more than the time it would take to go do something else. When the player overcomes that hump, they have no reason to return.
I beat Game Corp DX in a couple of hours while seeing all the game had to offer. I have few memories of the game and no desire to return to it. It was never fun for me because my investment never exceeded its convenience. That being said, it has much to teach about ease of play. Game Corp DX has a smooth difficulty curve and deftly teaches its mechanics. I just wish it had something more.