Underestimating the player

Just recently SquEnix put out news that Nier: Automata will have an autoplay mode called Auto Mode. It essentially gives the player character an AI and the player can just sit back and let the game do the what the player is supposed to do.

The argument for autoplay is that allows the player to play the game through and through, from start to end. The question to this is why should he be able to do so if he lacks the skill? Games are designed to play within a set of rules and the players are expected to play after those rules. Breaking those rules is considered an offence, which gets you a sort of penalty. An automode elevates the player over the rules that apply to the gameplay, making them insignificant to a large degree. New Super Mario Bros. Wii had its own autoplay, where the player was prompted a possibility to let the AI slowly crawl a stage through, just without collecting any of the bonuses.

Does an autoplay remove what makes electronic games, especially console and PC games, stand apart from the movies and other passive media? When you distil games down to their core, nothing else but gameplay and their representative graphics stay. What you essentially get in an autoplay mode is the arcade machine’s demo screen.

Naturally, it’s just an option. You can choose not to use it, and that’s all fine and dandy. The consumer is supposed to enjoy the product they purchase fully, no? When it comes to game, they are able to, but it really depends on the game and their own life if they have enough time and will to invest into any game to fully exhaust its contents. That’s where we come into the point where autoplay could be regarded as a positive aspect, but that would ignore that the developers disregard the consumers and their own game design.

The stage design is New Super Mario Bros. Wii was a bit lacklustre all around, but 2D Mario was never hard in itself until the later levels. Super Mario Bros. is still a good example how the whole game is essentially relatively easy, but the people who challenged it, the pro players, played the game through stage by stage never using a Stage Warp. The design shines in the stages and it was no wonder how well Super Mario Bros. 3 was received as it was essentially a total expansion and revamp of the original game.

Platinum’s games have a certain niche. They certainly aren’t something the main mass consumers would go for simply because they don’t have a universal pull. Devil May Cry may have been one of Capcom’s most well-known franchise at one point, but that came from the industry itself as well. The Red Ocean market group in video games is the one that put it on the pedestal, while Mega Man Battle Network went to have six games, a cartoon, card game toys and whatever else a franchise could have. DMC got a cartoon a bit later, but it always a celebrated niche product.

This celebrated niche is what applies to most of Platinum’s products, and Nier itself being a cult classic rather than a mass success, makes a game that has a very specific audience installed to it already, and it can’t attract mass audience. Especially not in the West, because Nier: Automata has that anime flavour that the general consumer doesn’t really go for. That’s why Nier’s Western release had Father instead of Brother. The game itself didn’t change, and neither really did the plot. This audience that Nier: Automata already has because of its developer, writer and series fanbase is those who play action games as is. Especially Platinum fans, who rank up the difficulty to the highest possible and proceed to ram the game to the ground.

Nier: Automata does not need an autoplay mode to ease new players in. It needs a design that would allow the player, new or old, ease into the gameplay and learn its tricks properly as well as design those tricks to function as fluidly as possible. It is not the developers’ fault if the player simply can’t stand up to the task at hand, but it is their job to ease into the game. There is a need for certain games to be insanely hard just as there is a need for the exact opposite. The best of both worlds can be achieved in one game through difficulty selection and design that goes into it. Or even better, proper damn progression design, where the player is allowed to advance and build their strength to face the challenges in the game. The Legend of Zelda and Ultima are perfect examples of this, especially the first two Zelda. Goddamn I need to stop using those two examples, but never underestimate their influence, especially Ultima‘s, on how games now are.

The consumer is not as stupid as the industry likes to paint them as. Neither are they inept. Assuming that a game could sell better for newcomers if they had an option to allow the game to play itself is dumbfounding. It has, thus far, affected none to the sales of the games. Nintendo even included a How to Play DVD with Super Mario Galaxy 2 because they thought people didn’t get how to play the game, when in reality the mass market really wants a damn well made 2D Mario game. This sort of petty underestimation is absolutely retarded and nigh insulting.

The consumer can and will learn to play your game if they find it worth it. The various sports games, like Fifa, have surprisingly expansive and in-depth controls and gameplay, yet they see constantly good sales. Hell, Street Fighter II made a genre known of its relatively complex set-ups and executions a worldwide phenomena and it never dumbed itself down. Not until somebody had the brilliant idea of making autocombos a thing.

If you want people to enjoy your story, make it a movie or anything else. Games are meant to be played and people play games for the play, not to watch the game itself run on auto. That’s what movies are for.

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