What Makes a Game Replayable?

Despite the problem some people seem to have with the term “replayability,” it’s an important concept to explore with regard to video games.  Video games are, per hour of entertainment, probably a better investment than going to the movie theater, but at around $60 a pop, you’d probably want the game to be enjoyable enough to play through several times once you’ve already “beaten” it.  There are some games that, no matter how many times we’ve played them, we can always go back and play again – but there are also games that, once completed, never see the light of day again.  So what is it that makes a game worthy of being played over and over?  Are there certain features that bring us back for more, or is it a simple case of game design?

Back in the days of 8- and 16-bit consoles, there were no online play, no achievements, and virtually no unlockables, so if a game was to be played again after completion, it had to rely on simply being a fun game to play in order to bring gamers back for more.  Likewise, I can’t recall many 8- or 16-bit games that presented the player with a series of decisions that would ultimately affect the outcome of the game.  No, it was raw gameplay and fun that brought us back for more.  So which old school games were strong in the replayability department?  Mike Tyson’s Punch Out! comes to mind, for one.  No matter how many times I obliterated Glass Joe, no matter how many times I owned Piston Honda, and no matter how many times I beat Tyson himself (yeah, I’m kind of bragging here), it was always fun to try and do it all again.  If you have an NES emulator (does anyone have an actual working NES?), give Punch Out! a try – you’ll see it’s just as fun as the first time you played it.

Double Dragon also comes to mind as a replayable game, but I don’t think beating on people is the common factor amongst games that are fun to play over and over.  After all, the Sonic the Hedgehog games have terrific replay value, too.  Other replayable old school games that come to mind – for me, at least – are Trojan, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, the Super Mario games, and the original Final Fantasy.  With the exception of Trojan, the aforementioned games are considered classics, due either to their originality, superior gameplay and graphics (for that time), balanced and appropriate progression, or a combination of all those factors.  I suppose when it comes to older games, a game is replayable if it’s “good,” but that doesn’t really tells us much about the features that make a game replayable in the first place.  It’s quite difficult to determine this for older games, as it’s likely a unique aspect of an older game that lends the game to repeated playthroughs.

With more modern and current games, however, the features are easier to identify.  Achievements, unlockables, alternate outcomes, and increasing difficulty levels, in addition to (or really, in combination with) solid, fun gameplay can help make a game worth playing over and over again.  Of course, these are all somewhat broad categories, as any gamer can attest that not all achievements, for example, are worth pursuing.  For instance, is it worth it to play a Grand Theft Auto game over and over in order to complete side quests in order to get an achievement?  Is it worth it to create 10 “Endless Battle” lobbies in Street Fighter IV to unlock an achievement?  Probably not.  But is it worth it, in Bayonetta, to find and complete all Alfheim Portals?  Absolutely.  The latter adds additional layers of challenging gameplay, whereas the side quests in Grand Theft Auto are mostly examples of tedious bitchwork.  The same can be said for unlockables – it’s only worth unlocking something if it will later affect gameplay.  A new weapon or level?  Sure.  But a new costume?  I’ll pass.

Alternate outcomes, or direct consequences for the decisions you make within a game, are relatively new to video games, but they’re also perhaps the best way to increase a game’s replayability value.  It doesn’t exactly add layers and layers to the game itself but, like one of those old choose-your-own-adventure books, it can bring you back to see what else could have happened as a result of the choice you didn‘t make.  Still, this doesn’t really alter the gameplay, so the game has got to be worth playing in the first place in order for these multiple effects worth pursuing.

Personally, what brings me back to a game that I enjoyed playing is an increasing difficulty level.  I like being challenged, so if I had a good time playing through initially, making the game harder and more unforgiving is going to bring me back simply to test my skill.  Ninja Gaiden Black and Ninja Gaiden 2 are great examples of games that do this.  Bayonetta does this as well, but it also features many unlockable weapons and stages – I bought Bayonetta the day it came out in January and I still love playing it.  Granted, many of the game you enjoy playing over and over may not have any of these features, but I suspect it’s highly unlikely that this is the case.  Online play is a different beast altogether, since new opponents – none of whom will perform exactly alike – make the gaming experience unique every time you fire up your console.

In the end, simply being “fun” is a requirement for a game to be replayable (duh), but with modern games, it seems as though there’s got to be some incentive to keep gamers coming back for repeat playings.

What are the games you can play repeatedly?  And perhaps more importantly, what is it about those games that keeps you coming back for more?  Let me know.

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  1. I think I have beaten both Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64 at least six or seven times since their respective releases. The N64 was the console that made me a ‘gamer’, so really it’s a matter of going back to my roots.

  2. Having a strong multiplayer (or bot) component is really the easiest way to offer good replayability. In my case this means
    Forza Motorsport 3,
    Quake 3,
    Atomic Bomberman.

    As for singleplayer games, I have fucked around in the GTA San Andreas universe for countless hours. I quickly left GTA IV, but this was primarily because of GFWL >.:D In Reach, it really feels like the enemies get smarter instead of simply getting x3 hit points when you up the difficulty.

  3. Hm, yes. For some reason my previous comment was mangled by the system, and the entire section on Mass Effect is gone. Suffice to say ME1 replayability > ME2 ditto.

  4. Really, really interesting topic choice.

    I’d have to say that I’m pretty frugal, and actually do not own a system (I always use my current roommate’s) So even though I love games like Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry, Sands of Time, and God of War, I rent them. These linear based games are a blast, but I will not play them through all the way again.

    Here’s my games that I’ve sunk the most time into over the years:
    – Super Smash Bro’s
    – Golden Eye and Perfect Dark
    – Diablo series on PC (dear god these can be played forever)
    – Skate (it’s mindless fun)

    So my opinion for what makes a game replayable is really good multiplayer or really easy/fun to play without a specific goal.

    I’ve been thinking of games that are fun to just mess around in, which to me make them replayable. Top of the list would be Spiderman 3 (you can just swing and jump around and it’s worth the price of admission alone), Prototype (same concept), and I need to get back to work so I’ll stop here.

    Good article.

    1. That’s interesting – it’s the Ninja Gaidens and DMCs that I DO play over and over, but that’s mostly due to the increased difficulty options.

      I think multiplayer is the best feature to make a game replayable, but that’s obvious. It’s the open world ones where you can mess around, I think, that, aside from multiplayer, make a game replayable. Not to chase down tedious achievements but, like you said, to just screw around and have fun. Prototype was like that for me without a doubt.

      Thanks for reading.

  5. I feel that for a game to be fun enough for it to be replayable, it has to firstly have an amazing addictive soundstrack, the depth of the story and characters have to be pretty intese so they invite you back for more, and gameplay that lasts a mid-level amount of hours, not mw2’s 4 hours or eternal sonata’s 200 hours, i mean legend of zelda ocarina of time, the metal gear solid series, something memorable and definitely worth spending saved up pocket money or half your life on. I feel playing online multiplayer is dumbing down gamers in that respect of achievements, making people JUST want that from a game, i wouldn’t say it is technically replayable value.

  6. Baldur’s Gate 2: There’s just so many things you can change regarding your party (size, pre-existing characters like Minsc, classes, equipment). Also, you can try out other alignments.

    Fable 1 & 2, Diablo 2, Mass Effect 2, Knights of the Old Republic 2.

  7. I’m not really much of a gamer myself (I have an old Xbox but I refuse to upgrade and get online), but there are a few games that I could play over and over again. First of all, Mario Kart 64 is still the greatest thing ever made. Way back when I was in college (around the time it first came out) it was the ULTIMATE tool for picking up girls. Seriously. Challenge them to a game of Kart, next thing you know it’s 4am and they’ve decided to spend the night.

    Also, for whatever reason I can’t get enough of Half Life 2. I’ve beaten it on every difficulty many times; still love it.

  8. Borderlands and Oblivion are the two games that I can think of that I’ve re-played several times. It’s been a long time since there’s been any others.

  9. Ghost & Goblins (or Ghouls & Ghosts), the MegaMan series, Metroids (“We got the SECRET RAY!”), Castlevania drove me nuts, Donkey Kong Jr. was fun, Resident Evil on PS was the first scary game I played (should have seen the whole dorm room jump when that first zombie turned his head!), Air Combat, Robotron(!), Gods on my Amiga, Marathon trilogy on my Mac, old school Mystery House on the Apple II (OK, once you finally beat it it was over, but dear monkey butts it took forever), Zork, Planetfall, Doom….

    Now the only new games I can actually play are the Lego games (Star Wars, Indiana Jones) with any semblence of skill.

    It was fun to play against people back then before all the camping and sniping and language popped up.

    But then, I’m just old now. I enjoy watching the various game-plays you show, though.

  10. I think the size and greatness of the world and story of the game keep you coming back for more. Games that come to mind are Final Fantasy VII, Oblivion, the Fallout series, the Knights of the Old Republic saga.

    Sports games and the multiplayer don’t quite match on this category, because it’s always different, and nowadays, even games like assassins creed are getting multiplayer.

  11. Metal Gears always have a great replay value. MGS3 had some amazing boss battles and the online part of it was underated. I love the story, but sometimes i just try to see how fast i can beat it without watching the cutscenes. MGS4 was great as well, but MGS3 was such an improvement over MGS2( which i also played multiple times). But in the new age of consoles, games with great online now have the most replay value. MW2’s leveling system and prestiging will keep you going til level 10 prestige, and adding new maps always extends the life and makes it much more replayable.

  12. Honestly, Halo Reach pisses me off to no end on the Legendary mode. I don’t understand how a dead headshot can kill an Elite on Normal, but three won’t kill an Elite on Legendary. Spartans are supposed to be the counterparts to Elites, but I just don’t understand then how it’s so much more difficult to face off against them. Piss off for days.

  13. An older game but Masters of Magic is infinitely re-playable. 12 different opponents, 6 different schools of magic, just many many many different ways to win the game.

  14. i played

    Super Smash Bros
    Starwars Battlefront1/2
    Crash Bash/ Teamracing
    Ratchet and Clank

    all heaps.

    as for acheivments hard ones are worth it but unchallenging time consuming ones arent

  15. GTA Vice City – Love the Soundtrack, hours spent cruising and running from the army.

    Spiderman(PS1) and Spiderman 2(PS2) – The first, one of the greatest PS1 games ever and the second, let’s just say I completed 98% percent of the game.

    DMC3 and DMC4 – Dante, Vergil and Nero. Nuff said.

    Crash Team Racing – To know how to drift is the key to winning.

    Metal Gear Solid 3 – Endless fun setting traps for the soldiers.

  16. could not stop playing FFX, even after dominating the sphere grid and moulding my characters into demi-gods the nemesis challenge still makes me want to go back and do it all again . . .

    Most recent replayable games? Gotta be borderlands, no matter how good that gun is, you know you can do better!

  17. Interesting article!

    Games that keep me coming back for more on a regular basis are:

    C&C Generals (Zero Hour) and Red Alert 2 (Yuri’s Revenge) skirmish on PC,
    Metal Gear Solid (especially MGS3) on PS2,
    Ghostmaster on PC (just for the HELL of it),
    Battlefield 2 on PC (On-line teamplay! It rocks!)
    Freelancer on PC (which was highly underrated in my opinion),
    The Castlevania and Metroid series (multi platform).

    Oh, and occasionally I fire up GTA:SA or Mafia (both on PC cause on console the controls feel kinda awkward and unreliable) when I feel the need to cruise around and wreak some havoc.

    I guess in general the open world/sandbox concept really appeals to me. If a game allows me to play at my own pace and in my own way it just keeps me coming back for a sh!tload more.

  18. Bioshock
    Dead Space
    Civilization I. II. III. IV. V (yep already)
    Fallout 3
    Fallout: New Vegas (The joys of my job :D)
    Dragon Age: origins
    Hitman: Blood Money (Weeks of my life)
    Star Wars Battlefront I & II
    Prototype (My favourite when I come home drunk)
    Mashed (Greatest underrated game of all time)

  19. I haven’t seen this one so I have to say
    Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines
    I must have finished that game over 20 times and I never get tired of the malkavian answers

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