How important is replayability in games, really?

“Get your money’s worth” is more or less a mantra in my household, especially after first year university accommodation fees have ravaged the family income faster than major fraud (I’ve since been informed that they’re not the same thing), and naturally, this attitude has infected my gaming habits as well. I feel a pang of guilt when I end up playing something expensive for less time than I would’ve hoped. My mother’s voice rises within my thoughts, chiding me like she would all those years ago if I refused to eat my runner beans. The memories of green vegetables and delayed puddings dance, mockingly, behind my eyes. A single tear trickles down my cheek.

Oh, right. Article about replayability. I should probably get onto that.

It seems to be a prominent enough issue, after all. Games frequently tout the fact that they can be experienced again and again without getting stale due to their vast array of content or playstyles. But with the let-down of No Man’s Sky and it’s procedurally-generated, infinite content, comes the inevitable question of whether quantity can truly be placed alongside quality when thinking about whether a game is good or not. Although it’s certainly a deciding factor, it seems to be seen as simultaneously both vitally important and completely unnecessary. Which is a bit odd, and why I thought it was worth opening my laptop, pulling up my chair, and writing a few ambling thoughts on it all.

I’ve played through a fair few games that I would consider to be lacking in terms of replayability. Yet I thoroughly enjoyed them. For instance, Bloodborne is one of my favourite RPGs, and yet the lack of builds and weapons can make another playthrough – even with the challenge of NG+ and the addition of the randomly generated Chalice Dungeon levels – somewhat of a grind. That isn’t to say I don’t occasionally revisit it, but it’s clear in my mind that I can’t replicate the thrill I got when I first picked up the controller, heard the frantic, wailing choral music, and got slapped silly by a boss with no concept of the phrase “Starting level”. Likewise, Undertale‘s lighthearted humour, excellently timed plot twists, and fairly linear pathway makes for an excellent story the first time plunging in, but quickly become tiresome after hearing the same jokes and knowing exactly what to expect all over again.

All this could just be due to the “honeymoon” period in a game, which exists for just about every outlet of entertainment there is. You can’t go back and forget the first time you experienced it. However, there exists such series as The Elder Scrolls and Dragon Age, with their vast character creation, factions, and quests that I found myself getting lost in regardless of how many times I played them.

So what is it, then? Is this “replayability” guff really all that vital? I’d put forward the argument that technically speaking, you could spend weeks eating runner beans as well, before hastily telling the hypothetical person in question to shut up, I’m not plagued by disappointing childhood events, I swear. There’s a lot of dishes you can make with them, so it’s not as if you’d be lacking in choice. However, inevitably, you’d get sick of it, and pop down to Greggs for a chicken bake. There’s only so many times you can eat a long, thin, green vegetable, regardless of how many different ways its presented to you.

Basically put, minus the analogy, if you really enjoyed a game, regardless of time spent, then it was worth what you paid for it. I would certainly regard replayability an important issue if that’s what you specifically want out of a game, but stating that it is one of the be-all-and-end-all of important factors is overstating matters. Things can be fun without the need for repetition and the obsession of “getting your money’s worth” based on how many times you can play a game. Of course, this isn’t taking into regard length of game, which I would personally regard as more important, but that’s another issue entirely.

Such as eating runner beans. Which I still think taste terrible, by the way.

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Marvin Drury

Marvin Drury

First-year History of Art student and Games Editor. Writes articles when he's not banging on about Rembrandt.
Marvin Drury

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