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Gas Powered Games CEO: reward, don't punish gamers

Ross Miller

CEO and founder of Gas Powered Games Chris Taylor (Supreme Commander, Dungeon Siege) wants to retire the old-school game design philosophies of punishing gamers. In an essay on GameDaily BIZ, Taylor notes an observed trend towards games that now reward players.

It started with casual games, says Taylor, when The Sims and Railroad Tycoon were selling millions and bringing women gamers on board. He compares the old punishment system to Carnival games -- you get three lives, a few options for more, but if you die then you start all the way over. Taylor uses Grand Theft Auto as an example where, if you screw up, you simply walk out of jail or the hospital. "The punishment is quite small, and perfectly integrated into the gameplay. Hats off to Rockstar," he said.

Much of his essay is muddled, however, in defining the line between making a game universally accessible and dumbing it down in difficulty. "Games shouldn't punish the player, but rather reward them. Oh, and it should be a whole lot easier to win," he said, followed by "Duh! Can I say duh?" You can, but a game like Ninja Gaiden serves as an opposing example to that argument, where toning down the difficulty would likely result in a less satisfying and indeed, less rewarding experience.

Taylor's main points seem to present the games industry as expanding in its appeal to new demographics, and though he makes a valid point about the piles of unplayed games sitting next to most gamers' consoles, there's nothing wrong with titles that rewards through great challenges. A show like Lost, for example, fills the screen with subtle clues that, while inconsequential to the casual viewer, will entice obsessive fans with DVR and HD signals to actively seek out and analyze to the point of contradiction.

Scholars will write about books in essays longer than the original work. In all media, there needs to be elements that everyone can enjoy, but not every work should appeal to every person. There's one design adage that will never die: games that are easy to learn and hard to master. While we love seeing our Moms playing games, we don't have to enjoy the same titles and we don't have to enjoy them the same way.

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