Defining Replay Value — What Does It Really Mean?

A critical factor when deciding whether or not to buy a game is its replay value, which can multiply the number of hours of entertainment you receive for your investment. It’s a term that gets thrown around quite a bit — sometimes, incorrectly. People tend get caught up on the “replay” part of the term, while neglecting the “value.” What, then, does “replay value” really mean?

With Diablo 3‘s recent release and its replay value being compared to Diablo 2′s, we’ll be framing this discussion in the context of these two titles.

First, a definition: replay value, also known as “replayability,” is anything that adds entertainment value to playing a game — or a portion of a game — over again. While a number of factors can contribute to a game’s replay value, they can be clumped into three categories: factors that increase challenge, offer a different play experience, or reveal extra content.

Multiplayer is a beast of its own — many claim that it adds to a game’s replay value, and whether or not that’s true is beyond the scope of this discussion.


Increased Challenge

As you progress through a game, you naturally become better at it — through what amounts to practice, you develop the skills necessary to overcome the increasingly difficult challenges presented to you. Once you’ve beaten a game, you’ll find the first challenges far less difficult than on your initial playthrough.

Increased difficulty settings allow you to continue honing your skills by replaying through the same content while overcoming greater challenges. Diablo 2 and 3 offer multiple difficulty settings that not only require more powerful weapons to overcome, but also more advanced tactics.

Overcoming challenges is what traditional games boil down to — by offering players greater challenges to overcome, value is added by letting players feel a rewarding sense of satisfaction for their accomplishments.


Differing Play Experiences

How you mechanically progress through content from a gameplay perspective can differ from playthrough to playthrough, and in the case of Diablo, this revolves around the different classes. A melee warrior will play differently than a ranged spellcaster — value is added by providing a new experience.

This is where many hardcore Diablo 2 fans say that Diablo 3 lacks the replay value of its predecessor. In Diablo 2, as players leveled up, they could allocate points in skill trees to unlock new skills or improve the skills they possessed. In Diablo 3, new skills unlock naturally as players level up, and skills can be swapped at any time.

The key distinction is that in D2, the decisions made are set in stone — there is no easy way to change your mind and spend your skill points differently. In D3, you can experiment at-will.

In D2, every class had a variety of builds that could result in different play styles. While the same holds true for D3, it doesn’t require you to create a new character and follow the process of leveling him up — which is the crux of the argument leveled against D3′s replay value. It’s fair to assume that by summer’s end, all the hardcore gamers will have a character of each class at max level in D3, and no incentive to create any new characters.

Unfortunately, this is the kind of argument that neglects the “value” part of “replay value.” Yes, D2 made you replay the game in order to spend your skill points differently — but this wasn’t added value. In D2, you were punished for experimenting or for simply being new to the game and not knowing how to wisely spend your skill points. As you reached the higher difficulty settings, you would realize that your current character was a dead-end and would be forced to create a new one that, frankly, didn’t suck.

While it can be argued that value is added for veterans who know exactly what they are doing, these are the same veterans that could get a character to high-level in a matter of days, if not hours — what value, then, is added if the process of replaying is sped through in order to reach the same point at which a Diablo 3 character would be who simply swapped his skills?


Extra Content

Branching storylines and alternate endings are the most traditional forms of extra content, and while the Diablo series doesn’t offer these, it does offer a bounty of content that can’t be encountered on a single playthrough. Extra content adds value by providing more for the player to experience.

Random generation plays a huge factor here for Diablo — maps are randomly generated, encounters are random, loot is random, and gaining access to some hidden content depends on random factors as well. A player can progress through the same content a dozen times and experience different enemies, different battlefields, and different rewards.

Something Diablo 3 offers that D2 doesn’t is character-building interactions between the player character and the NPC companions, of which only one can be active at any given time. While this extra content isn’t integral to the gameplay experience or story, it’s there to be appreciated by those who care and adds value for them.


Final Thoughts

Anyone wishing to make an argument about replay value must first ask himself, “Am I replaying this content because it is entertaining to do so, or because I have to in order to keep playing the game?” If your answer is the latter, that’s not value — that’s tedium.

Diablo 2 was a game with incredible replay value — as evidenced by its longevity — and Diablo 3 retains most, if not all, of the aspects that contributed to that value, while adding a few of its own.

Consider the thoughts of Blizzard Community Manager Bashiok:

Well, if we’re killing replay value by not making people have to level completely new characters just to try out a new build, we are ok with that.

Leveling characters is cool, and some people legitimately enjoy that process (me!), and we agree it can be fun and would still like to find ways to reward people who enjoy leveling additional characters, but being required to do it just to try out some different skills is no longer acceptable to us. That’s a level of masochism we just don’t care to revisit. We thank the 90′s for their contributions to game design, and the ‘crush the player’s soul’ dungeon master mentality, but we’re moving on. We have this crazy notion that games shouldn’t punish you for trying to enjoy them.

Fact of the matter is though that the longevity in Diablo II was not made by leveling characters. You can get a character to 80 in a matter of hours. The longevity was from experimentation, customization, and the randomized item drops needed to perfect them. And that’s amazingly even considering that a huge portion of the item hunt was completely ruined due to the mass proliferation of what should be insanely rare items. Longevity in Diablo is from exploration, character customization, and more specifically, killing monsters to see what they drop – not leveling.

You can also add to this that in Diablo III killing monsters to see what they drop will not be made lucrative by explicitly predictable means, such as boss runs. Exploring entire areas, even playing from start to finish of each act, uncovering all the nooks and crannies is intended to be the way you’ll be playing Inferno. You can pretend you’re leveling a new character each time, if you’d like. :)

When assessing replay value, Diablo 2 makes a great barometer, as the game’s longevity speaks for itself. However, it’s important to think critically about which ingredients in a game add to its replay value and distinguish those ingredients from the ones that simply force you to play through content again. Having to replay an entire game in order to see an alternate ending cinematic based on a decision made in the final sequence isn’t replay value — but experiencing different storylines and side-quests based on decisions you make along the way is.

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6 Comments on Defining Replay Value — What Does It Really Mean?

Anathemize

On May 30, 2012 at 1:28 am

I was real excited when diablo 3 came out but got bored really quickly. The first difficulty was way to easy but i had to get through it to start having fun with the gameplay. Once i knew the story, all i had was a few random encounters i missed out on. I wish they would of done something like this…

Have 5 acts…they did have forever to make the game.

Normal Act 1-2
Nightmare Act 1-3
Hell Act 1-4
Inferno Act 1-5

I think two acts is long enough to learn how to play the game. Then you would start over with a semi-difficult gameplay experience. Replaying the first two chapters would allow you to find new side quests but also have that drive to see more of the story.

Act 4 takes 1-3 hours depending how well you do, and how much you explore. It would give casual players a real challenge to beat. They would need to do boss runs to look for loot and an opportunity get more achievements. The more “hardcore” players would beat it and have 95% of the story.

Inferno would add act 5. It would be the same length as Act 4 but with little story till the end. It may put an extra twist in the story to make a cliff-hanger for an expansion down the road. It would give that added motivation to beat it at the hardest difficulty.

Rather than playing the whole game 4 times with basically the same story, the player would get more content each time through.

Not only would it be increase replay value it would also make their beloved real money auction house more worthwhile. People that do not have the time or the skill to continue would buy better gear to make the content easier.

Win-Win

J

On May 30, 2012 at 1:43 am

Now days there are more and more business mechanics that are being soul-lessly injected into games that gamers need to take into consideration in their game purchase desicion making. Do I want to buy and play a game that requires me to always be online and only play when appropriate servers are up? Do I want a game that I may not be able to complete 100% without investing more money into virtual nick-nacks? Do I want to have to play for hours and hours at a disadvantage before unlocking all of the game content I paid good money for?

I think asking yourself the question of, “Is this game worth my time playing ONCE through?” is a more important question than, “Will I like to play this through over and over again?” But both should be taken into consideration.

With so many great games, and classics available at great prices, buying and playing something just because it’s new and the latest game “that everyone is playing” is no longer a justifiable factor.

Tiagonals

On May 30, 2012 at 6:40 am

Try defining replay value using the Souls’ Franchise… easycake.

CJ Miozzi

On May 30, 2012 at 8:08 am

@Anathemize

Interesting suggestion…

Jesher

On May 30, 2012 at 1:12 pm

@Anathemize

Interesting idea, but that’s assuming everyone wants to play to inferno. I bet there’ll be people who’ll stop before that for whatever reasons (eg. too difficult, casual gamer or just getting bored), and they wouldn’t be able to get the full story if it was that way. And people may just complain about it, as some people are just particular about game plot without having to go through all the difficulty levels.

Row

On May 30, 2012 at 2:43 pm

I think that players will end up having experienced all of the content, including the random or rare events, maps, etc pretty fast. What will keep them playing?

- One big thing will be the eventual addition of PvP.

- In D2, many players spent time leveling and gearing up new character builds. 7 classes times an average of 3 builds required a lot of time and gear. In D3, with only 5 classes and no real need to have more than 1 character of each, as well as faster leveling (I think power leveling methods will indeed emerge in D3 like in D2), all that is completed faster.

- What will probably keep many busy in the long term is the quest for pro gear. With the Auction House and the high randomness of items (rares, legendaries), I can see how people will put a lot of effort into optimizing gear for their 5 characters.

- Hardcore mode maybe? Completing Hardcore on Inferno difficulty is no easy thing.