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It seems that the game Angry Birds is becoming gradually easier with new versions. Maybe so people get the illusion of progress and satisfaction of breaking new records?

I would like to know if gradual small modifications of games to enhance the sense of improvement and learning by users is known/common/standard practice in game developing. (I don't mean to say that there is anything wrong with such a practice.)

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I modified your question to better fit with the site. Could still be border line, but it's better. –  Byte56 Dec 11 '12 at 16:39
    
Thanks, Byte56! –  Gil Kalai Dec 11 '12 at 16:43
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@Cyclops I think that's just the catalyst for the question and shouldn't be the focus of the question. So, irrelevant. –  Byte56 Dec 11 '12 at 18:18
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Actually, even if it is irrelevant, I'm still interested... –  jco Dec 11 '12 at 18:39
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Hi Cyclops & Yannbane, My reasons for this impression are: 1) When using the same strategy (given the effective randomness due to input-sensitivity) we can expect that the number of record-breakings will be logarithmic in the number of attempts. My impression is that even in simple episodes (like the first), when I use the same strategy, the number of record-breakings is higher. 2) There is a site with tips and reference to the highest records in MA from 2 years ago. It seems unreasonably easy now even for a mediocre player (me) to get scores comparable to these very best old scores. –  Gil Kalai Dec 19 '12 at 5:57

6 Answers 6

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I think there are a few reasons why games may get easier (or appear to do so)

  • A side effect of maturing code. Fixing bugs, adding new features and polishing existing features can all have the effect of reducing difficulty. So these games may actually be getting closer to the developers intended level of difficulty, where as they started too hard. For instance, in your example of Angry Birds, subtle changes in the constants of the physics simulation can have a dramatic effect on game play. These could have easily changed the difficulty of the game.

  • Marketing purposes. Developers may also change the difficulty of the game for marketing purposes. Making a game easier can expand your casual user base.

  • Direct user feedback. Users may complain about a specific level or feature of the game that's difficult to use.

  • Game statistics. Many developers are building in reporting into their games. Particularly with level based progress games (like Angry Birds). These reports can tell developers how much progress users make, number of retries on a particular level and when the user quits the game. All of these statistics can be valuable in detecting trends in player behavior. If a developer were to see that a significant portion of players retried a certain level multiple times, then quit the game, they might take a look at that level and see if it's too difficult.

So should developers take any of the above action? Like most things related to humans, it's a balancing act. The number of variables involved in the decision is enormous and ever changing. Since no one knows the exact recipe for perfection, it's impossible to know if the changes you make will make the game better or worse. Even then, most any change will be received as bad by some and good by others. The best course will depend on the game and the developers and their obligations.

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Dear Byte56, Many thanks! –  Gil Kalai Dec 16 '12 at 11:44
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An important note is that no matter how much you tweak a game after release, your review scores are effectively set in stone, since the major review sources almost never re-review games after updates. So if you're thinking in terms of finances, you may be better off spending your effort on the next game, rather than trying to improve an existing one. –  Trevor Powell Dec 26 '12 at 5:59

While I have never heard of it being done through patches explicitly, a common way of getting the same effect is to have dynamic difficulty in a game. The game is made easier/harder based on the players performance or some other heuristic. This can often be a bit controversial, much like auto-aim in first person shooters, but the answer to your question is; yes it is common and is appropriate where it makes the game more fun for the target audience.

Through patches I have only heard of the game being made easier/harder in cases where a mistake was made in the design.

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Dear OriginalDaemon, many thanks! –  Gil Kalai Dec 16 '12 at 11:44

Some games are difficult to play because the controls are difficult. If you look at the early Angry Birds, you never really know where the birds will fly.

Later revisions make the controls easier, by showing preview of the curve the bird will fly. At the same time they can make the levels themselves more difficult.

The effect is that the player feels more in control, and this is a good thing.

Compare parkour in assassins creed to parkour in mirror's edge - in creed the player feels much more in control. Granted, the scope and focus of the games is different, but in general, player feels much more bad ass when parkouring in assassins creed than in mirror's edge.

Other examples of great controls include super meat boy and the knytt games - make it as easy and as natural as possible for player to control the character - in other words, make the game easy to play - and then build a challenge to the player. The result feels fair - the challenge isn't to learn controls, but what the actual challenge should be.

To answer the question, whether games should be "easier" in new versions.. I don't feel that is the case; should they improve in new versions? Yes.

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This is a good observation and close to what I think is the real reason, too. –  Sam Hocevar Dec 23 '12 at 14:02
    
Dear Jari, many thanks! –  Gil Kalai Dec 25 '12 at 13:44

this might actually be a combination of things that are going on with the game, and the player simultaneously, but for different reasons.

1: the player may be learning the game to the extent of being able to master the tools they are given in a First Person Shooter becoming more and more accurate with a gun that is designed to have issues, or learning a different strategy to complete a given situation. these are all bases for player improvement (which some of the other answers have stated, or alluded to.

2: it may be to do with the difficulty curve of the game (there are multiple, but I will only talk about specifics here). as a game progresses it is expected to present more, and more challenges to the player, and by nature the player is needed to gain more, and more skill to proceed (see 1), and by virtue the game can continue to increase the difficulty of the game itself. the most common of these curves are linear increasing, increasing step function, and (one that I dislike, but is still used) logarithmic.

3: it may also be that the tools that are given to the player directly modify the difficulty curve by bringing it more toward a linear constant, or a fractionally increasing linear. though it should be said that with these new tools can also greatly increase the difficulty because the player is expected to have more of an advantage otherwise (this is where we get the step function difficulty curve where the steps are increased every time the player earns a new tool)

when all of these parts are used in tandem if one, or a couple are under-, or even over-expected then the game can easily become too easy or too difficult, or just seem that way.

like in your example of Angry Birds. as the game progresses the player is presented with different bird types that have different abilities that should conform to the given puzzle. so it is expected that the game still has a difficulty curve, but because each puzzle is in isolation of the others they must be evaluated individually instead of on a curve, and by nature the difficulty of a given puzzle is independent, but the game overall should still conform to a curve.

as a note that this answer only considers player skill, and never takes into account luck.

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What does this have to do with the developer changing the difficulty of a game during an update? –  Trevor Powell Dec 26 '12 at 19:54
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because an update to a game like Angry birds also includes additional levels it can also be considered that difficulty curves, pacing, and player ability all put together might have something to do with this as well. –  gardian06 Dec 26 '12 at 20:02

I noticed this happens frequently in MMOs so I thought this would be worth answering for this particular genre. In particular for each update the old content becomes easier while the new content takes a considerable amount of time to complete. So.

Why would developers make their games easier with each new update in MMOs?

  • It gives lower level characters a chance to catch up to some of the high level characters. This is desirable because many players aim for the high-level 'just-released' content.
  • More players in a level range leads to more competition and more fun (easier to find groups/guilds/clans/parties/PVP).
  • It also motivates the higher level players to keep playing - if they give up, they'll be passed by newer players (and lose control of their server depending on the mechanics of the particular game).

Examples of this happening:

  • Blessed Spirit Shots and Herbs in Lineage II. Initially it took years to obtain level 75, it can now be achieved in a few weeks.
  • Rest XP in World of Warcraft
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Dear CisicolPPhone, many thanks! What is MMO? –  Gil Kalai Dec 28 '12 at 9:41
    
Massive multiplayer online games - games many players connecting to the same world. –  CiscoIPPhone Dec 28 '12 at 16:16

Yes, game developers should make their games easier. Moreover, they should not wait for new versions to do so: they should try to make the first version easier. Nearly all games are too hard for many players.

There are a couple of reasons why this happens, both forms of the typical mind fallacy (the belief that everyone else is pretty much the same as you).

First, game developers typically work in a cycle where they write code (or design levels) and then test their work by playing it. This means that their sense of how the game plays is biased towards their own experience of it. As a game progresses, the developers get better and better at playing it, and lose all insight into how the game plays for a beginner.

The only way to correct for this bias is to bring in fresh testers—people who have never played the game before—and observe them (so-called kleenex testing). But even with this kind of testing you risk testing only on people who, while they may not have played your game before, are skilled game players in general.

Second, there's a common belief among game developers that making a game easy in some way "cheapens" the experience: that rewards won't be appreciated by players who didn't put in the work. But people differ: not everyone appreciates games in this way. The players who most appreciate overcoming difficulties are exactly the players who will seek out difficulties even if the game makes them optional.

Harmonix is an example of a game developer taking a long time to get the difficulty level right. Their first game, Frequency, was very hard, and each successive rhythm-action game has been slightly easier. For example, the first Rock Band game is easy enough for most adult beginners to play a few of the easier songs, but still too hard for some beginners and for young children. Why did Harmonix not make it possible for beginners to play all of the songs? Why did they not make it easy enough for young children (who love the game) to join in? Finally Rock Band 3 got it right with a "no failure" setting.

I can only guess that the Rock Band developers did not initially consider the possibility that families would enjoy the experience of playing the game together even if not all family members have the hand-eye coordination to hit a drum in time. They had to see people trying it (and the consequent frustration when most of the game proved to be out of reach) before they were motivated to make it easy enough.

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