December 2, 2009
Game Informer ran an interesting piece recently on the nature of some collection meta-games from both recent and past titles, highlighting whether or not a particular set was ‘worth’ collecting or not. My current squeeze, Assassin’s Creed 2, is chock-full of extra ‘bits’ to collect; running the gamut from 6 Assassin’s Seals, through 20 glyphs to 100 glittering feathers. I already feel I’ll be disappointed with my reward for rounding up all the feathers, but where the debate gets interesting is whether the act of collecting these items is fun in and of itself. The glyphs in Assassin’s Creed 2, for example, present the player with a short puzzle game – sometimes involving logic problems, sometimes simple shape matching exercises – but more often than not, a welcome distraction from the main quest.
Where collectibles become a rather more cynical prospect, however, is when they are used as a crutch to artificially increase the longevity of a game long after it has outstayed its welcome. This practice is even more prevalent now with the popularity of Xbox Achievements and PSN Trophies – developers know that a large majority of gamers hold great stock in these, and a kind of manic perfectionism sets in in trying to achieve that coveted 1000 GS or 100% Trophy completion. To that end, some players will go after the 350 Blast Shards required in InFamous, or the 400+ flags in the original Assassin’s Creed.
The challenge for developers now is to blend collection meta-games into the overarching plot, to give a reason for increasing the game by a number of hours for hunting down every last item, and to make the activity rewarding in and of itself. Appealing to a gamer’s OCD just won’t cut it anymore.