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Game Design for Millennials

Games traditionally seek to create a feeling of stress when they are played poorly. This approach has worked well in the past, but should it change for the next generation of gamers?

One game that has captured my attention quite a bit lately is a simple puzzle game called Droplitz. The premise is pretty simple: taking its cue from Pipe Mania / Pipe Dream, players rotate dials to make a path from one of the entry points for the Droplitz at the top of the screen to one of the exit points at the bottom of the screen. There are a limited number of Droplitz. If too many of them fail to reach the bottom, the game is over.

Most puzzle games are almost sexual in their emotional arcs. The game board usually becomes more complex, chaotic, and challenging as the game continues. There may be a moment of rest when the end is momentarily avoided through superb play, but the game always ends in the state of climax known as game over. At that point, there is an emotional release as the adrenaline rush is over.

So what makes the gameplay of Droplitz so different from the other emotional roller coasters traditionally provided by puzzle games?

While the game's mechanics are spot on, that's not what makes the game truly great. The way Droplitz handles pressure on the player to perform is marvelous. As implied above, most puzzle games create a sense of tension when the player is walking the line between playing and game over. The most frequent tool in achieving this is having the music intensify with a more urgent soundtrack.

Not so with Droplitz. Instead, the music only builds when the player is excelling. As the player continues to twist pieces into the correct places to create new paths, both the multiplier and the complexity of the music increase. Once the player breaks this multiplier by failing to keep a path constructed on the game board, the music returns to normal.

When a game over is reached, a pleasant chime is played and the game returns to the normal in-game soundtrack. What I've come to realize is that this is game design for Millennials, the group also known as Generation Y.

One of the things that stands out about this generation is the need to achieve and be recognized for a strong performance. This generation was told they can do no wrong as long as they try their hardest. Gen Y needs positive reinforcement to perform their best.

It's not simply a matter of getting the job done and staying in the game; they need to know when they are rocking it and need a cushion to land on when they fall. Droplitz does just that. The game doesn't contrast playing with not failing, but rather succeeding versus "keep trying." It's the modus operandi of Gen Y in game form.

While I think it is important for designers to realize that members of Generation X will still be buying and playing video games, Generation Y is entering the workforce and starting to have a disposable income.

Maybe this means I shouldn't be so upset about New Super Mario Bros. Wii's new "Demo Play" feature that will help gamers get through tough parts by having the computer play the game for them.  Although I was born right at the beginning of Gen Y, maybe I still have some Gen X in me.

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