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Teaching Players Through Failure Rather Than Success

Do players always have to succeed in the first attempt? For The King is a fantastic roguelike experience that has chosen to make a very specific design choice that I believe is a core reason for my inability to stop playing. Let's explore this reason.

When you boot up For the King the first thing you are met with is a disclaimer that tells you that you most likely won't succeed in your first adventure.

But before we go into further detail on this title lets explore the human element a little more at least my understanding of it as a Game Designer.

Most of us have had a game-winning experience, whether its a challenging tournament with opponents, an unforgettable couch co-op encounter, or even a single-player challenge that we bested all by ourselves.

We don't easily forget the times that we have triumphed as those memories are extremely easy to remember.

They’re the highlight reels of boss fights and game-winning kills that we tell our friends about and post to YouTube as proof of our exploits.

It is undeniable that winning of any kind makes us feel great, the problem with winning is that it does not make us re-evaluate our strategies through self-improvement. 

Think about it, when was the last time you defeated a boss and started re-evaluating which abilities you used or at what time it would have been better to activate that item?

Speaking from experience so often in games I do not think about how I could have improved beating the boss, I mean my strategy worked right? I won so why would I need to try anything else if I can repeat that strategy?

I don’t need to try and determine different weak points or try to get a better understanding of our terrain because we already overcame the challenge the game presented us with.

When we find ourselves on the losing end however that's when our failures inspire us to attempt these different strategies and methods of approach.

And I believe it is these failures and losses that not only make for more engaging experiences in games but also are the cause of my total obsession for a game like For The King.

Now that we have done a quick analysis of the human element it is time to go back to where we began the disclaimer.

Now If you’re anything like me when you pick up a new RPG you’ve seen these before, every time you select the hardest difficulty on your first playthrough you’re met with one which is usually followed by a quick shrug and something along the lines of “yeah whatever”.

While most RPG’s tend to have modes or difficulties that offer difficult situations that can result in final game overs For the King is different as it is built into the design of the game.

I started my journey on the hardest difficulty and I began exploring this new land filled with monsters and encounters. 

A few missions in and I found myself in a large cavern and I was at a significant disadvantage. Not only was my gear insufficient but I was lacking a few important items that really would have made the difference and found myself in a game over state.

If I had succeeded in my attempt I would have had no idea on the importance of identity scrolls or a healthy set of herbs for treating poison and flame damages.

And with every subsequent play though I played a new party of adventurers, and advanced through the campaign a little further each time.

With every game over state the cause of something, I did wrong or an encounter I rushed into without thought.

It took me about 7 attempts to finish For The King and when I finally did not only was I proud of my accomplishment and excited to try the other various adventures in the game, but I had learned so much about the game and encounters that I could not wait to get a friend involved and to run through the game passing my knowledge down to him like a wise NPC on our journeys.

In conclusion, I think we as game designers want our players to succeed, and with the current state of game releases its very rare when somebody actually completes a game to its full extent, but its also really important that we remember as designers that sometimes you teach your players more through losses then you do through victories. 

The blog post will be accompanied by a video formatted Game Design Talk if that is your preferred method of delivery!

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