In this list I’ve decided to put together some of the worst design decisions when it comes to video games. I could’ve called this list ‘Top 10 worst game design mistakes’, but then after carefully thinking about it, ‘mistakes’ implies that they are unintentional, which might be the case for some entries on this list, but definitely not for others. Also worth mentioning that although I have started making some small games myself, I am not an experienced developer yet, and hence for the most part I’ve tackled everything on this list as a consumer – as someone who loves playing good games on a regular basis and knows what is considered as fun and what isn’t.
10) RPGs that won’t let you role play
And so I shall begin the list with this entry. We all know that role-playing games are about giving the player control of how to develop the character and to make certain choices in regard to the story and the gameplay style. However, at times some RPGs give you the illusion of this control, but in reality it’s not actually there. Either the choices lead to one and the same outcome, or the game makes choices for you at crucial times, or at times you are forced to adopt a certain direction simply because the alternatives are highly undesirable and can leave you disadvantaged.
All the above situations gimp the experience of role-playing and in my opinion should be avoided at all costs. The RPG has to make it clear from the outset about the level of choice and customization the player can do and it needs to stick to it throughout. For example there has to be a similar level of difficulty for going as either a fighter or a mage, or for example picking to ally with faction A over faction B. If siding with faction A makes the game much easier than with faction B, then the player is sort of forced to pick faction A most of the time, unless B has other advantages, which need to be clear.
Likewise, it can be annoying at times when the game leads the main character in a certain direction without the player’s consent. For example when having a dialogue with an NPC, if the character suddenly started to act like a jerk to this NPC without the player’s input, then the game failed to give the player a choice, in this case changing the pitch of the conversation against the player’s desires. These sort of situations can greatly ruin the immersion and detach the player from their character, and this goes against the main goal of RPG experience.
9) Single player online
I’ll probably strike a chord with this one and I bet many gamers out there will be able to relate to it. This is something that’s become popular fairly recently and in the eyes of many it’s one of the most annoying things a game can adopt. All right, so we all need to be connected to the internet in order to play a multiplayer game. That’s a given. However, some developers take it unnecessarily further and make even single player campaigns require an internet connection.
This is when many would pose a question “Why?” Why should we be connected when we’re not playing with anyone else? It’s pointless and frustrating. Minor drops in the connection could cause you to be booted out of the game and any overload in the servers would make the game impossible to access.
Of course it’s most likely done to prevent piracy and all, but in the long run it seems to frustrate legitimate players a lot more than it helps to combat piracy of the game. If any online access is needed to confirm the legitimacy of the game copy, then at most it should only require an internet connection during the game’s installation and never a second more.
8) Bland combat mechanics
This one probably goes without saying, but since it does occur more frequently than it should, I figured it deserves a place on this list. What do I mean by bland combat mechanics? It’s the handling of the game’s action that does not provide the necessary enjoyment. This is especially true for those games where combat is the central aspect of the gameplay.
Having to fight the enemies with one and the same attack could quickly become boring. And when you do smack or shoot the enemies, they need to be responsive to it. The sound of the impact and the resulting animation have to deliver enough satisfaction to keep the person playing. Additionally, glitchy animations, enemies clipping into walls or each other, and badly placed hitboxes are all factors that negatively affect combat as well. All these things need to be polished so that the combat can be fun and engaging.
7) Convoluted controls
One of the more obvious entries on this list, or so I think. Since controls impact every action the player does in the game, they have to be intuitive and easy to follow. However, this is not always the case and in some games they become a chore. There might either be way too many key bindings to remember, or simply the key bindings are un-intuitive and difficult to use in-game.
Of course the more complex the game is, the more functions it’s likely to have, and hence more key bindings might be needed. But they have to be easily accessible, either all part of the same menu, or perhaps used as hotkeys. Any game which is very fast-paced, like most FPS games are, especially needs to take this into account. This is a good example of keeping things simple. Because when in a middle of fast-paced action, the player doesn’t have time to think on what button to press to activate a certain function. Therefore in these cases I think there need to be as few key bindings as possible.
Sometimes a game might even require the press of two or more buttons for certain functions, and this in my opinion needs to be avoided in regard to simple actions. I noticed it is often the case with bad console ports. Whatever’s the case, clumsy controls are certainly an easy way to annoy a player.
6) Unbalanced difficulty
A fairly straight-forward one. Difficulty is an important aspect of the game. Minor fluctuations at the wrong time can really ruin it, or quite the opposite, a well-placed crescendo might enhance the experience. It’s something that has to be fine-tuned to near perfection.
Now the difficulty of the game can take a variety of patterns, and this is perhaps something I’ll discuss in more depth in another post. In my opinion the difficulty has to be at the right level for the target audience and its increases and decreases have to be consistent with the game’s progression. They should be smooth as well. Having to fluctuate between too easy and too hard in a matter of minutes can be extremely annoying.
It is also common for many games to have multiple difficulties, and this is good, because it allows the player to choose whether they want a more casual experience or something more intense. However, the step up from one difficulty level to the next has to be reasonable. It can be very offputting if the Easy difficulty is too easy and Normal (or whichever is the next one up) is already too challenging.
5) Painfully long loading times
I think this one is something many of us can certainly complain about. First of, we have to keep in mind that the larger and more technologically advanced the game is, the longer its loading times are likely to be. However, what I am getting at here is knowing when to put these loading screens and how long to make them last. Is it worth for example loading an entire world map when we are unlikely to visit most of it during a single game session? On the other hand, do we want to stick a loading screen, however small it is, every time we open a door in order to go to the next room? That’s why it is important to separate the game into reasonably sized chunks, so that the loading doesn’t happen too frequently to break the immersion, and when it does happen it doesn’t take forever.
Sometimes it might even be worth to simply cut down a bit on the content per chunk/map so that the loading time can be within reasonable length. For example, is it really worth sometimes to include so many special effects and other flashy stuff in a single room that it requires a lengthy loading screen every time we enter it?
And lastly, it is good to consider how long it takes for someone to start up the game and jump right into it. I’ll be honest, but sometimes when I really want to play something on a spur of a moment, I tend to often avoid those games where it takes a while to start it up. Basically, if a game bores you already before you even got a chance to start playing it, then we’ve got a bit of a problem that needs to be fixed.
4) Incredibly slow pace
This is what I meant concerning the mistakes vs offences debate. I am pretty sure slow pacing of a game isn’t exactly a design error. It’s a design decision, and in my opinion a very bad one. Of course not every game is expected to be rushing many miles an hour and throwing you into combat situations every 5 seconds. In fact that would get boring pretty fast. The trick is to simply balance out the fast-paced parts with the slow-paced ones, so that there is some variation that keeps the gameplay fresh.
To elaborate on what I mean by incredibly slow pacing, good examples would be: having to level grind for hours just because the difficulty scales too steeply with each area, or looking for something in a huge area without any pointers, or simply having to engage in long chatter with too many NPCs and without getting a chance to do anything else.
RPG genre is particularly guilty of this. It’s understandable that RPGs generally require a gradual introduction of their world to the player, as well as character development, and also exploration. However, being an RPG is not an excuse and if the game drags on for too long, especially in the early stages, then it might find itself losing player’s attention and eventually interest.
3) Unwelcoming interface
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of gaming is the interface. This is basically how the player interacts with the game and is aware of what’s going on. Menu screens, inventory screens, HUD – all these are examples of what I am talking about. So, because all these are crucial ways to relay game information to the player, they need to be presented clearly and crisply.
At times, however, games fail to do that. Putting too much text, for example, is one of the common ways the interface can be unwelcoming to the player, especially if this text is small and causes eye strain. Filling the screen with too many small icons is another way, especially if many of these icons look alike and are indistinguishable to the naked eye.
No matter how good the game’s story is or how amazing the combat mechanics are, if the interface consistently confuses the player, it can in fact put them off the game, or at the very least severely impair the enjoyment. And hence presenting in-game information in a simple and clear manner is highly important.
2) Over the top repetition
The reason this one is so high on the list is due to how common it tends to be. Now, as with most other entries, amount of repetition is relative and where we put a threshold of ‘too much’ is subjective. Therefore we should look at what would be considered as too much repetition in the eyes of an average gamer (because this view is likely to follow a normal, bell-shape distribution).
Repetition can’t be avoided altogether, because the alternative is having to include too much content that will be used only once, and hence can be a waste of time, energy, and money. Due to this, each and every game will have repetitive aspects to some degree, whether it’s the level design, enemy variation, player skills, and so on. A little bit of repetition shouldn’t really bother players, but beyond that, the more repetition the game has, the more likely it is to bore the players and turn them away from the game. This is why it is important to balance it carefully and not to stretch the game for more than it needs to be. For example, I’d rather play a fresh and engaging 5 hour game that can keep my attention, than an unnecessarily prolonged 30 hour game where levels are copy-pasted or one and the same action is required on behalf of the player throughout.
1) Bugs, glitches, and crashes
Did you expect anything else? There shouldn’t be much surprise as to why this is on the top spot, as this feature is probably the only one on the list that can single-handedly make the game unplayable. With all the other entries, it’s possible to look past them, but serious bugs and crashes are the kind of things that can easily beat the game enjoyment to a bloody pulp and rip its heart out.
Of course nearly every game has bugs of some kind. The larger and more complex the game is, the more likely it is to have bugs. Minor bugs can often be forgiven, especially if the game excels at all the other things that it does. They might only break the immersion slightly or in fact even provide unintended fun for the player. However, anything too serious is bound to be a hideous stain on the experience of playing the game in question, such as the game crashing to desktop or giving an error message every time the player accesses a certain area or talks to a certain NPC.
High frequency of smaller bugs can also be a great hindrance, in particular if they impact important game features, such as the use of certain skills or the main combat mechanics. It becomes harder and harder to take the game seriously, until eventually the player will get no more enjoyment out of it. Rigorous playtesting is pretty much the only way to expose the bugs that might otherwise be hiding in the dark corners of the game.