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Save games vs. hard mode

Today, something completely different than the usual programming stuff I've been recently blogging about. It's time for some gaming again! Or more specifically, time to discuss one of the major problems I have with a bunch of games -- the save game handling!

What's the deal?

I'm a highly irregular gamer these days. The times when I can sit down for a couple hours in a row to practice a game are mostly gone. Instead, I often have half an hour or an hour I can spend on a game and I want to make some progress there. Which is usually fine, as many games these days allow you to consume the content in small chunks with a decent save game system. With decent, it means the save game system implements (hopefully all) of the following features:

  • Allow me to save the game at any time
  • Allow me to continue from whatever the last save was with one click
  • Supports more than one save game per session

This is really the base feature set I expect. The ability to save at any time means I can just turn off the machine, instead of having to continue playing until the next checkpoint/and or replay parts of the game next time I get to play again. I get really upset when my OS doesn't allow them to shutdown my machine because it's "installing updates". I don't need games to mimic this behavior. Continuing from the last save point with one click is a similar convenience feature. Both together allow me to enjoy the game and don't force me to replay parts of it.

More than one save game per session is an interesting one. I tend to save games once in a while, like every time I finish a session. It's very uncommon I return to them, but I still like keeping save games at interesting places around. The primary use case is probably to go back and capture some screenshot or try another approach I learn about later on (for instance, in "The Witcher 2", the second chapter is drastically different depending on a choice. I do want to finish the story on one path, then just play the second chapter with the different choice to see the difference. Another great example of how to do this right is "Papers, please", which automatically saves at every single day, and shows you the branches in the save game dialog).

It's also helpful when playing a new game, as sometimes you can dig yourself into a hole you can't get out of, and then returning to a savegame an hour ago may be the best option instead of starting the whole session from scratch. Not to mention trying out something -- what happens when I press this red button? Oh, I see, that wasn't good, glad I don't have to replay the last two hours!

Hard mode!

The problem I've been facing recently in a couple of games are "one save only". The usual reasoning is "hard mode", or something along those lines. While I get the intention, I hope this post helps to understand the position of people like me who will not buy as a result. The non-existence of a good save game system reduces the appeal of a game for me -- and there's no upside for me. If you (designing the game) really like the "hard mode", or it's a rogue like game, or whatever, just add an option to play it the "proper way", but don't force it upon everyone. I can't believe that's going to impact sales, as everyone can still play with just one save game if they want for maximum immersion (see X-Com with the notorious Iron Man mode).

I might really enjoy your game, but I simply don't have the time to replay two hours just to get to the point where I failed. It's not like a game can really prevent me from consuming it my way: I can usually hack around those save game systems with some file monitoring and by exiting/restarting the game. Why make it so difficult?

Here's my plea to all game developers out there: Don't remove standard save game options while designing your game. For customers like me, this is a buy-no-buy decision, because I don't have the time to replay your game over and over just because the save game system is designed for "hard mode" or rogue like. I'm perfectly fine spending my money to see the carefully crafted content you prepared for me just once, and it's my decision to make if there's enough content to warrant the price. Making me practice the game or forcing me to replay parts over and over is not helping my buy decision. Thanks!