Adaptive Game Difficulty

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One of the things that really gets me ticked-off with some of today’s gaming products is that developers tend to miss the point that a game should be entertaining and not so frustrating that players give up.

The goal for any game developer these days should be to get someone hooked on their franchise and hold them for sequel after sequel, an effort that is self-sabotaged when the player gets stuck or they gets so upset with the game that they simply walk away.

All of this can be overcome with Adaptive Game Difficulty.

Simply put, the game has to be smart enough to monitor the player’s progress during a challenge and then start to help the player out when it notices that they are getting stuck.

Some games in the past have utilized this feature, but more and more, in a rush to get games out the door quickly developers are either skipping this feature or because they have gotten so good at playing the game in-house they don’t feel the need for it.

None the less, it’s a feature that should be included in most challenge based games.

So, how does Adaptive Game Difficulty systems work?

Let’s say you have a scenario where the player is locked into a combat area, facing off against 10 enemies.  The game would keep track of how many times the player has replayed this and will start to scale the difficulty accordingly.

As an example, if the player has lost in a section of the game 5 times, then start to reduce the amount of damage an enemy takes before death, and keep reducing until the player has played this section 10 times.  If the player hasn’t beaten that section by then, then start to reduce the number of enemies in that section on restart.

Of course as the games designer you’ll want to make sure you don’t reduce things down to a silly level, so the best way to insure this is to test the game section out at its lowest difficulty setting and then ramp it up until its challenging for those who created the scenario.

Audio and text can also be a great way to help the player out when they appear to be encountering difficultly.

Here are some options you as the games designer has for scaling difficulty…

   1: Reduce the damage needed to defeat an enemy.

   2: Reduce the enemies speed.

   3: Reduce the number of basic enemies.

   4: Increase how long an enemy is open to attack or uncovered.

   5: Reduce the enemy firing rate.

   6: Reduce the accuracy of enemy fire.

   7: Reduce the damage enemy fire can inflict on the player.

   8: Increase how fast the player can heal from an attack.

   9: Audio/Text that provide hits to dealing with a combat situation.

Remember that once a game leaves your hands into the public sector they won’t have you around to explain things, so try to be fair to the player, no matter what their skill set is.

Everyone should be able to finish your game, and you can simply scale upgrades and the reward systems to reward more skilled players accordingly, but no one should feel regret for buying your game.


-William Anderson

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