The Balance of Realism and Gamification in a Simulation Game

As video games seek to offer an escape from reality and offer players a means of a fun and enjoyable challenge, yet there is no guide for the development of a perfect game. No matter the game or genre, the ability to balance the mechanics, systems, and gameplay experience offered to players is a mental tightrope walk as there is a way you can please and meet everyone’s ideal expectations.

For these reasons game designers and developers must agonise and rack their brain over how to find the right balance between to please as many players as possible. This is more so for the development of simulation which seek to portray specific activities and aspects of life within the virtual world and therefore it is vital to find the balance of the level realism and gamification the game needs to possess.

Simulation games pose a tricky concept for some developers as the concept of the genre is to allow players to experience a specific or general activity from real life from Construction and management to Sports and Vehicle operations. For developers one of the difficulties is based on the decision between the focus on realism, and the simplified gamification of the elements of the activity being portrayed in the game that the player will experience.

On one hand they need to make gameplay representative of the task and activity that the game is based on, but at the same time need it to be a fun and challenging experience for players to generate popularity, keep players playing and make a profit.

For any game realism can be a double-edged sword offering great benefits and disadvantages to developers, especially for simulation games that seek to be highly realistic and representative of the activity being portrayed such as titles like Football Manager, Farming Simulator, and Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Realism can add to the experience through allowing players to have an enjoyable time whilst performing the intricate aspects and tasks involved in the activity that they would normally be unable to do in real life. With realism players are able to better immerse themselves in the game whilst providing them with a challenging and educational experience.

For example, the Farming Simulator franchise lets players do a great deal farming activities which lets them get an enjoyable and in-depth experience as a farmer as they can breed animals, operate farm equipment, grow crops etc.

However the high level of realism can also take away and complicate the overall gaming experience as not all of the process and features of an activity are fun or enjoyable which can impact the player’s experience and pace of gameplay.

Players often tend to play games for small periods and often want an enjoyable experience and tend to not want a slow or interrupted experience. A good example of this is the interview and press conferences in Football Manager 22 where you usually read and respond to questions multiple times within mere minutes and pull players away from the more enjoyable sections of the game like the strategic elements and matches.

For simulation games, gamification is a technique used to simplify and turn elements of the activity and factors relating to it into mechanics in order to make things easier and more enjoyable for players. This can allow for developers to better focus on the core experience of the game, portray information players in a simple manner and make the game more friendly to new users.

In games like Sim City and Football Manager icons, numbers and symbols are used to represent aspects such as the happiness of the populace or individuals rather regarding their decisions and allowing players to make decisions easier. Additionally the simplification of information and elements of concept the game represent makes it easier for developers as it saves development time

Though gamification is a useful way of helping developers simplify what would usually be long complicated processes into mechanics or information to make it much easier for players of varying skill level it can have negative impacts. For some the gamification of elements takes away from the experience of the activities the game is based on, while also potentially making the game too easy and not as fun due to the oversimplified elements of the activity.

Additionally some elements don’t turn out well if simplified too much and can make the game boring to players. Therefore developers need to be wary of the extent of the level of gamification they do when making a simulation game and though it depends on the intent of the game core concept of the game and the player based being targeted sometimes careful consideration so as not to impact the experience and enjoyment of players.

For a simulation game to appeal to the largest variety of players and to be as successful as possible, a suitable balance between realism and gamification is required. Though the combination of the two will always differ based on the key factors when developing the game from the intended target player base, scope or scale of the game, the resources available to the developers and the purpose of the game.

Additionally you need to consider the capabilities of the core players you are focusing on and the skill level they will likely possess as a difficult or too easy game can lead to a game to quickly its intended core player base and be unsuccessful. Usually a good deal of research and analysis would be helpful in determining a good idea to the balance of realism and gamification, yet over the course of development or even after release adjustments to the balance might be required in response to complications and player reactions.

Both realism utilised and the gamification process of real world activities being represented in a simulation game is something that is needed to be considered by all developers; there is no perfect formula only the best available outcome.

In my opinion for a simulation game to be challenging, educational and immersive a degree of high realism is needed when it comes to the key aspects of how gameplay represents the activity and the experience for the player. Whereas in the case you want to attract and cater to a last player base and reduce the difficulty curb new or not as skilful players experience then its ideal in gamifying aspects into simpler and less complex features in order to focus on the main aspect of gameplay.

Overall no matter the balance there will be people who will love or hate it and the best advice is to cater to its core intended player base and achieve the aim of the project the best you can to try and ensure success.

Author of the article: Christian Smith, Game Designer

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