As the game industry becomes bigger, so do the games. The introduction of massive live-service multiplayer games has had a seemingly insurmountable impact on the video game landscape. Truly enormous games like Fortnite, Destiny 2, and PUBG promise a constantly evolving experience, adding new elements on an ongoing basis.
Consider Fortnite’s battle pass, which includes daily and weekly challenges that encourage you to return each day for experience points and other in-game rewards. From in-game ads and frequent DLC releases to battle passes and microtransactions, games demand more of players’ attention and free time than ever before.
Single-player games feel few and far between. The video game world seems to be slowly but surely leaving smaller games behind—is there any hope for the non-intrusive game? You know, those games that aren’t trying to push anything on their players, games not made to last for months or years on end. It’s not just huge-scale video games that are guilty of being intrusive, as even small mobile games copy the same intrusive tactics.
Where have the non-intrusive video games gone?
If one of 2022’s biggest games has anything to say about it, there’s still hope for non-intrusive video games. Wordle, everyone’s favorite word puzzle game, gives players six chances to guess one five-letter word per day. It demands just a few minutes of your day, and nothing more. It makes no effort to make you keep playing after the credits roll.
Do games like Wordle show there’s still commercial interest for games that you can easily dip in and out of? We checked in with an array of indie developers leading a return to less intrusive, less demanding games.
Investigating non-intrusive DLC
When it comes to these creators making genuinely non-intrusive games, there are often pressures to fall in line with larger industry trends and bring in things like downloadable content and microtransactions, though everyone we spoke to was united in never wanting or considering microtransactions in their own games.
Questions about DLC however, brought out different answers from different developers. Both Untitled Goose Game and Rain on Your Parade have DLC, one free, and the other paid.
In Unbound Creations’ Rain on Your Parade, players take the form of a cloud, wreaking havoc on the world via rain, thunder, and so much more.
According to Unbound’s founder Jakub Kasztalski, he wanted to make “something colorful and silly and dumb.”
“I made some early prototypes and it immediately felt great and hilarious, so I kept going,” he explained. Being a cloud in Rain on Your Parade is a delight, and causing absolute mayhem as a papercraft customizable cloud is a genuine pleasure. The game is deliciously absurd, playing with all sorts of genre conventions including stealth and first-person shooters, reminiscent of the old WarioWare games.
Kasztalski has added paid downloadable content to Rain on Your Parade, but his goal isn’t to nickel-and-dime players with it. Kasztalski’s content is a considerable addition that adds a lot of new content to the game, and the pricetag helps support the cost of development.
He explained “Having the game on GamePass was also a big catalyst for making the DLC. After all, we already had a huge install base, so my priority switched from ‘how do we get people to buy our game?’ to ‘how can we leverage the community we already have?’ So that’s what we ended up focusing on with the DLC, trying to deliver a fun and meaty package full of various goodies.”
It makes perfect sense to add new levels and explorations to a game like Rain on Your Parade, which has a format that invites further exploration.
By contrast House House, the Melbourne, Australia-based creators of Untitled Goose Game, were trying to solve different problems when creating additional downloadable content for their honking smash hit. Developer Jake Strasser explained that the game’s free two-player mode could never have been sold as paid DLC. “We never even considered making it paid,” he said. “It could only have resulted in fewer people playing the two-player mode.”
Tim Dawson, co-creator of the award-winning Unpacking, explained that the team at Witch Beam aren’t considering any downloadable content even if it could help drive revenue for the Brisbane-based indie studio. “Something I was really happy with was how we managed to structure the game,” said Dawson. “We managed to ship the game how we wanted to, which is kind of a miracle. Not having to cut anything significant and release what we wanted to do was really significant.”
He continued with a bit more philosophical context. “I believe very strongly that games should be respectful of your time, and there are lots of ways to make a game not respectful of your time. Unpacking is very honest with its propositions – here’s this game you’re going to play.”
Wren Brier, Dawson’s fellow co-creator, added that she feels “very strongly” that standalone game titles should still exit. “It’s how I like to play games, knowing that they end, and that’s it,” she explained. “I hope that Unpacking’s success proves that you can do that.”
“There is a lot of pressure to add to it,” she added. “we constantly get the question from fans to add more. We definitely could cash in on this, and probably make more money. I feel very strongly that Unpacking is a finished game and it does not need more content.”
The pair seemed fascinated by Wordle‘s success, even in a world ruled by microtransaction-based service games. “Wordle is really interesting because you play it once a day and you’re done with it. There’s no upsell,” Dawson noted.
Brier added that she ” [doesn’t] think there’s anything wrong with a game you keep coming back to,” but she’s “troubled” by the fact that ” it feels like other kinds of games are being crowded out of the market, due to this very wide embrace of platforms and major companies using this kind of model.”
Can indie devs keep thriving in a world of non-intrusive design? All the developers we spoke with thought so. Kasztalski gave an optimistic, but cautious evaluation of the future.
“I grew up with games before the internet, back when microtransactions and in-game ads were a pipe dream, so I’m biased against them. I like paying a fixed amount of money and getting the full experience. I don’t want to buy my games bit-by-bit, nor do I like taking ad breaks or time-gating my experience,” he said.
“That being said, I know this is not where the market has been going, and ‘freemium’ games tend to monetize better than premium ones to an almost ridiculous degree. I don’t think premium games will ever go away, but I do worry the market may shrink over time.”