Rage of Bahamut: A New Paradigm in Game “Rewards”
I’ve been playing Rage of Bahamut for about a week now and the more I play it, the more I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s the perfect game for the modern day. Well, more specifically, it is the tip of the iceberg on a trend that I see being the future of games for the majority of people.
The best way for me to explain my reasoning for this is through a single word: reward. Just for sanity sake, I decided to look up the word reward to make sure I wasn’t just crazy. I got the following:
1. a sum of money offered for the detection or capture of a criminal, the recovery of lost or stolen property, etc.
2. something given or received in return or recompense for service, merit, hardship, etc.
While I know languages are living things and dictionaries are often out of date, these definitions, especially the second one, resonate with how I think of the word reward.
I’ve played many games in my life and I think reward has always been a very important part of the experience. Even when the rewards are trivial, they were core to the experience. It could be as simple as a higher score or access to another level, but it was always there. It could even just be the knowledge that I won.
The key to it being a reward, though, was as definition 2 states “return or recompense for service, merit, hardships, etc.” The way I think about it personally, I got a reward for some work or skill that I performed. So when I’m playing Final Fantasy, I won a battle and therefore got a reward of XP and items. Or when I played Super Metroid, I overcame some kind of traversal challenge to get my extra missile pack.
The clever thing about the more sophisticated games I played was that there was a loop. Some would call it a gameplay loop or a reward loop. Essentially, I would perform some act, which would get me a reward, which would enable me to perform a harder act and so on and so forth.
As the years went by, though, the balance between the work and the reward has continued to shift. It started with increasing rewards. Take Pong for an example. You played the game and the reward at the end was the knowledge that you had won. Fast forward to Zelda where there the reward was a new gameplay item, an animation, and a sound effect. Then onto Metal Gear Solid where you get new weapons and an epic cutscene and storyline.
Then there was the era of lessening the work. Start with Final Fantasy where a battle is not much more than mashing a button. Take it further to Farmville where all you have to do is go away and then click.
So let’s come back to Rage of Bahamut. If Rage of Bahamut was a conventional game, it’d be a pretty obvious structure. You would fight battles with your cards, and when you won, you would earn more cards that you could use to fight more battles. You could still evolve and enhance your cards and all that jazz, but the key is that you’d be forced into a work-reward loop.
Take very close notice to each piece. The work part of the game is battle and battle setup. There are decisions and choices to be made by the player. The reward part is getting a treasure chest and finding out what new card you got. Then you’d be back into work part of the loop.
This is where Rage of Bahamut changes the game. They remove work as a precursor to reward. It’s not even reward anymore, but it still feels like it. The card accumulation part of Rage of Bahamut 100% reward. It requires absolutely no work at all. There is not a single decision required of the player to earn cards. You could argue that tapping the screen is work, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s purely interface.
Once you’ve played the reward part of the game sufficiently, you are given the option to perform some work. You can decide which cards you want to evolve or enhance. You can decide which quests you want to go back and replay. You can choose where to allocate your stat points. However, the most important thing is that you don’t have to. Working is optional. Reward is mandatory.
I’ll lead with this video on why this makes me believe this is the perfect game for the modern day.
While I’m not nearly as cynical as Branford, I do believe that a growing sense of entitlement is a real trend in modern society and I definitely don’t think games are immune to it. If you don’t make the game that requires no work to get rewards, someone else will and they will get their money.
And while it may sound all doom and gloom, it isn’t at all. In the exact same way that freemium has come along, it’s just another thing to think about. In fact, it’s almost completely parallel. I used to come from a world where you put payment before play. Everyone wants to play, but not everyone wants to pay. So someone turned it around. Now, you can play and payment is optional. We as game designers need to start thinking this way. Paying is optional, how do we invite them to do so. In the same way, I think in the future of games, work will be optional, but we should invite players to do so.
I don’t think Rage of Bahamut is a fluke or a genre that will live in isolation. I think it is the beginning of an absolutely massive trend that will spread throughout our industry. And just as I don’t think payment-optional games will completely replace payment-required games, I don’t think work-optional games will completely replace work-required games. But they are going to be taking much more of the money than they are now.