The numbers games
World Of Warcraft has been at it for donkey’s years, of course, and is an RPG. As such, it’s no surprise that its latest expansion, Legion (p120), continues along a road laid down over a decade ago when the seminal MMOG conquered the world. Nor are we surprised to find Blizzard’s stablemate, Bungie, ploughing the same furrow with the fourth expansion to Destiny, Rise Of Iron (p114). These are games with power curves defined by loot, and with that comes a natural requirement for numbers to be everywhere.
Yet it needn’t always be like this. Forza Horizon 3 (p106) is the most accessible racing game in an age, a flexible, friendly entry in a genre that typically appeals to the savvy petrolhead above all else. Yet it, too, is obsessed with numbers – and not just in terms of lap times. Cross the finish line in a race and you watch as three separate counters tick upwards, while out on the road a skill system doles out a torrent of stats. Is the shot of dopamine you get from perfectly guiding a Ferrari round a sweeping coastal bend no longer enough?
Ultimately it feels like a matter of engagement. Tangibly measurable progress means we are more likely to come back for more. WOW depends on subscriptions; Destiny on a healthy playerbase. Forza’s case is harder to understand. Perhaps it’s just designed to be another way to reward the player in a game that goes above and beyond in its desire to make you happy. So long as games keep getting that part right, they can make us do all the maths they like.
Remember when we used to play games because we liked them? When stat sheets and number-crunching were the domain of CRPGs and complex simulators? There is an innate pleasure in watching numbers rack up, admittedly, but we’re beginning to wonder whether videogames’ obsession with the numerical is beginning to get out of hand.