It’s a question that has plagued game designers since time immemorial. How difficult should a video game be? Oftentimes, designers must perform a delicate balancing act in order to answer this question. The game should be difficult enough to represent a real challenge so that completion is a rewarding experience and so that players don’t get bored.
At the same time, the game should remain accessible to anyone who wants to play it, without being too frustrating. On top of this, developers often must factor in the desires of the most dedicated fans, who will typically be more demanding when it comes to high-difficulty gameplay. Let’s take a closer look at how the most successful PS4, Xbox, and PC games and developers have managed to perform the balancing act with aplomb.
The secret sauce
So, what does the right amount of difficulty look like? As this breakdown of the world’s most popular games explains, it’s all about the process. The best games have what they describe as an “optimized learning curve”, where players can learn the dynamics of a game and then face progressively more difficult challenges as they develop their skills.
This has the added benefit of making a game more immersive since it encourages the player to stick at it and go the extra mile to understand the in-game world they have entered. In a nutshell, good games should always take a dynamic, evolving approach to difficulty.
Trading on difficulty
Of course, some games prefer to go all-in and make their titles as challenging as possible from the get-go. Sometimes, this strategy pays off. Just look at the developer FromSoftware, which has once again enjoyed global success thanks to the release of the smash-hit RPG Elden Ring. FromSoftware is known for creating very difficult games, with the likes of Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and the notoriously difficult Metal Wolf Chaos all coming from this studio. As a result, it has attracted a dedicated audience of hardcore gamers who are determined to rise to every challenge that the designers throw at them.
Keeping it light
On the other side of the coin are those game studios that have found success by offering light, easy games that still offer difficulty to players that are actively looking to be challenged. The case in point here is, of course, Nintendo, one of the most successful developers in history. Key to their success is their tendency to create breezy, soothing, and simple-mechanic titles that give you the option to kick things up a notch if you really wish to. This is certainly the case with their most successful titles, such as The Legend of Zelda, and Stardew Valley, which have sold millions of units by appealing to casual gamers and hardcore fans on two different levels.
So, what kind of gamer are you? Are you a gamer that is constantly looking for a challenge, or do you prefer your video games to be a form of lighthearted escapism? Sometimes we want both of these things, which is why the most successful games in history are those that have managed to offer exactly that.