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How Many Endings Does a Game Need? (22 Dec 2004)
Some time back a company hired me to consult on the design of a large shooter game that was planned to have several different endings. On reading the design document, I discovered that they were all uniformly grim. I told the designers that commercial shooters are not Kafka novels and that players who had made it through to the end of such a game will feel entitled to at least one moderately positive ending. They took my point.

Artistically, my position was wrong: designers should certainly create the videogame equivalent of Kafka novels if they want to. But commercially, I think it's sound. This company had asked me for my opinion about a commercial game, and it's my opinion that the game-buying public is not yet ready to spend $50 on a triple-A shooter in which every possible ending is a downer. Winning and losing is a matter of definition, but a bad ending feels like a loss, and a happy ending feels like a victory. Over the years we have trained our players to assume that they will eventually win a long game sometime, though they may have to try repeatedly to do so. The longer a game lasts, and the more a player has invested in it, the less likely she'll be to tolerate an unhappy ending, as I told my clients. Adventure games or mysteries might get away with it, but if a game about survival doesn't end with the player surviving, she's going to be annoyed.
Article URL: http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20041222/adams_01.shtml

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