First in a series of articles, we’ll explore popular game genres from the past decade, and study what makes the gameplay experience just so riveting. As more businesses are understanding the importance of gamification and making their own web games, be it in marketing or otherwise, it helps to know what gameplay loops are trendy and how those loops can enhance your messages.

Dungeon crawling, treasure seeking, monster slaying — sounds like your typical Dungeons and Dragons session. However, rather than talking about a tabletop RPG, we’ll be taking a closer look at its simpler, quick and easy descendant that has exploded into the video gaming world within the past decade. Grab your gear and get ready for adventure, because we’ll be talking about Roguelikes today.

What Makes Roguelites so rewarding?

Several reasons for the success of this genre can be boiled down to a very refined gameplay loop. Players like a challenge, but they also like progression. The roguelike/roguelite genre does this very well.

What makes the genre excel so well with audiences can be summarised into a few gamification principles:

  • Easy-to-access concept, but with a pretty high skill ceiling
  • Agency and choice; players love the ability to build their character
  • Charting progress; players need to be able to feel that they’ve gotten better
  • Familiarity with a twist; players are able to feel freshness to something they’re already very comfortable with
  • Easy commitment; unlike most multiplayer online RPGs out there, roguelikes are very simple to jump in and out of
What are Roguelikes?

A brief history of the genre. Early in 1980, we saw the birth of the first roguelike genre with a game called Rogue. It was an ASCII based game that was all about dungeon exploring, killing monsters, finding power weapons and potions to kill more monsters, with the ultimate goal of finding the Amulet of Yendor.

Clobbering hobglobins since the 1980s

However, there was a catch: if your character died, that was it. You’d have to start all over again. No save files whatsoever. You’d lose all the cool weapons you found. You’re left at ground zero.

Frustrating as that may seem, the idea of permadeath became one of the key features of the roguelike genre.

Some of the other key features of the genre may include:

  • Randomly generated levels
  • Multiple modes of playing the game and solving the problems of the game
  • Limited in-game resources
  • Hack-and-slash gameplay
  • Map exploration
  • Secret items that have unexplained purposes (and I’ll explain this one in a lot more detail later)

Early concepts of the roguelike genre (as with many games of its time) had a simple gameplay loop: you have one life, you play the game, and you try your best to reach the end-goal. If you fail, try again. There wasn’t a high-score like Pac Man, nor was their continuity like most other RPGs. You simply took a run at it, and hoped to succeed.

From Roguelike to Roguelite

So where do we find ourselves today? In short, the gameplay loop of the roguelike genre has sharpened and intensified into something of a cult classic.

We’ve seen roguelike games such as The Binding of Isaac, Dead Cells, Hades take the dungeon crawling experience to a whole new level by reconceptualising what permadeath means in a game. These games are self-aware that players are going to die over and over and over again. Instead of letting death be the final stop of the gameplay loop, it instead allows some degree of ‘upgrade’ between runs.

Dubbed ‘roguelites’, this evolved version of the roguelike genre gives players incentives for continuing new runs in the game, despite the fact that there is a certain amount of repetitiveness. Players usually collect some form of in-game currency that allows them to either unlock new gameplay modes, minor upgrades to make their future runs easier, or allow them to explore hidden areas within the game.

In Hades, no playthrough of the game is exactly the same

Part of the gameplay loop also involves having heavy amounts of player choice, as well as a multitude of permutations and combinations of play. For example, in Hades, at each power-up juncture, you’re given 3 choices of which you can only pick 1. It was so refreshing to be able to run the same challenges but with different power-ups each time. Not only did it pose a mechanical challenge, but it was also visually exciting! And most of all, because I had to make a choice of what power I wanted, and thus forsaking the other 2, it made me want to play again so that I could have the opportunity to try the other powers.

The level design of most roguelites are often challenging as well, with increasing difficulty the deeper you get into the game. And this difficulty is a deliberate choice. The idea is that with each playthrough, the player becomes more familiar with the mechanics of the game and are able to learn from their mistakes of previous runs.

Try It Yourself

Just as I’m writing this, game developer Valve launched a new roguelite gamemode in their massively popular title Dota 2 called Aghanim’s Labyrinth

It takes the familiarity of the world of Dota 2 as well as its gameplay, but adds a dungeon-crawling twist to it. It’s free to play, and you can try it yourself so that you can understand just how the entire roguelite genre is.

Building Games for Businesses

One of the major takeaways from the roguelite genre that we can learn from is that just because a gameplay loop looks simple, it doesn’t make it a short experience. In fact, if done right, it can enforce a sense of ownership and connectedness.

As businesses move into building games, we can ask the question: can a simple game allow a user to spend more time with my brand? The answer seems to be yes. While most businesses would never look into investing into developing some of the popular titles that I’ve listed out, even simpler games can learn how to employ positive feedback loops that incentivize users to come back for more.

Through our research and experience, we’ve seen that users are more likely to give information such as emails or contact numbers after engaging in a fun, interactive experience. Lead conversation is often a primary objective of marketing efforts, and getting a quality lead can be difficult. However, brands can leverage gamification to provide positive brand association.

For an example of how we’ve done this, you can check out some of our projects such as the McDonald’s Deal Run campaign, where it takes an arcade-style game and gives incentives to players to interact more with the brand.

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