The level to which a game provides new challenges, learning opportunities, or experiences when played again.
Many games are designed to be played many times. In order for these to be interesting, the game must offer new challenges to players or give players new experiences that are perceived as entertaining enough to merit continued playing. The degree to which a game provides these incentives determines its level of Replayability.
Chess and Go have so many possible outcomes that players have very little chance of ever playing two games which are exactly the same. This means that every game session will have new challenges in which players can test their skills.
Space Alert can be played many times due to having several different missions and randomizing enemies and challenges. Torchlight and the Diablo series does it through letting players use different classes, in the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series this is instead achieved through letting players personalize their characters through choices of abilities and skills. Players who have completed the levels of Portal can still find challenges in these by trying the challenge and advanced modes available.
Multiplayer First-Person Shooters such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, the Team Fortress series, and the Battlefield series allow players to choose a character class to play. This gives them special abilities, which means that beyond the normal differences in gameplay due to varieties in players and levels, players also have different possibilities of what to do and have different roles in their teams.
The Left 4 Dead series provides certain Replayability by allowing players to take on different roles through having different weapons than the other players. They provide more Replayability through letting players team up against other player groups where the two available sides have radically different gameplay (and the infected team have very different abilities within the team).
Using the pattern
An Uncertainty of Outcome is a basic prerequisite for Replayability but some general approaches to how Replayability can be achieved exist: letting the challenges players met differ between game instances, allowing the challenges be solved in several different ways, or letting players compare results between different game instance through Trans-Game Information. Besides these strategies, Save-Load Cycles and Reversability provide local Replayability within games and allow players to do Experimenting, but they have little effect, or negative effect, on Replayability of the game as a whole.
Games that provide a huge potential game state space seldom offer players exactly the same challenges and thereby provide one form of Replayability. Another is to use Randomness. All but the most trivial uses of Randomness make gameplay challenges different, but this can become more explicit when it is used to create different Ephemeral Goals, Quests, Levels, or Game Worlds for every game instance (as for example is done in NetHack and Minecraft). A slightly more limited version is to use Asymmetric Starting Conditions or Asymmetric Goals (as for example Memoir '44 or team versus team matches in the Left 4 Dead series), but this can be use together with other solutions to multiply the variety of challenged encountered. Open Destinies guarantee that different end states can exist, but how much this creates Replayability depend heavily on how early these start diverting and how much they influence gameplay; Internal Conflicts and Freedom of Choice work similarly but guarantee the presence of choices rather than end states. Dedicated Game Facilitators that are aware of players who have played the game before can change the setup of the particular game instances to provide new challenges. This can for example be achieved through Reconfigurable Game Worlds (quite often through Tile-Laying); although games with Player Constructed Worlds can allow the players to reconfigure their Game Worlds without the presence of Dedicated Game Facilitators (Settlers of Catan provides an example of this).
While varying the challenges in the ways mentioned above given Varied Gameplay, this can also be achieved through letting players have different ways of trying to meet the challenges. Asymmetric Abilities - and especially those providing Orthogonal Differentiation between game entities - are an easy way to support this but letting players complete the game or parts of the game in different ways can be done through providing them with Selectable Sets of Goals. While this is typically done by providing players with different sets of actions but which are performed in the same medium, Player-Avatar Proximity shows how Replayability can be achieved through offering players the opportunity through physical enacting gameplay actions or doing so through avatars. Optional Goals and Sidequests can provide some varieties as well since players can try to try and complete different set of them, or all or none of them, compared to earlier game instances. Easter Eggs can offer the same type of options for players, as long as they are aware of them (e.g. through linking Achievements to them). Functional Roles in Multiplayer Games lets players try to solve different types of subchallenges to the overall challenges and therefore can provide Replayability as long as players are willing to change roles between game instances or game sessions.
Replayability is often acquired through Meta Games by supporting players with Trans-Game Information to measure their level of successes with previous game instances, which can be their own or other players. For games that require player skill, Replayability becomes automatic as players strive to achieve, test, and show Game Mastery. Similarly, games where players can make use of Strategic Knowledge have a certain level of Replayability, as players can develop this knowledge between game sessions to improve their gameplay (this assumes the co-presences of either Exaggerated Perception of Influence or Further Player Improvement Potential since perfect Strategic Knowledge makes replaying a game pointless). While this can make players engage in Strategic Planning, the level with which Strategic Planning can be done before games can also modulate the Replayability. Scores and High Score Lists can be used as a measure of Game Mastery in both Single-Player and Multiplayer Games, and allow the players to have a measure of their Game Mastery. Speedruns, formalized to be measured by the game system (as Portal's or Cogs time challenges do) or improvised by players, can perform the same function. Tournaments, with the exception of Polyathlons, also allow for a similar type of Replayability as a game is typically played several times to create the outcome of the Tournaments. Near Miss Indicators can show players how close they were to succeeding, encouraging them to try again and possibility also increasing their chances of succeeding by the information the provide.
Achievements can explicitly encouraged Replayability already present through other patterns, for example to make players make use of different Abilities or choosing different goals from Selectable Set of Goals (especially if they are Excluding Goals); Testing Achievements are in particular worth mentioning here since they can encourage players to first test different ways of playing before committing to them.
Unwinnable Games and those with Permadeath do not in themselves provide Replayability but they are often designed to function as such (e.g. through having High Score Lists), so this type of game may be considered if Replayability is a high level design goal.
Games that are challenging or provide experiences based upon the lack of knowledge of players, i.e. Imperfect Information, are difficult to combine with Replayability if the information is not changed between the game instances. This is due to the Trans-Game Information players acquire when Memorizing of what happens in the game which can be used in later game instances. This information can affect Replayability in many ways: Surprises in Predetermined Story Structures will no longer be Surprises, Tension will be less effective when players experience the same situations again, Puzzle Solving will become trivial if it is not changed between game instances, Unknown Goals will be known in later game instances, and Game World Exploration will be pointless since the environment is already known to the players. An exception to this is Conceal goals in Multiplayer Games, as the challenges in these are to find new hiding places.
Replayability in a game offers players the possibility of enjoying a game beyond a single game session, and often does this through offering Varied Gameplay between game sessions. When this is due to player being able to contemplate different ways of playing, this leads to Stimulated and Strategic Planning.
Although developing Strategic Knowledge can be part of why a game has Replayability, having complete Strategic Knowledge can work against the pattern instead. Examples of how can happen is fully understanding Algorithmic Agents without Open Destiny or being able to Memorize all choices that are supposed to require Puzzle Solving (this last example can be avoided through the use of Randomness).
Since Tension in most cases builds upon not knowing what will happen it can be difficult to combine this pattern with Replayability. This is also a reason why the value of Predetermined Story Structures may lessen with games that support Replayability unless many different Predetermined Story Structures exist or the structures support different outcomes.
Can Be Instantiated By
Achievements, Asymmetric Abilities, Asymmetric Goals, Asymmetric Starting Conditions, Dedicated Game Facilitators, Easter Eggs, Freedom of Choice, Game Mastery, High Score Lists, Internal Conflicts, Meta Games, Near Miss Indicators, Open Destiny, Optional Goals, Orthogonal Differentiation, Permadeath, Player-Avatar Proximity, Randomness, Reconfigurable Game Worlds, Reversability, Save-Load Cycles, Scores, Selectable Sets of Goals, Sidequests, Speedruns, Testing Achievements, Tournaments, Uncertainty of Outcome, Unwinnable Games
Can Be Modulated By
Possible Closure Effects
Potentially Conflicting With
A rewrite of the pattern Replayability that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design.
- Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.