I’m a gamer. I define that as “a guy who plays games for fun”. Some might define it as “I play video games for a living”, or “video games are my hobby” or “I simulate wars with little action figures and dice” or “my life is meaningless without video games” or even “I spend all my welfare check on slot machines”. It’s a very fluid term. For me, games are something I play in my few bits of free time, just one option among many ways to spend my time. There are a lot of different reasons to play, though.
Sometimes I want to be intellectually challenged. This is when I’ll play a Professor Layton game, Brain Age, Portal, Cogs or Safecracker… something in that vein. I enjoy a mental workout and the joy that comes with figuring something out.
Sometimes I merely want to be entertained. This is when I’ll play LEGO Batman with my kids, Arkham Asylum/City, Audiosurf, Rock of Ages, A World of Keflings, or World of Goo (or maybe an Uncharted if I had a PS3).
Sometimes I just want to mindlessly plow through bad guys and collect loot. This is when I’ll play Torchlight, a DIKU MMO, Kingdom Hearts or even a JRPG like Chrono Trigger or a Final Fantasy. (The bulk of which really does tend to be “grinding” and killing tons of baddies for cash and experience.)
Sometimes I want to explore and take screenshots. I love WoW for this, but Allods Online, LOTRO, RIFT, Portal 2 and many others are great, too. (This is one big problem I have with console gaming; I can’t take screenshots. Yes, it’s possible, I just don’t have the tech.)
Sometimes I want to smash digital stuff. This is when I’ll play Burnout Revenge or Boom Blox, TMNT 2: Turtles in Time or Super Dodgeball… or maybe fire up a fighting game like Soul Calibur, Super Smash Brothers or Marvel vs. Capcom 2, or even River City Ransom as a weird sort of hybrid game.
Sometimes I want grand adventure, and only a journey to Hyrule can scratch the itch.
Sometimes I want a great story with simple game elements, so I’ll dig into something quirky like Ghost Trick (a fantastic little game with a very well-wrought story) or a Phoenix Wright game, or fire up an old Sierra or LucasArts adventure game (currently playing through The Dig, then the Indiana Jones games).
Sometimes I really want to get creative and tinker, so The Incredible Machine or Minecraft are the best.
Sometimes I want a good card game, so I’ll play Magic the Gathering, the WoW TCG, Rook, Rage, SET, the Monopoly card game or even UNO.
Sometimes a board game is best, so I’ll play Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, Chess, Mancala, or my new favorite, Blokus.
…and with all of these, there are at least dozens of other games that easily come to mind, but I’m trying to keep it somewhat concise.
There is some overlap, to be sure. The Portal games are both mentally interesting and entertaining. JRPGs sometimes have great stories too. RockSteady’s Batman games are great for exploration, story and fun brawler combat. Blokus is great for flexing puzzle thinking and having fun with my kids.
Still, even with this wide variety, sometimes I just want to play something I’ve played before, that I know I’m good at. This is the “fuzzy slippers gaming” from the title. It’s like that old dog-eared worn out copy of I, Jedi that I read every few years because it’s one of my favorite books. Sometimes, I just want a familiar game to go play for a while, maybe because it’s about revisiting old, cherished memories that are tied to the game. Maybe it’s because I won’t have to think too much. Maybe it’s because I want to share the game with my kids. There’s something valuable about a game that is worth playing again and again.
So, that Star Wars invocation isn’t an accident. What of Star Wars: The Old Republic and the familiarity that it’s perhaps trying to invoke? As Brian Green and others have noted, it’s largely “more of the same”, and can fill that niche of “familiar” for a lot of players. I think there’s value in that, to be sure. Not enough for me to pay anything more than $10 for an always-online game, and certainly not enough for me to pay a subscription for. Also, there’s a distinction between gameplay and the game itself. I’d happily accept a new Miles Edgeworth or Phoenix Wright game because of how they play; that scratches the “familiar” itch while still providing a new story to enjoy. Ditto for a new Professor Layton. Still… I’d get them on sale, simply because if I just wanted the nostalgia, I’d play the older game I already own for free.
Of course, sometimes there are other motivations. I’d buy an English release of Seiken Densetsu 3 because I loved Secret of Mana and want to tell Square that SD3 is a worthy successor. I’d buy a new Chrono game because they dropped the ball by stopping with Chrono Cross and Chrono Trigger is incredible. (It was the first game I wanted to make a direct sequel to, and even wrote up some design documents for it.) Sometimes I do want to tell companies that their trendlines are good and to keep up the good work, though with a side order of “keep this trend, but keep experimenting around the edges”. That can be a hard message to send sometimes.
All in all, though, I value innovation and new experiences. That’s why I play a lot of different games instead of welding myself to a monogamous MMO. (Even beside the annoyance I have with the subscription model.) There’s value in familiarity, but if I have to keep paying for it, well… that’s usually something I’m not interested in doing. Tangentially, this is a great article on Frozen Synapse and their business model; my favorite “single pay” model.
Ultimately, I have other games to scratch that itch for familiar gaming, so I’m not going to buy into a new game that does the same old things but asks a premium for it.
This is also why I strongly resist games that require me to be online to play. I don’t trust that they will always be available, or that I’ll always have a usable internet connection. If the idea is to make me want to go back to play the game, I need to be able to do that on a whim. Similarly, this is why portable games are so great; the low overhead of the DS version of Chrono Trigger means I’ll play it more than my old SNES version or PS1 version, and I played those a lot. The easier it is to just get in and play, the better, if you’re trying to get me to put your game in that “familiarity” slot. Otherwise, I’m going elsewhere.
As for why this is important when I’m not a continuing stream of obvious revenue via a sub, well, I do occasionally buy DLC, and I do talk about and cheerlead for games that I love. I strongly recommend Chrono Trigger, Minecraft, Frozen Synapse, X-Com, Professor Layton, Recettear, Ghost Trick, World of Goo, Cogs and a whole bunch of other great games. Other people have purchased games I’ve recommended. I’ve purchased games other people recommend. If I didn’t have that positive experience with the games, then that free advertising goes away. Maybe it’s hard to quantify that, but there’s value there, and trying to mine it with RealID shenanigans or subs will make it evaporate instantly.
The last thing I want when I go for familiar gaming, my mental Fuzzy Slippers of Comfort +5, is to be hit up for money or a need to login to a server.