Why My Video Game Has No Locked Content

Why My Video Game Has No Locked Content

There are no unlocks in Waves. None at all. If you buy the game then you get access to all five game modes right away. This won’t prevent most of you trying them all out in the order they appear in the menu but there is absolutely nothing stopping you from starting out with Bombing Run rather than Crunch Time.

This is for a reason and that reason is not “Too lazy to put in unlockable content”. The reason there are no unlocks is because the moment you have unlockable content gamers start to focus purely on unlocking the content rather than enjoying the game itself (See The Overjustification Effect).

Watch this. Therelevantbit is at around 3 minutes in.

I’m going to use an anecdote to support my position on unlocks (even though there is plenty of empirical evidence that supports this theory anecdotes are fun and morerelate-able)…

I recently started playing Space Marine multiplayer. It’s a lot of fun, when it isn’t lagging (which is sadly most of the time), but it has a few too many unlocks. Ever since I started playing, I have been playing as a pure Tactical Marine–Bolter and Frag grenades only. At first this was because I just love the Bolter (it’s an awesome feeling weapon to use) but, after a few hours, it was because I wanted to unlock the Kraken Bolts for it. Then once I had unlocked the Kraken Bolts I wanted to unlock the Targetter (Which I still haven’t it being bloody hard to do). I was refusing to let myself play with any other class or weapon combination, because I wanted to unlock one of the rewards (which I suspect once I had done I would use for two games and then try to unlock something else).

“In the majority of cases the unlocks exist to keep people playing a game they may not be enjoying.”

My quest to unlock everything for my Bolter was starting to affect how I enjoyed the game. It was no longer enough that I scored a kill or if my side won the game–if I hadn’t gotten at least one Bolter Kill Streak out of the game then in my eyes it was a failure. I was completely single-mindedly focussed on unlocking content to the point where I had stopped enjoying the game and was playing in a way that was completely selfish and detrimental to my teams overall effectiveness (if it wasn’t for the fact that everybody else was playing this way, I’d feel a bit more guilty about it). I’m now making myself play with whatever I want to or feel the situation demands rather than trying to unlock specific items one at a time. I may unlock the content eventually but I will do so in a much more organic manner over a longer period of time. Above all I’m having fun again.

Now I know that one of the reasons for having to unlock content is to ensure that the player has learnt how to use the pre-requisites sufficiently–-but in the majority of cases the unlocks exist to keep people playing a game they may not be enjoying because they have sunk a lot of time into it and would feel horrible if they just abandoned it. Unlockables are more often completely cynical methods of trying to extend playtime (and, coming from AAA console development, I have been in the meetings where the solution to a game being 4 hours too short is to add some hidden objects that unlock concept art so I know it happens). In some instances the addition of unlockable content can completely undermine the entertainment to be gained from just playing the game.

More stories from the Squid in a Box blog

My First Press Release “Shooter fans deserve more.”

The Highscore Videos ” This demo run of 7,742,184 by mr DjParagon is so far the highest score I’ve heard of and beats my personal best by about 2million.”

Waves is about enjoying the game itself. It rewards good players with increasing difficulty rather than decreasing (which is often what unlocking powerups achieves) — the better you get at the game the harder the game will be in response. It’s designed to keep you in a sweet spot where your abilities are being pushed just enough to keep you from being bored but not so much as to make you frustrated (See Flow) — the score is only there so you have feedback on how well you’re doing (and also so you can gloat to your friends).

Waves can never be completed but it can be exhausted. It is not possible to “100%” the game but it is possible to reach a point where you feel that either you aren’t going to get any better at it or that you would rather spend the time doing something else. I don’t mind if you get bored of Waves and stop playing as it is in fact inevitable that you will. I just hope that while you are playing it that you’re enjoying it for the experience of playing, learning and improving rather than because youperseveredlong enough to unlock everything in it.

Rob Hale used to make AAA video games on consoles for 10 years. Then he decided sod that quit his job and started making indie games for PC instead. His first Indie release is due out soon and hopefully he’ll make enough money to be able to eat again. Waves is due out November 16th from Steam, GamersGate, and SquidInaBox for 10 of your American Dollars. It has no Unlocks. You can download a demo.


  • One of the other things unlocks do is encourage players to vary up their playstyle. Instead of picking their favourite weapon and then deciding they’re not willing to make the effort to learn the others (which totally happens), unlocks encourage players to take out the thing they just earned for a spin.

    Certainly, not every game benefits from unlocks, and there are many ways to give a game a little bit of structure (Geometry Wars on XBLA used achievements to firm up its structure) but unlocks, like everything else, need to be used only when appropriate.

  • I’ve always liked games with unlocks. I have to play in different ways, am given more replay value, and it’s a lot better than releasing extra content via DLC.

  • Good points. Unlocks in themselves aren’t bad, but shouldn’t get in the way of letting the player play how they want.

    In space marine, for example, you should just get the unlocks through “Levelling up” as it were. That way you can use your play the game however you want, while still working towards the next unlock. Having to get x amount of killstreaks is ridiculous.

    Get a player to invest time in a game is the key to keeping them in it, but if it gets too tough early on, few people will be bothered to invest time in the first place.

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