Five Genres With an Entry Barrier

Some time ago (last year to be exact, yikes!) one of the monthly questions required that I conjure up my own personal selection of best game for a non-gamer. Most of us probably have go to games for such an occasion, those times when not-so-gamery friends are around, or the family is visiting, or you just need something to cater for a wide variety of tastes and players. My wife and I … well, it’s usually more my wife than me… often proposes a few rounds of Overcooked; simple controls and a concept everyone can get on board with wrapped up in cartoon chaos generally seems to go down well and get everyone at least involved if not entirely at head-chef standard.

… this isn’t about those games… 

At the other end of the rainbow are those games that we would never consider handing to a non-gamer, they reside in those genres that just don’t make for easy to pick up gaming. For various reasons I began to think about these games the other day, so for no other reason than it’s on my mind, here are my “top 5 genres that have a high entry barrier for new players and aren’t suitable for easy casual non-gamery times, or those times that you want something causal and easy going that everyone can enjoy” – catchy title huh?

5. Point-n-Click

JURASSIC PARK002
Check out my thoughts on the Jurassic Park Sega CD game if you want to see a really obscure PnC 

Point-n-click adventures are some of my favourite games. There’s a kind of tranquillity in gradually uncovering a story, exploring where you want in the scenes of this world, and solving puzzles to progress your character. Of course it also carried with it a very special brand of frustrating gameplay characterised by some of the most obtuse puzzle solving imaginable at times and a certain set of rules that nobody has explained to you. Only point-n-click aficionados walk in to a room and systematically work from left to right clicking on everything that looks even vaguely interactive (paying special attention to that one thing that MUST be clickable but doesn’t seem to do anything so you carefully try clicking on every possible pixel just in case). Manage to find an object and it’s now mandatory to try rubbing it against everything and everyone in sight regardless of how illogical that seems.

All that is without the in game dialogue where experience has taught you to not only attempt every single branch on the dialogue tree, but also to make sure that you speak to every character in every possible location and every possible secondary detail in place (have you spoken to the bartender? try it again when the man at the far side of the room is standing up, or when he’s cleaning a glass).

Yes, undoubtedly these games can be great fun, but to the uninitiated they carry an unseen rulebook gained from years of fruitless clicking followed by frustrated and guilty looking at walkthroughs.

4. Pinball Machines

Addams_family_pinball
… I’m no wizard, but this is by far my favourite pinball machine. (Stéfan Le Dû CC-BY-SA-2.5)

Fine! you got me, they aren’t exactly a “videogame” (but it’s my blog dammit and I’ll write what I like). Pinball machines are fascinating pieces of kit; the satisfying weight of the ball, the mechanical thunks and clicks of bumpers, the excellent themes , the chaos of the multiball, and the elaborate rails, spirals and paths, all add up to make a unique game experience.

They’re also buried in their own mythology and terminology which in turn is often buried in a busy arcade or bar where it’s difficult to follow what’s going on. If you can tell me what a kickout, plunger, habitrail, twibbler, or magnasave are then you’re likely amongst the initiated.

… although you’re probably like me and didn’t notice that one of those was made-up and not a pinball term at all…

I’ve still yet to learn what a ball lock is or exactly how the replay numbers at the end are generated, but I still relish in the experience. Aside from the jargon, pinball tables also force the player to learn the table. Often there are similar elements between machines, but the specific tables are each a puzzle in themselves requiring coin after coin to understand and progress.

 3. RPG’s

Screenshot 2018-08-08 at 21.24.06
… math…

Despite being one of the older genres of games, and despite the backlash that I might receive for this, I’m going to go on record and say that RPG’s are not very accessible. My  own experience is minimal being limited to the first person fallout games and.. erm.. BotW?… neither of which I imagine count in the eyes of true RPG fans.

Pages of stats and numbers tend to put the uninitiated on the back-foot and in their worst incarnations I’ve seen screenshots of games that to an outsider have more in common with playing excel rather than a thrilling journey through a fantasy kingdom. Each number carries with it mystical abbreviations: Mp, Hp, Ac, Ma. There are also unspoken concepts such as elemental damage, classes, and random encounters.

This all adds up to something that can be impenetrable if you’re not familiar with it.

2. Modern Military Online Shooters

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My recent reinstalling of PUBG highlighted that, despite spending an unhealthy number of ingame hours with it last year, any skills I once had were essentially reset and this was a game I needed to relearn.

Allow me to outline some typical scenarios:

  1. You’re walking along and oh no, you’ve been shot.
  2. You’re walking along and, oh.. is that something brown near a tree a few miles awa.. on no you’ve been shot
  3. You’re stealthily sneaking past some buildings, you’re silent for a few minutes listening for footsteps.. you step gingerly out into the street.. and on no you’ve been shot.
  4. You finally see someone and proceed to cleverly encircle them in bullets without a single one finding their mark before.. you guessed it.. you’ve been shot.

These are games that require extensive and instinctive knowledge of the game mechanics, weapons, and environments;  you also need to be fully in tune with the visuals in order to even spot players… and this is just the prerequisite to begin properly “playing” before improving or being competitive is even on the table.

1. 2D Fighters

Screenshot 2018-08-08 at 21.29.27

… and I know what you’re going to say “hey! I’m pretty good at Street Fighter II, I used to play it all the time”… but are you?… are you really? Just because you can nail Dhalsim’s teleport 90% of the time doesn’t set you that much above the button mashers in this quite frankly staggeringly complex genre.

A few years ago I set out to “learn” how to play 2D fighters (in the form of Skullgirls, apparently one of the more accessible ones)  and barely made it past the core concepts of attacking, blocking, and finding an opening. Knowing a few combos is the easy part of these games. Understanding throws, reversals, throw reversals, combo breakers, and parrys is necessary to even begin to be competitive. Finally, being able to apply the theory with split-second timing in a match takes years of practice to build an instinct for it as far as I can tell.

So what do you think? Am I being unduly harsh? … have I missed some worthy genres off the list? 

 

22 thoughts on “Five Genres With an Entry Barrier

  1. I’m not sure I totally agree with you on RPGs, although your points do hit a few areas of the genre (specifically JPRGs and classic cRPGs), but, the rest of the I’m right there with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t really claim to be a source of well researched opinion on RPG’s, so I’m sure you’re right and there are some really accessible ones out there…

      … But there are also scary ones with lots of numbers .. 😛

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  2. I think these are pretty accurate choices and it’s an interesting topic to write on as people mostly talk about games that are easy to pick up.

    I absolutely love Skullgirls! It’s probably my favourite fighting game, but I’ve been playing a hell of a lot of BBTAG recently. I’ve played over 30 hours of BBTAG and I feel like I’m only just getting decent at it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with most of these, but I know a lot of people who have found point-and-click adventures very accessible over the years. My mother isn’t really a gamer but loves an adventure game, for example, and has done since the text adventure days. Point-and-clickers are definitely a lot more accessible than they used to be; LucasArts started the trend of no longer killing off the player if you do the slightest thing wrong, and most modern devs of the genre have run with that ideal rather than Sierra’s “that last step was a doozy! RESTART, RESTORE, QUIT?” approach

    RPGs vary considerably. Some are immensely complex and obtuse (see: the SaGa series) but others are very accessible and take great pains to explain their mechanics to the player. Final Fantasy VII, which you posted a screenshot of, is one such example — so much so, that many people (including myself) cite it as “the game that got them into RPGs”. Modern Japanese RPGs are also pretty good in this regard — stuff like the Neptunia series is incredibly accessible.

    Definitely agreed on shooters, pinball and 2D fighters though. Each of them have an aspect of learning in that you can understand what you’re supposed to do, just perhaps not how to actually do it. I particularly struggle with pinball in this regard; my understanding of physics clearly isn’t quite sufficient to be able to make the ball go where I want it to, even if I know where I’m supposed to be shooting!

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    1. Thanks for commenting! .. I’d be the first to admit that this was mostly a slightly tongue-in-cheek post pointing out some of the signature characteristics of the different genres (at least to the outsider), but there is also certainly some truth there. I totally agree that in all these genres there are some examples that try to break these barriers down and I love hearing recommendations for people struggling to break in to a new style of game.

      .. likewise, the entry barrier isn’t always a bad thing. Fans of a series of gamestyle often want something more advanced without being hand-held through the experience so catering to all gamers is also a really important thing.

      .. and I swear pinball tables are designed so that the ball falls directly between the flipper without touching the edges…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Good to see I’m not too far off the mark! 🙂

      Likewise there are loads of genres and games that I love, but many of them really aren’t accessible if you’re not familiar with the unwritten conventions.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think the mobile market has demonstrated that most of these genres have a pretty low threshold. That said, there are definitely gateway games for each genre, and the more complex or celebrated representatives certainly might be more difficult. 4x strategy, survival horror, sandbox games, and strafing shooters feel like they might have a higher threshold. Granted, esp. considering the mobile market, pinball is still unfathomable~

    Liked by 1 person

  5. While I generally agree, I don’t believe that these genres are 100% always a bad choice to start with. For example, I agree that point-and-clicks even scare me off sometimes as a lifelong gamer, but I also realize that I started my gaming journey as a kid playing Pajama Sam and Spy Fox, which are baby point-and-click adventures made for children. Games in these genres *can* be accessible to new gamers sometimes, but it really depends on who the intended audience of the game is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yeah, it off course depends where you’re coming from, and of course with a little research it’s possible to find the ones with lower barriers. We also should remember through that as gamers there are a staggering number of “conventions” that we just take for granted from years of exposure. Thanks for reading!

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    1. I guess the whole list comes with the caveat that it’s my list… I don’t pretend to be objective 😛.

      Maybe the point is that entry barrier depends on your own background, and that things that “make sense” to you aren’t universal.

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      1. RPG’s are easy, in most cases, if you’re stuck, you can just level grind and you win, can’t think of anything more accessible than RPG’s.

        RTS on the other hand requires you to know hotkeys, know all the build orders and have a high APM to stand a chance in a competitive match.

        Go play any RTS online and if you don’t have the ability to do the above, prepared to get trashed.

        I recommend Warcraft 3.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s true but the entry barrier for online gaming is so much higher all round though. I guess my point is more about the core concepts. Take FPS games for example. Sure, put a novice on a server and they’ll get destroyed, but the concept is simple: walk around, shoot stuff, health, ammo etc.

        … But yeah, I’m not denying that RTS’s have a steep learning curve.

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      3. FPS is one of the more accessible genres online (and offline) since like you said, the concept is simple. In a FPS you are predominantly using WASD Space Bar and the LMB, using a mouse to aim,sometimes not even the space bar.

        In a RTS you have hotkeys for everything, in Warcraft 3 you have to set hotkeys using Shift+key (usually 1-0 on the keyboard) with abilities mapped to a letter on the keyboard you need to memorize for more efficient execution. In addition you need to use your mouse to scroll the map, select units and move units. Plus if your keyboard doesn’t have a numpad, you are at a crippling disadvantage since you don’t have a numpad.

        Another genre that I think should be on the list is Space Sims. Have you ever played Descent Freespace? There are several differrent targeting options each mapped to letter keys on the keyboard. you use A to accellerate and Z to drop speed, T to target nearest object/ship, M to Match speed, F to target friendlies, H to target enemies, V to target subsystems, C tgo enter the comms menu, X to activate counter measures (to destroy incomming enemy missiles), Q to spread out the shields to cover more areas, you use either the number keys or the F1,2,3 etc keys (I forget) to command your allied pilots, Tab is afterburner and Alt+J is to end the mission.

        Do you know all those controls off by heart? If you don’t, you’re gonna have a hard time playing Descent Freespace. It’s a good game but man is it difficult to get to grips with.

        Liked by 1 person

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