Draining The Swamp: The Case for ‘Less Stuff’ in Video Games

I don’t know about you but when my family gets brutally executed all I want to do is collect as many feathers as possible. Likewise, when I wake up after being shot and buried alive all I want to do is find collectible snow globes. Collecting random junk is a staple of the gaming experience, whether it be an adventure side-scroller or a massively open world game like Witcher III, and in the latter case I would argue that it is largely an unwarranted addition.

It seems that a misconception exists with developers that there is need to fill a world with stuff to do in order to make the game feel bigger. This can commonly take shape in the form of collectibles, long-winded quests or escort missions. However, a world with seemingly pointless activities making up a large part of the content may indeed be bigger for it, but hollow and ultimately boring as well. What did adding random statues to collect into Far Cry 3 really add to the experience of an FPS shooter? The answer is simply more busy work for a game that to me was already teeming with it. Some collectibles can also take the form of the ultimately insulting ‘Playboy’ covers found in Mafia II or the ‘sex cards’ from the first Witcher game. These two examples go a long way to showing the utterly pointless nature of a lot of these random pickups.

In a game series like Borderlands, it is par of the course to collect as many things as possible. Collecting weapons and upgrades is what that game is built upon and that is perfectly acceptable because the loot is directly usable! When a game adds a pointless collectible with no immediate use it feels like a wasted effort that could of been better utilized anywhere else. I would have liked to encounter another enemy type in the first inFAMOUS game over the hours I spent collecting all the shards.

If these collectibles serve little purpose to the overall gaming experience, why do we still insist on having them? The idea is a throwback to the norms of the earlier games industry, when you would only be able to purchase one game at a time or when your parents were only willing to buy you a new video game for a special occasion. Developers needed you to spend as much time as possible with their product, and so packed it full of things to do.

I can vividly remember replaying the same games over and over on my Master System and Megadrive because they were the only games I had access to. A far cry from my bloated Steam library and my shelf of console games that I still need to complete. In the times of yester-year it was necessary to make a game last much longer that they are expected to now and so we had the hidden levels, the swathes of collectibles and the crushing difficulty levels to not only extend gameplay time, but also to make the game fun on repeated play-throughs.

The need for this is no longer necessary. A lot of games will be released these days as a shell, devoid of a lot of content that will likely be filled in at a later date by DLC or expansions. A game like EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront simply could not be released commercially a decade ago. Lacking a single-player experience is a fairly new phenomenon for many first person shooters and of course we can look to the rise of high-speed internet as one of the main causes for thrusting this trend upon the industry. The question I ask at this point though is simple: if we are willing to strip away single player stories, side quests and level variety, why are we still including collectibles? We have given up on single player longevity in many of our games and yet it is still common to see these trinkets popping up. Why even bother?

When starting any new open world game (Horizon: Zero Dawn, Witcher III, Final Fantasy XV etc.) I feel daunted by the possibilities and as a result turned off by the experience. Don’t get me wrong – I do enjoy the possibilities that are open to me, and certainly feel excited at the prospect of exploration, but I cannot deny the feeling of simply not knowing where to begin. I am a gamer that will do everything in an area before the main quest line because I like to feel overpowered when the story throws enemies at me that I have already learned how to destroy.

I suppose this is the Dark Souls player coming out in me. The overwhelming issue that I have come to encounter in these games is feeling like I don’t want to miss anything, but also not wanting to waste time on pointless endeavors. As soon as I find out that I will be collecting so many macguffins for any arbitrary reason, I groan and start collecting. When I learn that it isn’t mandatory to collect any of them in order to progress the story or gain a some big weapon or something, I’ll happily leave Grandma to collect her own medicine thank you! Slaying fantastical beasts to collect teeth for the tribe? Worthy of my time. Finding purple flowers or iron ore deposits? This is supposed to be enjoyable! Not some half-baked, soulless Harvest Moon!

Oh and then there is the dreaded escort missions we all know and love. How many hours of precious relaxation time have been lost by A.I. teammates getting themselves killed in the most hilariously stupid ways? A common staple of many games that seems – equally to collectibles – only incorporated to satisfy the need for varied content, regardless of quality or fun. I am all for a challenge but not one that relies on a poorly designed A.I. surviving attacks from waves of enemies that beeline directly to the target in question. A game at the end of day should only serve to allow a player to demonstrate their skills or their understanding of the game’s mechanics. Quests that rely on the vague movements of a computer controlled character serve only to hinder that experience.

Imagine a game similar to the Witcher series where all quests were monster contracts, and all DLC was simply more monster contracts. Or perhaps a game where turning down a side quest opens up other opportunities for you to explore, like refusing to help a stranger might lead to having the option of them having to try and solve their own problems and failing or asking someone else who becomes a rival to your cause. I would trade all the fetch quests and all the escort missions in the keyboard kingdom to see games like that. Of course these kind of games would take longer to make and therefore cost more to make and so the chances of it being released are very low. A move towards dynamic gameplay or variety in the gameplay on offer is essential however, for maintaining the triple A single-player marketplace, lest it be forever lost to the world of indie games.

Less is more, and in video games this is no exception. Too many developers try to fill their games with too many things to collect, complete or explode without thinking of whether or not it adds to the overall experience. A focused experience will always beat a shotgun blast of content, no matter how many Easter Eggs you may well have craftily hidden.


Published by David Fitchett

Hello there! I am a contributing writer for Gamer Professionals who specialises in strategy, adventure games and RPGs. You'll also find me writing articles about the games industry, as well as discussing features of games in depth.